"I write so that my handful of pebbles, cast into still waters, will create a ripple."

Sunday, August 25, 2019

What I Know About Being 70

I used to think age came in only two flavors—young or old. I preferred young. I dreaded being—old. But the years between 65 and 80 are starting to look pretty interesting. I haven’t experienced as much growth and change since I was a teenager.

I’ve discovered something. The decisions I made in my 40s are beginning to have consequences. When I was 40, I worried about the things I could control: Divorce or stay together. Lose weight or not. Send the kids to college or don’t. Take a vacation to Hawaii or stay home.

We made some good decisions back then that are paying off. The kindness I showed my husband, the interest we took in each other’s lives created friendship between us. We talk, we laugh. We share 50 + years of memories. The savings we tucked away as a nest egg is our play money today. The physical labor I did when I was younger makes my body strong and resilient

The 60s came in like a lamb and went out like the March lion. During our 60s, my husband and I were those happy people in cruise line commercials—smiling at the camera with our own teeth and hair, wearing stylish shoes and real make-up. We thought nothing of driving into Ashland to take in a show. Midnight and wine were still our friends. So was my chin. In good lighting I could pass for 58.  

By 68, I began to see life as an assembly line where some of our family and friends started dropping off. People we knew rode the conveyer belt on the last loop and weren’t there anymore. I wondered if I would be next. I thought it was my imagination, or my unlucky choice of friends, but my doctor told me that if I live to be 70, I’ll probably make it to 90. Wow. That’s good information.

I started making a Bucket List. I self-published a collection of short stories. Made a submission plan for the novel manuscripts. Added intentions to walk part of the Pacific Coast Trail. Learn to fish. Play guitar again. 

He bought the car he always wanted because it may be his last. And because the safety features will help him drive safely for another few years. Arranged to go elk hunting. Took his BMW on a few overnighter roadtrips. Got another dog.

I started giving things away—advice, clothes, a little cash to my children. This year we rented a vacation house in West Yellowstone and the kids and their families came from three states for a week of eating, cooking and sightseeing. We rode horses, fished, toured Yellowstone, picnicked, grilled and listened together. It was the best money I ever spent.

But everything isn’t fun and games. I started reading about senior abuse. I filled out an End of Life Directory, —just in case. I notice the clothes and shoes I’m drawn to in stores aren’t really that comfortable. I traded Not Your Daughter’s Jeans for a pair of stretch slacks with an elastic waistband. Hello Mom!  

So what else do I know about being 70?

I stopped watching TV because I don’t need 90% of the stuff they sell in ads.
The most important phone calls start with, “Hello . . .Mom?" or even better, "Hello, Grandma?”           
Listening to people complain about their ailments gives me a headache.
I share meals at restaurants and order water to drink. I think a 12 % tip is reasonable.
I post photos of my grandkids on the refrigerator and spend occasional long weekends at their soccer games and gymnastic try-outs. But I don’t even try to sit in one of those low beach chairs anymore.
I play with the grandkids because their parents are too busy working—and too serious about life. We eat ice cream sundaes. 
I am connected to God in a deeply spiritual way and relish the time I spend in prayer.
I keep a thought for people who crossed my path during their lifetime.
I make plans for the next ten years but live every day in the moment.

So that’s it. That’s what I know.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

All the Pretty Horses

Boots on the ground aren’t the same as boots in the stirrup. I was reminded of this on a recent trail ride in Montana where a part-time rodeo clown/dude ranch hostler led us off into the trees with a warning about the full-grown bear that had scattered trail horses and clawed a tent the day before. “What happens if we see one,” I asked. Clown Dude shrugged and grinned. “Then it’s every man for himself.”

So it’s been awhile since I sat a saddle and I don’t remember it being so hard—a bit like balancing a kayak in a moving stream. The trail wound around trees and recrossed a stream while my horse tried to nip the horse in front. “Keep away or you’ll have a fight on your hands,” Clown Dude warned after the first clash. “But stay bunched up.”

The two-hour ride seemed quite zen-like as I contemplated the possibility of bear at any turn. In retrospect, the ride turned out to be exhilarating, but I seriously don’t think Clown Dude cared one way or another. Another bear story would go down like aged whiskey on Saturday night for his rodeo pals. What made the day special was having my skills called to high alert. The trail through the trees was similar to ones I’ve ridden on a trail bike, but factoring in some horse attitude, an extra four feet of height and a novice perch made everything a rush.

Challenge is the stuff of life. The pioneers knew it. The astronauts knew it. Maybe Clown Dude, Monty, knew it too, and let me cinch my own saddle, so to speak.

Another great moment happened on the vacation. My daughters and their families were with us at the Buffalo Bill Museum in Cody, Wyoming. We wandered down to the kiosk with the Western Writers ofAmerica display. My granddaughter keyed Laura Ingalls Wilder’s name in the search bar. I followed with Willa Cather. Someone searched for Craig Johnson. We were crowded around the interactive display when I entered my own name and watched my photo and bio pop up.

You know the saying, There was a moment? My family stood there contemplating what they were seeing. “That’s so cool,” I heard a son-in-law mutter. My daughter snapped a photo of me next to my display. I swear to God, I can die now. My life is complete.

Almost as good, Boy in theDarkness, my historical western novella set in the Wyoming plains released as #1 on Amazon new releases for Children’s Historical Western. Too cool—even though it’s not a children’s book at all. My family joined me in the happy dance. 

On the way home we stopped for breakfast at a little cafĂ© with a lot of cars parked outside. Took a seat near two tables waiting for their food while the harried waitress tried to keep up. The cook was putting out a plate every ten minutes. I had time to chat with locals and to photograph the cowboy hats hanging in a row around the room to honor deceased local ranchers. Five tables and an hour later the waitress brought our oversized plate of thick sourdough toast. I started around the room, offering cowboy toast to everyone still waiting. The waitress flashed me a surprised look, but I didn’t much care. The tension in the room melted as people spread jelly on their toast.

When we finished eating, the waitress passed us our bill with a note that the tab had been taken care of. If you’re ever in Lander, Wyoming, stop in at the Maverick. Great hat collection and a decent omelette if you’re not in a hurry. And take your kids on a tour of the West. It’s their heritage. Maybe encourage them to read a western historical