Friday, October 21, 2011

Perspective at the great 55

Oprah, at 55:

Bill Gates, at 55:

Martina Navratilova, at 55:

Golum (age unspecified):

Kathryn Craft, age 55:

What do these stellar 55-year-olds have in common?

Those of us who want to preserve our youth must stay in the game. Train our eyes on the prize. Keep moving, even when it hurts. Get out among other people. Follow our bliss. To that end, I'm pictured above, still gamely trying to convince myself I could pull off my fall writing retreat at the lake, despite my ankle fracture, just because I could perch on these stools long enough to chop up ingredients for chicken salad.

I always schedule my fall writing retreat for women on the first weekend after Labor Day—my birthday weekend. Part of this is because the lake has grown quiet but the weather's still good. But it's also pre-emptive: my birthday is the one day of the year that I fear major disappointment.

Maybe it's because, growing up, I'd usually get back-to-school clothes and school supplies for my birthday. (As did my other siblings. On my birthday.) Maybe in another way my mother raised my expectations too high—she'd make me anything I wanted for dinner and dessert, and my answer was always the same: standing rib roast, Yorkshire pudding, and a dark chocolate cake with seven-minute frosting.

But then came the year in college when we had my birthday at the lake and she bought me a Sara Lee pound cake. In light of her compete lack of elbow grease, I thought, She doesn't love me any more.

I think I've been running from my birthday ever since. During my first husband's slow decline into the bottle, each of my birthday gifts was more extravagant than the last, even though I suspected—and eventually knew—he couldn't afford them. Dave, always paying attention as to how not to disappoint me, over-corrected: he usually takes me out to dinner and gives me a card. In order not to feel left out, I only sometimes give him a gift on his birthday. For two mid-lifers typically steeped in gratitude and joie de vive, we've turned into a couple of non-celebraters.

So I've been happier, in recent years, entertaining a group of women writers at my summer home, doing what I love to do in the place I love the most. This year, though, as the following portrait by my son Jackson shows, my fracture took front and center. No retreat. No husband, either—the day before my birthday, Dave dropped me off at my mother's and drove the additional hour home. I didn't see him again until a few days later. When he brought me a card.

My birthday wasn't a complete bust. One sister, newly arrived from Boston to take my mother to visit an assisted living place the next day, picked up a nice dinner and bought a yummy mocha cake. Another sister, who went along on the assisted living trip, stopped by a drug store to buy me a tee-shirt and some cushy grips for my walker.

But my favorite part was when Dave arrived later that week with a package from my best friend. I'd always cracked up when she'd tell me how pathetic her husband was when he didn't feel well: he'd sulk on the couch in a sweatshirt, its hood up like some sort of signal that said, I don't feel good. Comfort me. We'd laughed about it many times over the years.

She knew exactly what I needed for my birthday. After her gift arrived, I had a whole new "55" look to sport:

Readers, help Dave and I out here! How do you like to celebrate your birthday?


Lisa R. Tomarelli said...

Rockin' that sweatshirt, Kathryn!

For me, it was about the cake. As a kid, I always got the 'special' Italian rum cake...that my parents wanted for themselves, and to please the Italian relatives, and no kid likes. Yuk! The alternative was an expensive version of today's angel-food-cake-becuase-I'm-dieting: chocolate chip spongecake from the italian bakery. Light and airy doesn't go along with cake in my opinion. Again, yuk! Many years later, when my mother-in-law asked me, "What kind of cake do you want me to bake for your birthday?", I was totally shocked to tears. I took the precious time I needed to think about it...really think about it...because this question baffled me. Think about it again. And now: my favorite request: pound cake WITH vanilla buttercream icing! The denser the better. No rum cake for me; no spongecake, no angel food cake for the diet-conscious.

Can't wait to celebrate in a couple weeks with you!

Kathryn Craft said...

Hmm, Lisa: Birthday cake issues, weight issues... we may have hit on something here! I think you should run with this theory of dysfunctionality for your Gain Faith, Lose Weight book!

ben buckle said...
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