Enduring the inevitable

Old age, so I have unwittingly and a shade reluctantly lately smoked out, is unqualified and uncompromising.  I had previously attempted to bend the branch.  But I was up against a powerful grip. The inflexibility of old age isn’t poetic; it isn’t a dreamy world in the verdant pasture of life. Its defeat of willingness is harsh and relentless. Its unconditional nature is utter and outright. The most workable resort, I have concluded, is the one guided by accommodation. This I think you’ll agree is not a preferred recipe; it is distasteful medicine especially for those of us who are keen upon independence and latitude. The prescription ensures instead unparalleled limitation. We cannot do all the things we used to do. And more exacting is the growing narrowness of our performance in spite of our willingness to cooperate. We are repeatedly alerted to the impending necessity to make compensatory decisions about where we’ll go and what we’ll do when we get there.

After this mournful introduction I hesitate to lather my complacency. For as complicated and as peremptory as old age is, I have to say I’m having the best times of my life. Certainly I have already achieved that apostrophe of life, what I willingly acknowledge to be my nouement. But as Frank Sintra said, “my tonsels may wind up on Medicare but I’ll be young at heart”. The unspoken advantage of this “turning away” is its reduction, it diminution, the very thing that grounds its complaint. The contraction doesn’t have to be a weakening or falling off but rather definition, an exact statement of meaning.

If You’re Not in the Obit, Eat Breakfast follows Carl Reiner as he poses the question, “‘What’s the secret to living into your 90s – and loving every minute of it?’ Reiner tracks down several celebrated nonagenarians, and a few others over 100, to show how the twilight years can truly be the happiest and most rewarding. Jerry Seinfeld — who’s already reserved the stage at Caesar’s Palace for his 100th birthday show — is also in the film, as is longevity expert Dan Buettner.”

Many, many years ago I recall having wondered at the late John King MD upon his retirement. I regularly saw him walking about the neighbourhood with those walking sticks which confirmed walkers use called trekking poles or pilgrim’s staffs. His loyalty to exercise was unmitigated.  I would stop to talk with him along the sidewalk.  John was often considered a peculiar person, not given to succinctness.  But he was always cheerful and well-meaning. We shared fraternity through the Masonic Lodge and its derivative the Scottish Rite.

I have now joined Dr. King in my local exemplification of another realm of exercise; namely, the tricycle. Today when the slanting sun shone so magnificently upon the wooden property fences and glistened the remaining orange leaves of the trees, enhancing the yellow corn stalks in the meadow and the dark river flowing, I could not resist getting onto my tricycle. I too stopped along the way to gab with two people who told me this was their “first weekend” in their new home on nearby John Dalgity Drive. It pleased me to have communicated with them because they were so obviously of an exuberant nature. To my concealed satisfaction they informed me too that they had relocated from Carleton Place so I was satisfied they had at least certain of the Valley credentials. Earlier I had passed them while they walked and I tricycled up hilly St. Paul Street from the river.  As I passed we exchanged pleasantries about the day and about my accomplishment of the hill (though in fairness the chap applauded my effort and predicted my success).

Yesterday as a further mark of my submission to old age I privately demonstrated my new stick. In fact the stick is not new.  I bought it on a whim on Sherbrooke St W in Montréal a longtime ago; I was taken in particular by its silver head of a large dog. But until several days ago I had never adjusted the length of the stick to meet my personal requirements so for all these years it has remained in my antique jar by the door.

There was almost no limit to the sums which people were then willing to spend upon them. Louis XIV had a stick whose eagle knob was set with twenty-four diamonds. The Regent of France, one of the outstanding rakes of the century, had a huge and famous diamond called “the Regent” set as the head of a walking stick. People of fashion spent as much as forty thousand francs a year on walking sticks. Voltaire, who considered that he lived a life free from fashionable nonsense, owned eighty sticks. Rousseau, a poor man and the apostle of the simple life, owned forty. Count Brühl, creator of the famous Brühl Terrace at Dresden, owned three hundred canes, each with a snuff-box to match, one for each of his three hundred suits. The fashion spread across the Atlantic to America.Benjamin Franklin had received as a gift a gold-headed walking stick from a French lady admirer when he was ambassador to France. Franklin wrote a codicil to his Will in 1789 bequeathing it to George Washington. It is now in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution.

Amusingly last evening at table, as I indiscretly positioned my stick aside me, I was comically asked whether it housed a sword. I haven’t an interest in those particular devices; mine is confined to wood and ornament. Nonetheless I am thrilled to sport the stick as part of my final scene.

February 13, 1922. Washington, D.C. “Unidentified woman.” Holding a “tipping cane” also known as a “cane flask” during Prohibition.

This morning while attending to my ritual car wash I received a long-distance telephone call from my erstwhile physician on the Gulf of Mexico.  He glowingly reported having just returned from a skiff upon his electric surf board accompanied alongside by a dolphin.  I readily affirmed this is the hitherto unrecorded acme of athleticism. Serendipitously he said too that he is dissolving his multitude of global allurements and commensurate real estate holdings to a singular platform called “home”, a preference coincidentally repeated only moments ago by my dearest artist friend who in an apparent epiphany has resovled to dislodge herself from the ancient allure of Toronto and the Kingsway. These accounts I choose to relate as evidence of the uniformity and universality of aging.  It isn’t only I who shall endure the inevitable!

Young at Heart
Songwriters: Carolyn Leigh / Johnny Richards

Fairytales can come true
It can happen to you
If you’re young at heart
For it’s hard you will find<
To be narrow of mind
If you’re young at heart

You can go to extremes
With impossible schemes
You can laugh when your dreams
Fall apart at the seams
And life gets more exciting
With each passing day
And love is either in your heart
Or on it’s way

Don’t you know that it’s worth<
Every treasure on earth
To be young at heart
For as rich as you are
It’s much better by far<
To be young at heart

And if you should survive to 105
Look at all you’ll derive
Out of being alive
And here is the best part
You’ve had a head start
If you are among the very
Young at heart

And if you should survive to 105
Look of all you’ll derive
Out of being alive
And here is the best part
You have a head start
If you are among the very
Young at heart…

Young-At-Heart lyrics © Ocheri Publishing Corp.,
Sunbeam Music Corporation, Cherio Corporation