You’re only as old as you feel

Originally published in the Kamloops Daily News, Jan. 11, 2011. Gramma passed away on Nov. 15, 2016, and not a day goes by that I don’t hear her emphatic voice in my head. Usually, it’s when I’m doubting myself. And usually, her voice is castigating me, telling me to stop being “SO STUPID.” In life, she never insulted me, but she’d routinely insult herself. We’re a lot alike, her and I. 

Ninety is the new 50, or so I’m told.

My grandmother, or Gramma as I have known her for the past 32 and a half years, turned 90 last week. There was a big hullabaloo over it, as there should have been. Unable to attend the shindig, I sent a card filled with scratch tickets in my stead.

I chose Set for Life, and fully expect her to win. I suspect she’d go with the payout, but I’d encourage her to take the $1,000 a week for 25 years, because I’m that certain she’ll still be going strong at 115.

Some people are born old. I know a few of them. Some people aren’t. We call these people young at heart, but that’s a terrible cliche, as it’s not particularly accurate. Gramma is young in mind, and in spirit, but she’s not young at heart. She’s had a heart attack once or twice in the near century that she’s been alive. According to her doctor, she’s got an enlarged aorta, but you don’t need a PhD to discern that her heart is too big. And I’m certain in the past 90 years she’s managed to break that big heart of hers once or twice – what good would 90 years be, after all, if there weren’t a tale of love and loss tossed in there somewhere?

She might not be young at heart, but she’s never been old, this Gramma of mine. In fact, I recall her saying that once, while going about her daily routine, she looked over and caught a glance at herself in a mirror and let out a loud shriek.

“Sometimes I forget,” she said to me that afternoon. “I’m going about my day and in my head I’m 25, but then I look at myself in a mirror and I’m OLD,” she yelled. Sure, she’s become hard of hearing, but that’s not why she yells, and it’s not really a yell in any case, it’s merely volume for emphasis. And Gramma is nothing if not emphatic.

This past summer, Gramma needed a hip replacement. It had been months since she’d been able to get out on the golf course, and she hadn’t been line dancing in a coon’s age. What really got her goat, though, was her inability to walk unassisted. She required a walker – the ultimate indignity – and occasionally, when going up stairs, she needed an arm to hold onto for support.

It was time for the surgery, she said (rather emphatically), and so she went, and these days she’s aquafitting and furniture shopping, getting geared up to move into a resort-style retirement community. It’s a big move, but exciting, and this way there’ll be someone to come in weekly and do her vacuuming. Unfortunately, it’s out of my price range, or I’d be tempted to join her.

No, Gramma’s not old. She’s a spry 90 – still going in for hugs and sneaking butt pats at the same time, and still cheating at Scrabble. While I know her as Gramma, the great-grandchildren (and there are many) know her as Gramma Treats, and while they all stop for butt pats when she gets in the door, their next stop is her giant purse, which is always overflowing with fresh cookies and little bags of candies, or little toy trucks. In fact, I’ve even caught my older sister sidling up to Gramma, asking her if she’s got any stray jubejubes kicking around in that magical purse of hers.

Age certainly is only a number, and sometimes I’m sure she feels each and every one of her 90 well-lived years. But she’s never been old to me, and saying she’s 90 just seems ridiculous.

She’s older than the BBC, than Readers Digest, than Time Magazine. She’s older than one-piece bathing suits, The Ten Commandments (the film, not the actual tablets), the Winter Olympics, Chrysler, Scotch Tape, Winnie-The-Pooh, the 40-hour work week and the use of insulin as a treatment for diabetes.

The things she’s seen, the things she’s lived through, make me catch my breath. The fact that I can still call her up and speak to her about those things makes my breath hitch for another reason altogether.

I’m blessed – so blessed -to have my Gramma, who was born when the population of Canada was a paltry 8.7 million.

It’s just sad that she had to wait until her 90th birthday for me to fully appreciate that blessing. Better late than never, I guess.

Happy birthday Gran.