Early this morning, something I haven’t thought about in years floated up out of the vasty deeps within and refused to go away.  Don’t ask me why, or why now, because I haven’t  a clue.

It was the case of “I. de S. and Wife.”

This was the very first tort case ever reported in Anglo-American case law, and the first case I read when I went to law school at the ripe age of 51.  I think “I.” stood for “Isaac.”  I’m not sure where “S.” was. Surrey? Suffolk? Salisbury?  Maybe a friend across the pond can help us out here?

[ Glossary of terms. Consult as needed.]

  • Anglo-American law.”  American law derives from English law.  No big surprise. We were English colonies before we went off on our own.  English law was all there was. Moreover, the law is thrifty; it keeps everything that gets decided, and builds on it.  Even after a revolution. “Stare decisis” (it stands decided) — if you want to use fancy words.
  • Case law.”  Also known as bench-made law. Or common law. (In contrast to law enacted by legislatures.) What judges decide after all the factual evidence is in, and after they’ve considered all the relevant case law that came before.
  • Tort.”  Not a misspelled Austrian pastry.  A branch of civil law having to do with various kinds of intentional or negligent harm people inflict each other (excluding breach of contract, which is part of contract law ) — for which there may be financial compensation.
  • Civil law.”  Not criminal law.  No jail time.  No executions.  Can get expensive, though.

Ouch.  Yes, I know it hurts.  But how can I tell you about I. and his wife, who both lived in S. at the very beginning of the 13th century, without the vocabulary?  Anyhow, that ‘s all out of the way now. Onward!

As I  recall — and it’s been a long time, so some of the details may be fuzzy — I. was a tavern keeper.  After he had shut up shop for the night, there was loud and horrid caterwauling in the street below the window.  The wife of I. — nameless for eternity — looked out, and became afeared.  (Tr., She was frightened.)  I.  went to court. He brought suit. He prevailed.

The judges decided there had been an assault.  Even though the guy in the street hadn’t actually touched anyone.  It was the first actionable tort!  Assault:  any intentional act or conduct which  creates in another person a reasonable apprehension of imminent bodily harm.  Stare decisis.

Significant words that will be on the test:  (1) intentional; (2) reasonable; (3) imminent; (4) bodily.   But never mind that.

What was really significant — to me and all the other women in the class, which was 50% of us — was I.’s wife.  Because she was so in-significant.  She had no name.   She had no right to bring her own complaint. (I. had to do it instead.)  In the eyes of the law she was not a person, and therefore had no injury.  She was his appendage, his property, his chattel.  Frightening her  — by inflicting reasonable apprehension of imminent bodily harm — was an injury to him.

Sounds nuts, doesn’t it? Thank goodness we’re not living then!

Not so fast.   As recently as the mid-twentieth century (when I was in college), a wife in some states still couldn’t sue her husband — except, under certain limited circumstances, for divorce.  If the brakes on his parked car failed, and the car rolled down the driveway and hit her as she was coming in from the street with the groceries — she couldn’t make a claim against his insurance company.

Why not? Because of the time-honored legal doctrine of marital harmony, with which the courts  — and the insurance company —  chose not to interfere.  Man and wife were one flesh, went the reasoning. So how could a man (or his insurer) pay himself for hurting his own flesh?

Flash forward to a few days ago when, blog-browsing, I came across a really adorable young man.  He’s twenty-five, and still unmarried, but he’s writing posts about what he’ll tell his future daughter(s), and what he’ll tell his future son(s) — most of both of which I really like.  So I clicked “like.”

But he also wrote a sweet and loving post to his future wife, whom he hasn’t met yet, in which he promises to go out in the world to work for her, and take care of her, and always consider her in all his decision-making for the two of them. I know he means well, but I  couldn’t click “like.”  Why can’t she  — the future wife — also go out in the world, and take care of him, and always consider him in all their decision-making for the two of them?

My ambivalence about traditional “wife”-dom is perhaps surprising in someone for whom being married has been such a central preoccupation over the years.  I used to say I couldn’t leave a husband till I had a shrink, and I couldn’t leave a shrink till I had a husband.  And that was the story of my life, until Bill.  Bill has broken that pattern for me by being both a shrink (now nearly retired) and someone who’s stuck around, unmarried, for almost thirteen years while agreeing that if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.

I guess he’s my common-law husband. And I’m his common-law wife.  [See glossary, above.]  Not quite a wife, but almost. Works for him, works for us, works for me.


Brisket for Thanksgiving!

(One-third eaten, two-thirds to go.)


from The Jewish Festival Cookbook by Fannie Engle and Gertrude Blair

(as modified by me)

What you need:

  • 3 to 3 1/2 pounds beef brisket, first-cut
  • salt and pepper
  • 3-4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 to 4 large yellow onions, sliced thin
  • chopped garlic, as much as you like (out of a jar is fine)
  • 2 cups of canned diced tomatoes

What you do:

  • Heat oven to 350 degrees
  • Brown meat in half the olive oil in heavy roasting pot or cast-iron pan, four minutes each side
  • Remove meat to platter and brown garlic and sliced onions in same pan with rest of olive oil for about fifteen minutes
  • Return meat to pot, cover with sliced onions, season with salt and pepper
  • Pour diced tomatoes over everything
  • Cover pot and bake for three to three and half hours, until fork tender
  • Let cool, remove meat and sauce, refrigerate both overnight
  • The next day, slice meat, add three tablespoons of water to sauce, and pour sauce over the slices
  • Heat at 350 degrees for about half an hour
  • Serve and enjoy


Six servings for hearty eaters, eight servings for picky eaters.

Good with garlicky mashed potatoes and haricots verts (very thin green beans).

Also good with anything you come up with.  Let us know.



This post was one of the three favorites — both with me and the teeny part of the blogosphere aware that I existed — from the blog with which I timorously entered the world of blogging.  (“Learning to Blog” it was called.)  Lucky you!  Another chance to look at it again (or not), thanks to a lovely lady named Natalie. She asked for a photo of my cat Sasha, about whom I’ve written.  I suggested she might want to go back to this post, which features photos of all the cats Bill and I have ever owned together.  “Oh please re-blog it!” she typed.

Normally, I might not, just because someone asked.  I often feel I re-blog too much as it is.  But in about three weeks, Natalie is going to have her knee replaced, and I bet she’s feeling a little scared. Think of a piece of you being removed for good, and maybe you can imagine what I’m talking about.  Having had a hip replaced myself about five years ago, I know that after some post-surgical physical therapy, Natalie’s new knee is going to be so much better than the old one she’ll wonder why she waited so long.  However, right now she’s hobbling painfully on what she’s got. So while she’s hurting and maybe still slightly nervous despite the assurances of her doctors, let’s give her something to take her mind off all that.

