Come on, admit it. We are all subject to occasional morbid thoughts, especially at that point in life when the number representing our chronological age exceeds the highway speed limit. Don’t tell me that you never think about the Grim Reaper, the Dark Angel, or any of the other euphemisms you can name to avoid the “D” word.
I confess to having morbid thoughts on three different occasions during the past month.
Maybe it was prophetic, but what most recently got me thinking about time and mortality was the need for a new watch. An awkward movement of my left elbow while leaning in to apply mascara had landed my old, faithful, expensive timepiece on the unforgiving tile floor of the bathroom. Its poor little face was smashed to smithereens, and even with my untrained eye, I knew it was broken beyond repair.
The next day I called upon my friend, the consummate shopper (every woman knows one), who of course directed me to the absolute best place to purchase a new watch. As I perused the jewelry case, looking for watches whose numbers could be seen without the aid of reading glasses, I was approached by a salesman who offered to help. He removed several models from the case and laid them before me on the requisite piece of black velvet cloth.
He pointed out the virtues of each model, stopping at one that he declared to be a little more expensive, but came with a life-time warranty. His comment was the catalyst for Morbid Thought #1. Whose life-time, I mused, mine or the watch’s? At that precise moment, I happened to glance at another customer who was at least thirty years my junior. Pointing in her direction, I asked the salesman:
“See that woman over there? If she buys this watch, does she also get a life-time warranty?”
“She certainly does,” he replied as if talking to someone recently declared incompetent.
“Then I should get a discount, shouldn’t I.”
“A discount?” he repeated, with an unnecessarily steep rising inflection.
“Of course,” I answered in my best isn’t-it-obvious tone of voice. “She is clearly a good deal younger than I. Therefore, her life-time warranty will be in effect much longer than mine, so why should I be charged the same?”
He opened his mouth to speak, but said nothing. I left him to ponder my logic, and decided not to purchase a new watch that day.
Morbid Thought #2, by sheer coincidence, also occurred during a shopping trip, interrupting an otherwise very pleasant afternoon. This time, I was accompanying my husband, who was on a quest to find the perfect sweater. We were in the men’s department of a fine store, and since I knew what he liked, we separated to cover more territory in less time. I wasn’t successful, but when I rejoined him, he had found two potential candidates.
Both sweaters were the same style, both flattering colors, both a fine wool. One, however, was significantly more expensive than the other, and therein was the dilemma. Rationalizing the possible expenditure of some extra dollars, he stated that the sweater that cost more would probably last longer.
That’s when it happened. I thought, but didn’t dare utter, at our age, can you be sure you’ll get your money’s worth?
He must have read my mind, because in the next instant we were walking to the check-out counter with the black cashmere V-neck sporting the lower price tag.
Morbid Thought #3, which was, in reality, a morbid utterance, snuck up on me during the performance of a very ordinary domestic task – replacing a missing button on my husband’s shirt. My hand stopped in mid-air as I thought of other small, maternal-like functions I had assumed over the years, such as re-threading the draw string which, for some reason he was forever dislodging from his sweat pants.
“Honey,” I called to him. He responded on my third attempt to get his attention.
“Yes,?” he said, as he raised his head from his iPhone.
“I was just thinking,” I said, as I lifted the shirt towards him, “In the event that I should pass on (euphemism) before you, would you like me to teach you how to do this?”
He laughed heartily, though I’m not sure at what.
I’m pleased to say that I haven’t had another morbid thought in at least a week. Maybe this is predictive of a trend. I hope so. I am, in fact, feeling so optimistic that I went watch shopping again, but to an all together different store.
The friendly salesman spread out the black velvet cloth, upon which he placed three different models, all fashionable, all with numbers that could be easily read without intense magnification.
“And this one,” he said, lifting one of the watches off the cloth, “costs just a little more than the other two, but comes with a twenty-five year warranty.”
“Great,” I said. “I’ll take it.”
The inevitable has happened. The insidious process has reached its conclusion. The final step has been taken, and the journey is over. I can deny it no longer. I have become my mother!
Despite our self-righteous cries as young girls that we will never be like her, one day we look in the mirror, and there she is, peering back at us.
This should not be shocking. Certainly our own aging process was genetically designed to parallel hers. Mine it started in my twenties with the appearance of the first prematurely gray hairs. Which, by the way, I used to pull out. But this only works for so long, unless you prefer bald spots to gray patches. So I stopped pulling and started dying.
Familiar patterns of lines and wrinkles begin to emerge. The threat of a double chin avoided with just a touch of liposuction. Recognizable facial expressions and gestures. You catch yourself in mid-sentence and realize that you are about to say something that is exactly what she would have said. Something you swore you would never say.
And the list of similarities goes on. But in my case, the ultimate surrender was The Beach!
Two blogs ago I attempted to evoke your sympathy by revealing my deprived childhood and how I never went to summer camp. But there was compensation in the form of weekend family trips to the ocean.