Without more ado, I therefore present for your viewing pleasure — ta-da! — (re-blogged from myself):


The Tale (with photos) of Rudi the Cat

Once upon a time, my daughter-in-law — who is a very sophisticated and accomplished woman — saw a little mouse in the kitchen of the New York apartment in which she was living with my son and their two young children. “I never knew she could get so upset about anything so small,” said my son. “She’s insisting we get a cat.” My daughter-in-law has a British mother and a Scottish grandmother and fond memories of British shorthairs. So she didn’t want just any cat. British shorthairs are housecats, expensive ones. As a rule, they’re not allowed to go out and get lost.  My son therefore had to scout for shelter British shorthairs — a breed none of us, except my daughter-in-law, had ever heard of — with the persistence of Churchill. (“We shall never surrender!”) And lo and behold a miracle!  He found three-year-old Max.  I will skip the part about where Max came from, as this is not his story. But let me assure you that no mouse was ever seen in that  Park Avenue kitchen again!


Max, a good eater.

When we came from Princeton for a visit and saw Max, the man I live with fell in love.  I myself thought Max was somewhat cockeyed looking. But, hey, that was the individual cat, not the breed.  And he was endearing.  Friendly, peaceful, quiet.  Nice to have around the house now that all our children, the man I live with’s and mine, are grown and gone.  Maybe, we thought, we should get our own Max. We looked and looked. And looked. And finally caved. We called a breeder. “I want a red kitten,” said the man I live with.  (I myself didn’t really care — red, blue, white, whatever.) “I have a red kitten,” said the breeder. Her red kitten was Rudi. We named him after Nureyev, because he had such a terrific jump.

Rudi as a kitten.

Rudi as a kitten.

But while Rudi was growing old enough to leave his mother, the man I live with looked at many picture books of British shorthairs and decided that perhaps — despite the non-refundable deposit — he had been wrong.  The ones called British Blues were the classic British shorthairs. “Why not get two?” suggested the breeder helpfully. ”I have a lovely little blue girl right now. They’re close enough in age to play together!” The texts in all the picture books said that the best thing you could get your cat was another cat.


Sasha as a kitten.

The little blue kitten was lovely. We named her Sasha. Rudi loved Sasha.  Sasha didn’t mind Rudi.  They explored the house together.  They played together. They slept together. Rudi wasn’t as clever as Sasha, but he was beautiful.  I loved brushing him.  And he loved being brushed. You could get enough hair off him for a whole other cat.


Playing together.


Sleeping together.

Rudi also loved to eat.  Naturally, the more he ate the more he grew.  He was big. Not fat.  B-i-g.  It became difficult for him to fit into any litter boxes that would fit into our bathroom. I have no photos of what used to happen because he didn’t quite fit, but you can imagine.

Despite all that, he remained beautiful.  Whenever we were cleaning up bathrooms, or picking up objects he loved to knock down, or vacuuming up hair, we would tell ourselves how beautiful he was. Sasha, on the other hand, was very smart. (For a cat.)  Here she is asleep at my desk, exhausted by intellectual activity.  (Watching the cursor on the screen while I surf the web is tiring!)



Little Rudi in the bathroom.


Little Sasha in the sink.

Then our two cats grew up.  They weren’t little kittens any more.

And an awful thing happened.

I will summarize:  It was a case of transferred aggression.  When he was three years old, Rudi was frightened by a raccoon on the deck.  Since a glass door separated him from the enemy, he attacked Sasha instead.   After a few days she cautiously forgave him.  But the next time something angered him, he did it again.  And a month later, with tooth and claw, again. The last time he went after her, he caught her, and she bled. They had to be kept apart.  She was terrified,  he was mystified, in between his spurts of rage. Here they are at this stage of their relationship, in separate rooms.


Scared Sasha.


Dangerous Rudi.

The vets, all three of them, shook their heads gloomily.  Medication wouldn’t really work in such a case.  Rudi needed to be — as they put it — “re-homed.” “Re-homing” means finding your cat another home.  Giving him away.   Rudi now lives with the mother of a Pennsylvania vet and three other male cats.  He gets on with all of them, she says.  She’s sent me some photos.  He doesn’t look unhappy, does he?


Rudi (right) and new friend (left) in Pennsylvania.


Rudi as a Pennsylvania resident.

But oh, it was hard to let him go, despite his messes.  He was beautiful!  I took some pictures to remember him by.  Even — don’t laugh! — a picture of his tail.  (Bad picture, beautiful tail. I loved brushing that tail!)


Goodbye, Rudi.




Rudi’s tail.

Now Sasha was Queen of the House!

Sasha on Cat Tree, 2012  IMG_1036

The Queen on her throne.

Suddenly, she was demanding this and that.  It was miaow, miaow, miaow all the time!

Sasha at 3

She Who Must Be Obeyed!

The best thing you can get your cat is another cat.  Right?  Then she won’t always be pestering you. Enter Sophie.  (The price of a new Blue kitten had gone up $300 since Sasha, but what can you do?)


Sophie. (Twelve weeks old.)


She was very small.

How did it go? Four days of hissing from Sasha.  (No maternal feelings at all!) Followed by sniffing and smelling and sniffing and smelling. And then?  Wash, wash, wash.  Lick, lick, lick. S & S had become a family.

Sasha and Sophie at front door,October 2012

S & S. (October 2012.)

End of story.  End of post. Apologies to all non-cat-lovers. Never again. Promise.


[Note to self:  Never promise.]



A friend recently pointed me in the direction of another blog by a lady growing older.  The lady’s name is Ronni Bennett, and the blog of which she’s the proprietor, and where she posts herself, is called “Time Goes By: What It’s Really Like to Get Older.

You can go see it at http//: www.timegoesby.net

Although Ronni’s style is very different than mine, her yesterday’s post (26 November, 2013), entitled “Crabby Old Lady and Thanksgiving Shopping,” really hit the spot with me  — despite its warm regard for Thanksgiving with the family.

So I’m re-blogging it here. Apologies to those of you not in the States; it hasn’t much to do with you. Why don’t you take the day off from “The Getting Old Blog” and do something else? Just don’t go shopping instead!


Crabby Old Lady and Thanksgiving Shopping

(Before Crabby Old Lady gets into this rant, she needs to tell you that she abhors crowds and has never in her life gone shopping on black Friday or any other crunch shopping day. There is no sale on earth that could temp her.)

For many years, Americans have been cajoled, enticed, coerced, pressured, seduced and, most of all,expected to spend a lot of money for Christmas on black Friday – the day after Thanksgiving. It was (and still is) almost considered unpatriotic not to do so.

The poor schnooks who bought the hype barely finished their Thanksgiving feast before lining up overnight to be the first of hundreds or even thousands of people through the doors of big box and department stores when they opened at 6AM.

If Crabby Old Lady is not mistaken, at least one person on a past black Friday was killed in that crush of people and others have been seriously injured. But never mind safety. What’s a broken arm or rib or even a life in giant corporations’ pursuit of profit and astronomical executive pay.

The best that could be said about black Friday through the years was that at least everyone had one day with family and friends before the commercial onslaught.

Thanksgiving is one of 11 official federal holidays in the United States. It is often noted that it is the single holiday with no obligations for gifts or revelry or spending. Just the warmth of a good meal and general conviviality at home with family and friends.

Thanksgiving is the biggest travel day of year as millions cover great distances to be with family and some make it a tradition to invite strangers to dinner who have no family of their own.

Even if that doesn’t warm your heart, the downtime from the hubbub of work and constant commercialism of our lives is a pleasant relief. It has been that way in all of Crabby Old Lady’s 72 years.

Until last year. In 2012, some stores opened on Thanksgiving Day for the first time and many more have joined them this year. Crabby suspects there is no going back. Ever.

From now on Thanksgiving will be a shopping day in America. According to DailyKos, here is a partial list of stores that will be open on Thursday:

Old Navy
Medieval Times
Toys “R” Us
J.C. Penney
Dollar General
Dick’s Sporting Goods
Best Buy

Although the majority of these stores are opening at 8PM on Thanksgiving, Walmart begins at 6PM and Old Navy is way ahead of everyone at 9AM – just about the time Crabby is getting the stuffing together for the turkey.

Crabby would like to remind you that these stores cannot be open on this national holiday without the sales staff – you know, thousands of minimum-wage workers, people with families (some of whom have traveled those great distances to visit) – who will have to jump up from the table to be at work before the 6PM or 8PM opening.

It is not inappropriate for Crabby to further remind you that at least two Walmarts have held food drives for their own employees who cannot afford Thanksgiving dinner on what the company pays them.

In the face of this holiday travesty, along the millions of long-term unemployed, other millions of underpaid workers and the many who are still stuck with underwater mortgages, Crabby is having a hard time enjoying her good fortune to not be among them this holiday.

For the record, here are some of the big retailers who are giving their employees their deserved holiday by closing on Thanksgiving according, again, toDailyKos:

BJ’s Wholesale Club
Home Depot
T.J. Maxx
Burlington Coat Factory
Radio Shack
American Girl


Thank you, Crabby Lady. Enjoy your Thanksgiving.  (What kind of stuffing do you suppose she’s making?)

Back tomorrow  — the Big T Day — with a re-run from the “Learning to Blog” blog. I need the time to slice onions.

For the brisket, remember?



Our topic for today is:  “What should ninamishkin blog about next?”

So far I’ve been doing all the heavy lifting around here, right? Well, now it’s time to put on your thinking caps and start clicking some of those “Leave a Reply” links.

Yes, YOU can help choose what you read about next in “The Getting Old Blog.”  Look at it this way: it’s a win-win situation — I get a breather, you get to put your two cents in.

Here are a few suggestions. (I just happened to have jotted them down on a handy iPad while I was supposed to be thinking about something else.)  Choose one and tell us why you chose it.  I mean tell us really. “Because it sounds interesting” is not persuasive.

  1. Playing the Personals
  2. Colonoscopies — yes or no
  3. Throwing things out
  4. Shrinkage  (the kind you pay for, or Medicare does)
  5. Shrinkage (as in weight loss, not laundry)
  6. Googling yourself
  7. Hair
  8. My three-minute engagement to a famous person
  9. A personal question (and what I answered)

Do I have more on the iPad? You bet.  But that’s enough for starters.  (And yes, you can vote for two.)

Don’t feel limited, though.  If something else comes to mind (that I might possibly know anything about), go right ahead….

I’ll give it a couple of days before I report back on the results.  Meanwhile, I’m off to buy that brisket!



Turkey Day is nearly upon us!

Everyone in the States will know what I mean.  This coming Thursday, the entire country is going to stop everything, jam the trains, planes, buses and highways, sit down with family, loved or otherwise, and eat roast turkey with all its trimmings.  (We also get Friday off to deal with the leftovers.  Turkey sandwiches, anyone? Turkey hash?  Turkey soup?)

Why are we doing this?  Because the Pilgrims survived their first year of hardship in the New World.  At least, that’s what the kiddies learn in school, beginning with kindergarten.

It’s also a wonderful annual opportunity for aging parents to make adult children feel guilty if they don’t try to surmount all obstacles, gather up their own little children, and come. In order properly to appreciate the trouble and aggravation involved, you should bear in mind that the adult children, if married, have at least two sets of aging parents to placate. Divorced and remarried aging parents make the calculus even more complicated:  “Mom, we’re going there this year.  We came to you last year, remember?”

Poultry farmers and other representatives of the food industry also have a heavy burden of responsibility here, but that’s another kind of post, so I ‘m not getting into it.  (Not today, anyway.)

A few words of explanation are in order for friends in Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and everywhere else where English is spoken (and therefore read).  I omit Canadians because they’re our neighbors, and surely know.

In 1620, members of a radical Puritan faction that had separated from the Church of England and were seeking religious freedom set sail for America in a ship called the Mayflower — a replica of which you can visit if you ever come to Plymouth, Massachusetts. It had room for only 120 passengers in its unheated hold. No bunks, no toilets. And you thought flying coach was hard!

We now call them the Pilgrims. They were aiming for Virginia, where a first English colony had been established.  (That would be Jamestown, remembered today chiefly for an Indian maiden named Pocohontas who saved the life of one John Smith by placing her head upon his when her father raised his war club to do him in. She was all of twelve.  But I digress.)

Our Pilgrims got lost.  They landed at the tip of Cape Cod, in what is now Massachusetts. Then in mid-December, they moved on to the western side of Cape Cod Bay, where they eventually built a fort, watchtower and living quarters — in what they named Plimouth Colony.

But first they had to get through the rest of the winter on the Mayflower. Half of them died.  Harsh weather, not enough to eat.  Whoever said becoming part of a nation’s mythology is easy?

A year after landing, on the last Thursday in November 1621, the sixty survivors gave thanks with a feast. They gratefully ate tough stringy wild fowl which they had shot — a distant progenitor of today’s over-plump turkeys.  They ate pre-GMO corn, which the local Wampanoag Indians had taught them to grow.  They had carrots, from seed brought from England.  I think they had wormy apples. And maybe they had nuts, berries, and cranberries from the bog.  Pumpkins — also part of the tradition — I don’t know about.

And now here we are, 392 years later, with supermarket flyers clogging our mailboxes, and then our garbage cans, clamoring for us to come get one, get one now!  Before they’re all gone!  Choose frozen turkey, fresh turkey, free-range turkey, honey-basted turkey.  There are twelve-pounders, sixteen-pounders, twenty-pounders. [Try staggering out to your car with a couple of those if you’ve been so foolish as to invite the entire extended family!]  There’s even vegan “turkey” — made of soy or textured vegetable protein or some such substance — for the pure of soul and body.

I hate turkey.  And I hate all that goes with it, starting with the moist bread (or cornbread) stuffing that’s held together with more melted butter than I consume in a year, plus all the turkey fat that’s dripped into it during four or more hours in the oven. I hate thick grayish-brown gravy,  even when laced with cooking sherry.  I hate glisteningly sticky-sweet potatoes, and also hate your great-grandmother’s special whipped sweet potato fluff.  I hate creamed onions, puffy white rolls, jellied cranberry sauce that slides out of a can.  (Sugared cranberries swimming in a dish get no kudos from me, either.) I’m not overly fond of brussels sprouts, that time-honored Thanksgiving vegetable. (String beans, if you’re having them, are all right.) And I’m not a big fan of pumpkin pie, pecan pie, or apple pie a la mode —  especially not when all three are lined up next to each other on the groaning board and I have to choose a slice of at least one so as not to offend the hostess.