My father was in charge of the food. He would cook roast beef and make potato salad, and start the sandwich preparation early in the morning. Coolers and jugs and beach chairs, blankets, toys and towels would be loaded into the trunk of his latest used car.
This was accompanied by hats and shirts, and changes of clothing. Heaven forbid we should get a chill from wearing our wet bathing suits. (Weren’t bathing suits supposed to get wet?) We were embarking on a fifteen minute drive to Coney Island with enough gear to travel the Alcan Highway!
I was happy. My brother was happy. I think my father was happy. The only one who was miserable was my mother. My mother intensely disliked the beach!
Her attitude was a complete enigma to me. And so contrary to my own. I was thrilled to be at the beach. I loved the sense of freedom. I loved the sun, the gentle waves, collecting shells. I loved playing in the sand and burying my brother, wishing I didn’t have to dig him out.
My father seemed content. He swam, then relaxed and read the newspaper. And where was my mother while all of this was happening?
Where she always was during these forays. Covered from head to toe and sitting under an umbrella. Occasionally she could be coaxed to wade up to her knees, but after five minutes, she would scurry back to her hiding place.
There was nothing about the beach that pleased my mother. She hated the sun. She hated the feel of the sun lotion. She hated the sand. She had a special facial expression that she reserved for when some of it got in her food. Sort of a cross between seeing a dead animal with its guts hanging out and biting into a lemon.
Her favorite part of the day was when it was time to go home. Then she could get into a shower and wash away all the gritty unpleasantness.
Could this beach-hater be my real mother? I was convinced that I had been adopted.
When I reached adolescence, and could travel to the beach on my own with a group of friends, I think my mother ceremoniously burned her bathing suit.
My own romance with beaches did not end in childhood. Any opportunity to spread a blanket, I was there! Domestic beaches, foreign beaches, man-made beaches on a lake, it didn’t matter. Beach vacations were the best. Despite being enveloped in total inertia, you could still feel like you were doing something. You were at the beach!
When my children were young, I took them to the beach, and once again, the trunk of the car was packed to overflowing with stuff!
It was always my dream to own a house at the beach, which we did for 10 happy years. My own children now grown, I lived my fantasy of walking with my dogs every morning and watching them joyfully take on the challenge of the crashing waves. It was back to being easy. Dogs don’t require a lot of stuff!
Then my husband suggested moving to Florida. When I could finally speak again, I told him that one of my conditions was that we live near the beach. And so we did.
But gradually the universe began to shift.
Now on the beach, you will see a woman, covered in protective clothing, with hat and sunglasses, sitting under an umbrella. She does not appreciate the sun and has slathered herself in sun screen. She fears skin cancer and more brown spots. She might venture into the water for a quick swim, but feels safer under the shelter.
She hates how the sun screen causes the sand to stick to her skin. She tries to open a bottle of water and is annoyed that there is sand all over the cap. But for the sake of her husband, she endures. Finally he’s ready to leave, and she is once again happy.
This woman could be my mother. But it’s not. It’s me. The transformation is now complete.
Remaining mostly at home during this past year of COVID-19 has opened my eyes to many things. Some of which I would rather have not seen. For example, the dust bunnies under my bed.
Or the water spots that accumulate way too frequently on the shower door. And the grease that hides in the crevices of the kitchen stove even after you think you’ve wiped it all clean after cooking your latest stay-at-home gourmet meal.
I admit it. I am fortunate enough to be able to employ a once-weekly housekeeping helper who possesses a keener eye than moi for spotting hidden dog hair. But not being a part of my nuclear family of two (three, if you include the dog), it was prudent that she not enter my house during this time of utmost caution.
(As an aside, I’d like to comment that the older I get, housekeeping assistance is not the luxury it once was, but more of a necessity. You know this when putting a fresh sheet on your bed is apt to lay you flat on said bed with an aching back!)
But desperate times call for desperate measures, and being a proponent of a certain standard of cleanliness, there was little choice but to tackle these chores on my own. And that’s how I became, temporarily at least, a household deity, a.k.a. Domestic Goddess.
A Domestic Goddess is defined as a woman who is very good at cooking, and keeping her house clean and organized; a woman with exceptional domestic skills. A very high bar, indeed! But I was up for the challenge. My back was not so sure.
What I discovered during this cleaning frenzy was there were actually certain chores that I minded not at all, and others that I absolutely detested. Discussing this with one or two friends, I discovered that we didn’t necessarily agree about the zen of hand-washing the dinner dishes vs. swabbing the toilet. Using the daily grind to my creative advantage, I’ve come up with The Domestic Goddess Rating Scale. So take time out from your dusting, and check your personal reaction to these six common domestic chores:
But now that I’ve been double-vaxxed, I’ve happily thrown open my door and welcomed the return of housekeeping assistance. Goddess status isn’t all it’s cracked up to be!
About the Author
Susan is the author of two award-winning collections of humorous personal essays: “How Old Am I in Dog Years?” and “How to Complain When There’s Nothing to Complain About.” Check out her Author Page HERE.