It wasn’t always thus. On my first Thanksgiving as my second husband’s bride, I brought home fresh oysters to make a New York Times Cookbook stuffing. I clarified the drippings from the pan for gravy.  Eschewing bakeries, I made my own pumpkin pie (in a purchased crust), laboring over a real pumpkin, not canned pumpkin puree.

Then came the children.  And twenty-five years of it.

  • Twenty-five years of stuffing turkeys.
  • Twenty-five years of unstuffing them again. (Leaving uneaten stuffing in the turkey is a no-no.)
  • Twenty-five years of dirty dishes and greasy pans. Help from the family?  Are you kidding?  The football game is on!
  • Twenty-five years of Tupperware containers full of leftovers in the fridge.
  • Twenty-five years of “Turkey again?”


One son — with wife and little ones — is in Florida, where they are wisely not flying anywhere and making do with a chicken which the children will probably not eat.  (They are pastaholics.)

The other son — also with wife and little ones — is in New York City, where they usually go to her family. Which we eventually got used to.  And then this year they didn’t.  They invited us.  Consternation!  We are too old for Penn Station at Thanksgiving.  They said they forgave us. But did they? We’re going to see them on Saturday instead.  Maybe they’ll have disposed of the turkey by then.  Given the leftovers to a lonely doorman?

Bill hates eating turkey, too.  (He’s never had to deal with the cooking and cleaning up, so his hate is entirely taste-driven.) Actually, he used to hate eating everything with a face and feet, but over the years we have met half way.  Turkey is still on his kill list, though.

So what, in God’s name, are we going to eat on Thursday?  I have been asking myself this question for a couple of days.  Last night, God answered.  Bill asked me sweetly:  “How about brisket for Thanksgiving?”

Last spring, Bill discovered brisket at Bon Appetit, our local purveyor of fine cooked foods, foreign delicacies, cold cuts and cheese. He really liked it. Liked it so much, he went back the next day to buy more. Then — Passover being over — brisket disappeared from Bon Appetit.

Bon Appetit probably won’t be doing brisket for Thanksgiving.  But I have a worn copy of The Jewish Festival Cookbook. I have access to Epicurious. I have the butcher at Whole Foods.  (He must have a nice piece of beef brisket hidden away in his freezer, just for me.) Then all I need is lots of onions and garlic and tomatoes and time.

This Thursday, I ‘m giving thanks to brisket.  You can come for dinner if you like.



When I was a little girl in the 1930s, my favorite story was Hansel and Gretel.  I was an only child.  But after my mother had tucked me in and turned out the light, I would close my eyes and not be me anymore.

Alone in the dark I became Gretel, with a brother two years older and much braver than I.  We would live in a rough-hewn cottage deep in the woods — German woods, of course; there were no woods in New York City — and our parents were always away. But my brother would take me by the hand and lead me out of that dark place, where we were hungry and cold, to search for something better.  And no matter how difficult the journey I would feel safe and happy, because I was with him.

I got over wanting to be Gretel when we began to have Current Events in school and I learned that in real life, Hansel would probably wear a Hitler Youth uniform with a swastika on it and shout, “Sig Heil!” —  whereas I would have to wear a yellow armband and die in a camp, after which Hitler would make a lampshade of my skin.

That wasn’t the end of Hansel, though.

He resurfaced in the theater of my imagination three or four years later, Mediterraneanized.  Sometimes he had a name, Greek or Spanish or Italian or gypsy, but mostly he didn’t.  What he had was dark hair and smoldering eyes, plus rage at how things were, clenched fists, and a will to survive.

He had also developed a hard-muscled adolescent body and hungry genitals that were always seeking to escape the worn fabric of his ragged pants whenever he wasn’t being consumed with defiance at the injustices of life.  [He never wore underwear.  We were too poor for him to have any.]

As for his heart, it had long ago hardened and was accessible only to one other in all the world.  But ah, how he loved her — for her goodness, her sweetness, her gentleness. To him, she was beautiful.

And the best part was that she never actually had to do anything to earn his love except be true, which was easy.  Others might look down on him because he was poor and homeless and unlettered, but she knew that he was good [though a brawler], and therefore she trusted him and loved him and [eventually] opened her body to him.  Every night she did this, if I didn’t fall asleep first.

Now, of course, he was no longer her brother. I would make him her half-brother, or step-brother, or cousin. More often, though, they would have met when very young, cast out into the world as human detritus of the war — or of some other huge, unidentified societal calamity — so that they would have lived for years like brother and sister before they became lovers and made up for everything with the pleasure they took in each other’s flesh.

I would lie perfectly still under my clean sheets, blankets and white cotton chenille bedspread from Macy’s, devising on the screen inside my eyelids their meeting and growing up together. The rags they wore, the scraps of food he stole and scrupulously divided with her, the boxcars, abandoned shacks, and shelters for the homeless in which they slept, huddled together under straw — no detail was too insignificant for my careful consideration.

Both cunning auteur and excited audience, I also arranged for them to conceal — at least for the first hour or so — their immeasurably deep feelings for each other, watching breathlessly as she restrained her impulse to smooth back the lock of dark hair falling over his forehead and hid from him her heartache when he returned to her after a street fight with torn bleeding mouth and a fresh cut under his eye.  [Fortunately, both of these always healed without a scar.]

He in turn also had to experience emotions too deep for words. As when, for instance, I had him come upon her unawares as she bent diligently over her needle, patiently repairing, unasked, the rents in his few garments.  In fact, dialogue was generally an unnecessary item in these nocturnal dramas, except to trigger heart-rending, albeit temporary, misunderstandings.  However, for variety I did occasionally permit him to swallow his pride and beseech her, humbly, to teach him to read.

And each night I would need to determine anew whether his frayed pants should unbutton or unzip when it was time for him to release their swollen contents.  On the nights I managed to stay awake until it was time for this delicious decision, the passion then unleashed, after he had deflowered her (as painlessly as possible) left me with pounding heart, gasping, and unable to sleep at all.

Then I went away on full scholarship to a prestigious college for women, where I was invited to mixers and football weekends at Ivy League schools.  And the screen went dark.


One of the perks of getting old is the leisure to reflect.  When I look back now on those fevered nights of my girlhood, what do I make of them?

I still love the sex parts. They’re so creative. Especially as my actual knowledge then derived entirely from what I had read in my mother’s copy of “Sane Sex Life and Sane Sex Living” and had discovered under the sheets with my finger.  Hands-on experience with a real other person came later. Alas, much later.

I  am surprised that my nights were so dark with calamities. I had never gone hungry or cold.  Safe on the other side of the Atlantic, the war  — World War II — never reached me.  I had heard about it, read about it, adults were always talking about it.  But I cannot say it colored my daily life in any meaningful way.  On the other hand, there were movies, Hollywood war movies — and I loved movies. And there were my immigrant parents, who had known horrors, and who loved me, and who had therefore surrounded me with the clouds of their fear.

I am sad there was never an “I” in my stories.  “He” and “she”  enjoyed the action, but I could only watch. Even at night, in private, I was never off the leash.  What a creature of the culture I was!  You imbibed it with your mother’s milk: Men didn’t marry spoiled goods.

I am bemused at the notion that goodness and sweetness will get you a man. Or that someone will love you for being “true” — plus mending his garments and knowing how to read.

And why did I think you needed a Y chromosome to put bread on the table?  That was my mother’s model. I was taking Latin and Algebra and Physics and Chemistry in school.  What was that all about if the goal was to sit home and wait to be fed?

I did not grow up to be what you might call a feminist.  But sixty-odd years have certainly put a different spin on things.  Also, you hang around, you learn.

I do admit that the idea of not wearing underwear remains exciting.  Although it may lead to more frequently having to launder your jeans.



After the bittersweet emotions of the previous post, we need a booster shot of happy.

I am therefore presenting again, for your viewing and listening pleasure, a flashmob performance of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy, from the fourth movement of his Ninth Symphony, filmed in the main square of Sabadell, Spain.  I first uploaded it in “Learning to Blog: 2-5” — the blog where I began.  Therefore some of you will have seen it. But some of you have not. Still others (like the ones who prefer heavy metal ) may leave and never come back.

A risk I will take.  Bill wants to see it again, I want to see it again,  you may want to see it again too, once you’ve seen it the first time. Who owns this blog, anyway? 

So here goes….

Get ready. Get set. Go!



For me, getting old without books is unthinkable. Macular degeneration?  I’ll listen to books on tape.  If my hearing goes, I’ll learn Braille.

That said, with new books I’m a hard sell.  No magic realism, no experiments with time and space for me, thank you.  Nice lady on the screen, I’m real tough on fluff and crap. And bad writing?  Forget it.  If time’s running out, I don’t want to waste it.  I still have War and Peace, Ulysses, and all of Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past  to get through: that’s a lot of pages.  Not to mention Dante’s Inferno. (Well, maybe I’ll let that one go.)

On the other hand, I’m also extremely loyal.  When a writer hooks me, I’m his or hers till death do us part, even through the rougher spots. One such writer, still very much alive, is Louis Begley — to whom I pledged my troth in 1991 after I read his first book, Wartime Lies. (To me perhaps his best.  Read it yourself if you haven’t.  174 exceptional pages. )

I bring him up here because in between books, he can occasionally be found on the Opinion Pages of The New York Times — writing a piece with “Age” or “Old” in its title. This is not surprising; he’s pushing 81.

I save those pieces.  Print them out and put them in a folder marked “Getting Old.”  (A habit left over from life in the law.)  And now — what a coincidence! — they can come out of the folder and go online.

I’m just a babbler about aging.  He’s a master.  Bet he’ll make you cry.

Old Love by Louis Begley

[Published August 11, 2012 in The New York Times Sunday Review: The Opinion Pages]

Years ago, when I was a callow 39, I had lunch with a college friend whose intellectual authority over me was considerable; we lunched together often, at least once a month.  On that particular occasion I put to him a question that embarrassed me: what if one is deeply in love with a young woman — which was my case — and with age her beauty fades.  Will her attraction fatally diminish?  Might it be replaced by a sort of repulsion?  For instance, when her skin withers and wrinkles, will I still want to kiss the crook of her arms, those arms that I so admire, and, if gallantry pushed me to do so, will I have to avert my eyes?

My friend knew of my fastidiousness and passion for feminine beauty.  His usual mode of expression involved elaborate metaphors that snaked around whatever subject was under discussion.  This time, however, he got right to the point:  “Both you and she,” he said, “will change.  You will change in tandem.  You won’t see her with the eyes of a young man, but instead with those of someone who is 75 or 80.  The eyes of an old man.  Your only worry should be that she may throw you out first!”

My friend was right, except that the skin of the Lady in Question, which I believe I still see with the eyes of youth, has remained as beautiful and as capable of moving me as ever.

A secret I have kept until now, however, is my suspicion that sometimes when I look at her today I substitute the image from a photograph taken almost 40 years ago in the garden of a villa on a Greek island, and that when she sees me she performs a similar operation.  (By the way, I believe that the Lady in Question is keeping me; she has decided against sending me away.)  And I love the Lady in Question as strongly as when we decided to join our lives.  The difference is that I am convinced that I love her better:  more tenderly and less selfishly.  In the not-so-small group of persons I love — children and grandchildren — she comes first.


The love for the Lady in Question, I am honored to report, continues to include sex, which gives us no less joy and pleasure than our embraces in our long ago salad days, and matters to us just as much.  Of course, I foresee — and I am certain that she does, too — a time in the future when we will be content and grateful for being able simply to hold each other in our arms.

The new element in our relationship, if I look only at myself, is having been purged of most of my selfishness and egocentricity.  She had no need for such cleansing.  I no longer ask myself whether everything has been arranged as I would wish it to be.  I have a new goal:  making sure that the wishes of the Lady in Question have been fulfilled, that I have done all I can to make her laugh or smile.  My study is to be attentive, to please and to praise.

Because my lunchtime friend had put me in my place with so much energy, I didn’t ask him the other question that troubled me at the time.  If I was in fact as aloof and lacking in warmth as certain young women toward whom I had indeed cooled would claim, and not simply shy, which was my assessment, would not old age turn me into a monster of indifference, detached from everything that didn’t affect my creature comforts?

I needn’t have worried.  The opposite has happened: I have turned into a sort of holy fool, moved quite literally to tears by the kindness of strangers, the happiness of couples, the beauty in June of the garden I share with the Lady in Question, the good looks of our grandchildren, the intelligence and refined manners of my cat, and the nest tucked into the trumpet vine that climbs the wall of one of our outbuildings in which four newly hatched gray catbirds are learning to spread their wings.

It could not be otherwise.  Only a real fool reaches my age without finding that his every third thought is of the grave.  Bare ruined choirs, the twilight that black night takes away, ashes of my youth: even in June, when boughs that shake against the cold seem inconceivably distant, those premonitory images, reminders that my time with the Lady in Question has a term, refuse to leave me.

Couplets that end Shakespeare’s sonnets often give lie to the old saw that they are throwaway rhyming lines written solely to satisfy the requirements of the form.  The couplet that concludes Sonnet LXXIII is a case in point and sums up my feelings, both ecstatic and sad, about the “handiwork of time”: This thou perceiv’st, which makes thy love more strong,/To love that well, which thou must leave ere long.



I’ve noticed bloggers like lists.  Here’s a list of five tried-and-true cliches to fall back on when it all seems too much.  Will they make you feel better?  Who knows?  But they’ll give you something else to think about for a while.  Every little bit helps.

1.  “Why me, O God?”  Hurl yourself onto the nearest mattress and shake a fist at the ceiling.  You can even shed a few tears if you want, although you probably won’t. You’ll feel too silly.  Don’t worry; nobody’s looking.

2.  “Old age isn’t for sissies.”  I offered this as a “reply” to a sixty-six-year-old blogger with a lot on her plate who lives In England; she liked it so much she told her ninety-seven-year-old mother about it.  Both of them agree I’m spot on. (Wonderful British expression.  Music to my American ears.) They even want me to do a whole post on the subject. I think this whole blog is on the subject.

3.  “It is what it is.” (Var., “What is, is.”) The Talmudic approach.  You don’t have to be Jewish.  It will make you sound wise.

4.  “The alternative is worse.”  Unless you’d rather be dead.  Well, would you?  Probably not.

5.  “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” We owe this one to G.W. Bush, now back in Texas resting up after his two presidential tours of duty.  He meant it, post 9-11, about Iraq (or maybe Afghanistan), but it works just as well for getting old — hopefully with better results.  Feel like putting those boots back on the ground yet?

6.  “Just pick yourself up, and dust yourself off, and start all over again.”  I found this ditty  — it’s part of a song — about fifteen years ago in a movie called “Home for the Holidays,” although I’m sure the song’s been around longer than that. The movie starred Holly Hunter and a handsome stranger who went on to head up a television series about a law firm specializing in criminal matters. His name escapes me, as many names now do. However, none of that matters, because all three — the movie, Holly and Mr. Handsome — have faded from view.  On the other hand, the dusting yourself off part continues to cheer me.

Okay, enough with the self pity. Break’s over. Time to get up and get on with it.



My mother died, after seven years of widowhood, of colon cancer.  I’m not sure she knew what she had.  She was 89 and living in an assisted living community in Palm Springs, California to which I had moved her.  She refused to be moved to a similar facility in Boston, where she would be near me and I could see her more often.  “What would I do there?” she said.

I was her only child.

My phone rang at 2 a.m. on the Friday after Thanksgiving, 1993.  I had been to Palm Springs for three days only a few weeks before, and had made arrangements to visit with her again for Christmas. But she couldn’t wait. She refused to eat. I think she wanted to die.

The large corporate firm where I was then practicing law permitted five days of leave “for the death of a parent, spouse or child.”  I flew out the next day to settle accounts, dispose of her furniture, and collect the ashes. Many years before, my father had directed that they both be cremated.  The crematorium gave me her wedding ring and a small, clear plastic bag of ashes in a plastic box — all that remained of her.  I brought the box home and put it in a bureau drawer for the time being, while I sorted out my life (then somewhat in flux) and tried to sort out my feelings.

When I was a child, she was the center of the universe.

Then I grew up. She didn’t like my posture, my glasses,  my clothes. I chose bad earners for husbands, lived in “ugly” houses, had disappointing children.  I didn’t call often enough.  I didn’t write often enough. And what did I want to be a lawyer for? Although she never actually said it, she didn’t like me.

She was the great failed love affair of my life.  What was I going to do with her now she was gone?  Keep her forever in my drawer so she would always, at last, be mine?


A year later I had moved across the river to Cambridge.  As a resident, I could have bought a plot in the crowded Cambridge municipal cemetery for $50. Except I couldn’t.  Not with Mount Auburn Cemetery (much more expensive) across the street from my bedroom window — historic, beautiful, landscaped:  a place to walk, reflect, and bury your dead in style.

My friend Gayle drove in from Worcester to help me choose.  It was January 1995, and bitter cold.  We clomped up and down the icy paths, looking at the available spaces for ashes marked on a map from the Director of Sales.  Several of them were near Azalea Pond, lovely even in winter — bordered by weeping willows and encircled by a low stone wall.

I could hear my mother’s voice in my head.  “You’re putting me here, where cars can park on me?”

We walked closer to the pond, inside the stone enclosure. “Next to a woman with a husband? When I have no husband?”

We were freezing.  Enough with the looking.  I bought a place for her inscription on a pedestal facing the pond, with its own willow nearby. No cars. Higher than all the other inscriptions facing the pond.  And a double (at double the price), with room for my father’s name above hers.  No one would ever pity my mother as a woman without a husband!

The carpenter who was altering the closets in my new apartment made two small mitered pine boxes, without nails. He refused to take money.  It was an honor, he said.  My father’s ashes had been scattered over the Pacific, so I had nothing of him to put in his box.  Instead, four photographs:  as a boy, a young groom, the father of my girlhood, a retiree under the California sun.

I ordered flowers.  I flew both sons to Boston for the ceremony.  They were young, and without plane fare. Without strong ties to my mother, either.  But they were all the extended family she had.  And I wanted them to see how it was done.  So they would be ready for the next time.

Gayle insisted on coming too.  There would be four of us.

One problem, though.  What should I say?  What good things could I say?

It took until the night before.  And then I had it.  At midnight, I wrote it out to read at the grave site, so I should get it right.

The day was clear and sunny.  One son carried the box with my father’s pictures.  The other son carried the other one, my mother’s box.  Before we closed it, I wet a finger and smoothed the ashes inside. I couldn’t help it. One last caress. Then I licked my finger clean.

Each son placed a box in the opening in the earth which had been dug for us. The grounds-keeper threw fresh earth into the hole.

This is what I said at the grave of my mother on May 20, 1995.  Maybe it made her happy at last.

We have come here today, to this beautiful place, to honor Michael Raginsky, who was my father, and Myra Raginsky, who was my mother.  “Honor” was not a word in their vocabulary.  “Respect for parents” would have been more like it.  But meaning no disrespect, “honor” is the right word.

Remembering my parents as they were in their later years, and certainly as my two children may remember them, they seemed to live timid, critical, constricted lives — without even the modicum of daily happiness to which everyone is entitled.  And yet, once — before any of us knew them — these two people whom we recall as so modest and somewhat fearful, did something so absolutely extraordinary that it still amazes me every time I think of it.

At the ages of seventeen and nineteen — when they were still by our standards barely out of adolescence, Mirra Weinstein and Mendel Raginsky, as they were then known  — not yet married to each other, or even thinking of it — said goodbye forever to parents, her brother, his sisters, friends, the world as they knew it, and voyaged to a place literally halfway around the globe where they did not know anyone at all, did not know the way things worked, did not even know how to speak — to anyone except each other and other Russians.

I don’t know if they ever realized afterwards what a remarkable feat of courage that was.  I don’t know if they ever were sorry, wished they could go back.  They didn’t talk about things like that.  I do know they Americanized their names, learned English, married, became citizens, made a life, and raised a child.  Their ways were not always the ways I might have wished they had.  But I would not be here if it were not for that remarkable voyage into the unknown on which they embarked in 1922, and neither would my children.  And that is why “honor” is the right word.

If there is a somewhere after here, Mother and Dad, I hope you are pleased that your journey has ended at this tranquil and lovely place of trees and pond.  Despite all my carryings on, I always loved you, and I always will.

Then we arranged our flowers on the fresh raw earth, placed four small stones on top of the pedestal, and went away to the Charles Hotel to have a champagne lunch.



It’s quite easy to forget about it.  The age thing, I mean.

Having a medical checkup is one of the times it’s not.  Like most of my contemporaries I seem to have acquired various specialists over the years, each of whom has staked out a little fiefdom in some part of me that he — curiously, there is no she — wants to test at regular intervals.

Yes, I know it’s to be sure there’s nothing bad coming down the pike.  On the other hand, letting all these specialists have their way with me involves  euphemistically styled “procedures”  — like CAT scans — that would expose me to more radioactivity than I care to think about.  Also I don’t like to spend what life may be left reassuring all those white coats that there is some life left. It chews up a lot of time.

So I don’t see them as often as they might like.  I stall, delay,  reschedule.

Another reason I don’t like going is that when I finally do show up, some impossibly young medical assistant ushers me into that little windowless room with the examining table and a scale, weighs and measures me (to see if I’ve shrunk since last time), then looks at the chart and exclaims, “82?  You’re really 82?  I’d never have guessed!”

She means it as a compliment.  I can’t even deny that part of me  — the frivolous foolish part — is pleased. But what she really means, even though she doesn’t say it, is that “82” is bad, younger than “82” is better.  And much younger is much better.

How could she help thinking that in the age of Miley Cyrus?  (All right, you can go as far as Gwyneth Paltrow. But stop right there.) Is there an impossibly young medical assistant anywhere who exclaims to a thirty-something, “35?  You’re really 35?  I’d never have guessed!”

The very young are less judgmental. They’re just dismissive.   In 1978, I took both children west to visit my parents, then living in L.A..  My father was 76.  My younger son whispered to me, “Did Grandpa know George Washington?”  For him, anyone noticeably older was history.

The thing is, people like me (or my 76-year-old father, a youngster, relatively speaking) who’ve been around longer than the medical assistant so surprised to see me erect, functioning, and highlighted by my hairdresser — or than my little son when he began to learn American history in fourth grade —  people like me are not yet history, long-ago birthdates notwithstanding.

We may gradually become slightly or somewhat or significantly incapacitated by what is happening to our bodies. But we are still living our lives and making plans and enjoying ice cream (when we let ourselves have some), and trying to be happy as best we can.  Just like you.  Especially if we lower our eyes towards the sink every morning while brushing teeth, so as not to notice that increasingly wrinkly person who always appears in the bathroom mirror when we stand in front of it.  (What did you think?  That I wouldn’t like to look like Gwyneth Paltrow, too?)

Fact:  if you who are reading this are lucky enough to be able to hang in there, one day that “we” in the preceding paragraph is going to include you.  And most of the time you’re not going to feel a whole lot different than you do now.   What differences there are will have come on so imperceptibly, and your adjustment to them will have been so gradual, that you will seem to yourself to be the same “you” you’ve known all along.

Which is why it’s so hard for me to remember I’m “really” 82 unless I see it in writing, or someone — like the wrinkled person in the mirror or the medical assistant with the charts — reminds me.

Perhaps our culture is so uneasy around people who are past their pull date in the workplace, and are now in the eighth, ninth and tenth decades of their lives, because most of us don’t live near our grandparents or great-grandparents any more and therefore lack familiarity with people who have acquired a lot of life experience and look it.

Alternatively, maybe it’s that there’s so little out there from which we can learn about, um, what it’s like to be old.

You can certainly find plenty to read, online and elsewhere, about how to deal with aging parents.  Or, if you yourself are the aging parent, about how to provide for yourself so you’re not a nuisance to anyone else. Much unwanted literature arrives in my postal mailbox almost every day, urging me to join the happy old who no longer have to worry about keeping the lawn neat and the boiler working because they’re now living in an establishment with an arboreal or very English name and lots of staff — the purpose of which is to cater to the increasingly decrepit and inept:  “The last move you’ll ever have to make!”

Then there are the writers who hold your feet to the fire, such as Susan Jacoby.  Her very fine and bracing book, “Never Say Die: The Myth and Marketing of The New Old Age,” will tell you that one out of every two people who make it to eighty-five will develop Alzheimers.  I believe her.  However, focusing on this not-very-good statistical risk doesn’t help me enjoy the life I still have to live.

That’s why I try, most of the time, to sidestep thoughts of age, illness and death, even though I know I am being involuntarily transported in that direction.

Denial?  Perhaps.

But testamentary documents executed, and modest savings placed under the conservative management of a kindly financial guru in Boston — how else am I going to really live until I die?



If I am lucky, our cat Sasha may push back the slightly open door of our bedroom in the early morning, arrive silently at my side of the bed, miaow once to announce her presence, and wait for me to peer over the side at her. She is beautiful, with a large round head, piercing lemon-yellow eyes and a slight silver sheen to her bluish grey fur.

Silly girl. She thinks she needs an invitation.  I inch back a bit towards Bill to make more space between me and the edge, and pat the mattress.  “Hi Sasha.  Hi sweetheart.  Come on.  Come on up, Sosh.”  I use my talking-to-a-young-child voice, perfectly serviceable in another context forty-odd years later.

She thinks about it.  She might still decide to make for the litter box in the adjoining bathroom; get a drink or a snack from one of the two bowls against the wall; head for the Shaker-style set of chairs tied together to make a bench by the double window. There she can look out under the light-proof shade to the leafy street.

But no.  This time it’s me and my obliging right hand she wants.  Up she jumps into the waiting space, turns around once, twice — sometimes three times — then collapses against me.  Her head is towards the foot of the bed, but at just the right horizontal meridian for me slowly to stroke her silky forehead, deeply furred cheeks, velvet ears, and whole delicious length all the way to the thick tail extended against my cheek.

After a while she gives a half-turn so that my hand can do her belly, a paradise of angora down.  Claws in, her paws manipulate me.  She knows exactly where she wants it — up, down, between the spread legs, not quite there, a little higher.  I obey, a lover wishing only to please.  All of her vibrates with a low rumbling purr.  She is happy.

I am happy, too.  I lie on my back, eyes closed — right hand on her, left hand clasped in Bill’s — enveloped in creaturely security. I feel his even breathing along one side of me, hers along the other against my midsection — all of us warmly wrapped in quilt, conjoined, our three hearts beating steadily.

I want it to last forever.  (Don’t say anything.  I know, I know.) And sometimes, since neither Bill nor I need jump to the ring of an alarm, it does last — if not forever, at least for a couple of hours.  Sasha falls asleep, my hand stills, imperceptibly Bill and I doze off, in the comfort of a time-suspended dream.



One of the pleasures of the ninth decade of my life is Sasha, a nearly five-year old British Blue shorthair cat.  She’s been with us since she was five months old.  Although the breeder was thinking of keeping her — she was a nearly perfect kitten by breeding standards — she let us have her because the sibling kitten we had driven fifty miles to see had already been sold.  So Sasha was a happy accident.  As many happy things are.

She was even more of an accident because I have always favored dogs. Fruitlessly, I yearned for a dog in childhood. At last  I took matters into my own hands by accepting a puppy from a lady down the street whose cocker spaniel had been erotically careless.  I was eleven.  Jimmy was brown and white and warm and cuddly.  And he didn’t cost a cent!  My parents let me keep him.

Jimmy waited by the front door every afternoon when it was time for me to come home from school, barking joyously at my arrival. He was also noticeably fond of my mother, the food source. And especially fond of her hamburgers and peanut butter cookies.  But no one denied he was “my” dog.  Wasn’t I the one who had found him?  Then we moved east from Los Angeles, and Jimmy couldn’t come.  My best friend took him.  I used to think about him sometimes and hope he was having a nice life.  There were no more dogs in mine.

Until I had children of my own. (Second husband, if you’re counting.)  How could we deny them a dog? Despite living in a somewhat cramped fourth-floor apartment on West 86th Street in New York City, I even envisaged giving them a first-hand experience of the magic of birth.  Our dog, when we got her, could have puppies in the second bathroom!

Second husband, who had not been permitted a dog in his own Brooklyn childhood, was willing.

We began with two false starts that cost nothing and produced nothing.  First there was Mick Humble (a name somewhat inspired by Mick Jagger but more suitable to a trembly little dog). Okay, no magic of birth in the bathroom, but free is free.  Poor Mick lay in misery behind the toilet for several days before we realized he wasn’t just frightened but really sick, and needed to be taken back to the ASPCA to be put to sleep.

Next came Bonaparte, a frisky cutie if ever there was one.  He was given to us by a grateful neighbor with an unspayed black Lab who — like Jimmy’s mother many years before — had yielded to an unplanned amorous impulse.  Little Bonaparte had to be returned because he grew too large too fast;  when at fourteen weeks he took to jumping on the children in friendly play, he nearly knocked them down. His father must have been a mastiff.

It finally dawned on us that you get what you pay for.  So one sunny Sunday, we all climbed into our aging Volkswagen and headed a couple of hours north of the city, where according to the classifieds — remember them, anyone? — breeders were less grasping in their pricing practices.  The trip was productive:  we came back with the golden retriever puppy who would grow up with us; see our children through their childhood and my second husband and I through our marriage; and imprint for good on all of us the conviction that a dog is indeed a best friend.

“What shall we call her?” I asked during the car ride home.  The two children sat in the back (no car seats, no booster seats in that faraway time ), a puppy the color of golden sand between them.  With one voice, they cried out, “Sandy!”

Not being Little Orphan Annie, I aimed higher.  “How about a more interesting name?” I inquired seductively.  “Think of all the deserts in the world full of sand! Gobi! Mohave! Sahara!”

And now I could tell you about training Sahara to hold it for the street despite the temptations of the elevator floor, and about  generously dispensing dollar bills to the elevator man for “accident” cleanup. About my West 86th Street walks with Sahara early and late, and the people I met at the end of her leash. About mopping up behind Sahara on hands and knees during her first period, an experience definitively ending plans for puppies in the second bathroom. About how Sahara covered clothes, children, rugs, furniture and car with her golden hairs, and how we learned not to mind. About the time my older son (aged twelve) saved Sahara’s virginity from another golden retriever, a large and horny male. About how Sahara comforted my younger son when his brother went away to school. About how walking with Sahara by the ocean kept a fraying marriage together after we left New York for a beach town in Massachusetts because living in New York had became too expensive and too difficult.

However, all that about Sahara is another story.  Or several other stories. (Perhaps I should begin an auxiliary blog called “Other Stories?”)

I could even tell you the sad part, although it would be much harder to write, about when the children grew up and left us.  Soon afterwards I too went away, leaving Sahara to grow old in a cold and empty house alone with the children’s father.  I still feel guilty about her.  We both wanted out.  But she wanted only to be with our family.  And then there was no more family to be with….

A good place to stop.  Wasn’t I supposed to be writing about getting old and Sasha?

Next time.



Bill is entirely supportive of my blogging efforts.

Bill is the man I’ve lived with for the past twelve and a half years.  Since you’re probably wondering, I’ll get it over with up front:  our meeting was real geriatric chick-lit.  I advertised, he responded, we met. His apartment was five minutes away from mine. It didn’t take all that many dates….

Anyway.  When I showed Bill the first post of this new blog about getting old — now also a page, if you missed it — he wanted a piece of the action.  (He qualifies; he’s three and a half years older than me.)  He ran — well, walked — to find a selection of excerpts from the last diaries of Bernard Berenson, the renowned art historian.  The excerpts were (you guessed it) about getting old.

“Here,” he said.  “You need quotations.”  Bill didn’t think my first husband’s ashtray made the point of that first post (now a page) forcefully enough.

I know all about citing to authorities.  During part of my past life, I was a lawyer and, among other things, wrote briefs for a living.  Show me a brief without copious citation to authorities, and I’ll show you a lawyer who loses the case, and the client.

However I am now retired from my earned income stream and no longer need to convince anyone of anything quite so persuasively.  But I do try to please Bill whenever I can, just as he tries to please me (most of the time).  So I looked at what Berenson had to say.  Here he is on August 13, 1956, when he was ninety-one:

I still want to learn.  I still want to understand, and I still want to write.  How shall I get rid of these lusts?  Physical incompetence only will emancipate me from their slavery, but what kind of freedom will it be? The antechamber of the End.  But how I still enjoy sunlight, nature and stormy skies, and sunsets, and trees and flowers, and animals including well-shaped humans, and reading, and conversing!”

Moving along past the lusts and well-shaped humans, we come to him again on December 20, 1957, when he was ninety-two:

I ought to consult an aurist, a urologist, an eye specialist, an up-to-date dentist, etc., in fact spend most of my time and money in an effort to prolong life.  Why?  Living at my age and with all my disabilities is anything but a picnic.  So why cling to it?  Partly out of mere animal instinct.  Partly out of curiosity about tomorrow and the day after tomorrow.  Partly because I am not resigned to giving up, and still am eager to achieve….”

He clung for two more years.

But clinging is not exactly my style, unless we’re talking about Eleanor Roosevelt’s style of clinging:

When you get to the end of your rope, tie a knot in it and hang on.”

So if we’re doing quotations, I much prefer Henry James.  As in The Ambassadors, Book 5, Chapter 2:

Live all you can: it’s a mistake not to.  It doesn’t matter what you do in particular, so long as you have had your life….The right time is any time that one is still so lucky as to have….Live!”

Which is not entirely dissimilar to the sentiments of poor Dylan Thomas, who never had the chance to get old, having destroyed himself early on with drink and despair:

Do not go gentle into that good night,

 Old age should burn and rave at close of day:

 Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

Or, if that’s too passionate for you, consider Oliver Sacks, younger than me, who wrote in The New York Times on July 6, 2013, on the occasion of his 80th birthday:

I do not think of old age as an ever grimmer time that one must somehow endure and make the best of, but as a time of leisure and freedom, freed from the factitious urgencies of earlier days, free to explore whatever I wish, and to bind the thoughts and feelings of a lifetime together.  I am looking forward to being 80.”

Free to bind the thoughts and feelings of a lifetime together.  That sounds about right.  Thank you, Oliver (if I may).

Thank you, Bill, for your helpful suggestion.

And now that we’re all squared away with the quotations, one more thank you — to Alexander Portnoy (and Philip Roth) for lending me the end of this post:

So….Now vee may perhaps to begin.  Yes?

[Note on why I call this my “new” blog:  Not so long ago, I had another blog called “Learning to Blog” — for test-driving this blogging business.  Although it’s now my “old” blog, you’re cordially invited to visit:  http://www.ninamishkin.wordpress.com ]