READY, SET, GO — AGAIN!

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Maybe you remember. (It was in “New Travel Companion,” four posts back.) The cardiologist gave me the green light on travel, as long as an oximeter went with me. So the oximeter and I went to Florida on a short trial run visit to a pair of grandchildren and their parents, one of whom is my younger son. I used wheelchairs to ease the airport  ordeal.  Once you swallow your pride about being pushed by another person, it sure beats waiting in lines for inspection and pulling a wheelie for miles and miles and miles. (Why does my gate always have to be the one that’s farthest away?)

But once I was home again, I wanted more.  Something more adventurous. More distant. More memorable.  I may be eighty-seven, but I’m still greedy. I mean, make hay while the sun shines and the oximeter numbers are good, no?  And then, while I was debating with myself — France? Russia? England? River cruise? — and getting nowhere near a decision, a woman I know only slightly walked out of the Windrows dining room after dinner last spring and declared, to me and anyone else who might be listening:  “I’m finally going to Israel!”  She’s eighty-one (a mere youngster), but her late husband refused to fly anywhere. Now she’s free to wing it, while she can.

I expressed interest in the details. It was a late October eleven-day trip with Road Scholar, the organization that sponsored my jaunt to Dublin last year. The price included airfare, and was very reasonable. “And they have one single room left,” she added.

It was as if a scroll unrolled from the heavens bearing the commandment: “That single room is for you!”  Bill had a niece I liked who lives in Israel.  I had an old college friend who now lives in Israel. A WordPress virtual “friend” and blog follower lives in Israel. I could try to see them all. And if I fell into a-fib again from excitement, the cardiologist had given Israeli hospitals his imprimatur; he said they were very good. One more plus: apparently another woman from Windrows was going too. That would make three of us to do things together in the “free time” part of the program.

I hurried upstairs to nail that last single room before anyone else grabbed it. I bought trip cancellation insurance. I also threw caution to the winds because this trip is three times more physically challenging than the Dublin one. The Road Scholar catalog labeled Dublin “Take it Easy.” Israel is labeled “Keep the Pace.”  We will have to deal with cobblestones, and hills, and “unavoidable” stairs. So I hired a trainer a month ago; my last session with her before departure was devoted to learning to walk with a (fold-up) cane.

It certainly takes the mind off old age and death.  So I’ll do what I can do, and skip the rest.  I spent two weeks in Israel twenty-five years ago and “saw” pretty much everything tourists are supposed to see; it won’t be a tragedy if this time I decide to skip clomping around the Masada ruins  or putting on a bathing suit to float in the Dead Sea. What I really want is to see how other people live in other places, and feel for a while what it might be like to live there.  I always did wish we could live parallel lives in multiple countries and not have to choose.

My bag and backpack are packed, and I’m off to JFK on Sunday.  “On Being Old” is therefore closing down for a bit more than two weeks. I’ll try to take some i-Phone pictures. It’s quite an old phone but it’s got a new battery.  Sort of like me.

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STILL TIMELY: A 14TH-CENTURY CASE OF OF ASSAULT

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[This is the second of the two lessons from law school I mentioned in my last post.  The first was instructive. This one’s illustrative. Anyone following the circus surrounding the Judge Kavanaugh confirmation hearings in the United States Senate will be able to find connections with the seven-hundred-year-old foundational case on assault recounted below.]

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THE ILLUSTRATIVE CASE OF I. de S. and WIFE

(At the Assizes, 1348)

In France, where the legal system is based on the Napoleonic Code, law students spend five years learning the nation’s codified statutes. By contrast, in the United States, law schools generally follow a three-year instructional method developed at Harvard Law School during the mid-nineteenth century which is based on the study of decisional law  — that is, the study of how individual cases in the major branches of law were decided and why. These decisions are collected in casebooks, and assigned — usually three at a time in each course — to be read, outlined and assimilated sufficiently to enable the student to explain the court’s reasoning if called on.

Not surprisingly, it tends to be the earliest cases we read in the first weeks of law school, when all this was new, which linger long in the mind even after the student becomes a real lawyer and confronts contemporary problems which may have little, of anything, to do with those long-ago decisions. I will probably remember into the grave an early nineteenth-century property case, Pierson v. Post — otherwise known as “Who Owns the Fox?” It concerned a man (Mr. Post) who was chasing a fox, apparently for some time, without having come close enough to injure or capture it. Then another fellow (Mr. Pierson) spotted the fox, and did wound and capture it. In the end, who was entitled to the fox, or what was left of it?  Hint: effort is not enough.

Another first-year case recently surfaced in my mind around the time the #metoo hashtag was born. It has refused to go away ever since — especially after Dr. Christine Blasey Ford accused Judge Brett Kavanauugh of sexual assault. It’s the fourteenth-century case of I. de S. et ux. This was the very first tort case reported in Anglo-American case law, and the first case I read in law school. I think “I.” stood for “Isaac.” I’m not sure where “S.” was. Suffolk? Smithfield? Sheffield?  “Et ux” means “and wife” in Latin.

Now we come to a glossary of terms from lawyer-speak. Lawyers have an English language all their own; after you learn it, you tend to forget that non-lawyers may not be sure what you mean. I just mentioned “Anglo-American law.” American law derives from English law.  No big surprise there. 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. It’s all “stare decisis” — meaning “it stands decided.” So early English common law decisions crossed the Atlantic with early settlers and became the antecedents of our own common law.

I referenced “case law.” It’s also known as bench-made law. Or common law. (In contrast to statutory law enacted by legislatures. Although there’s also bench-made law construing statutory law, including of course the Constitution.) It’s what judges decide, usually on appeal, after all the factual evidence is in, and after they’ve considered all the relevant case law that came before.

I called “I. de S. et ux” a “tort case.” A “tort” in the law is not a misspelled Austrian pastry. It’s a branch of civil law having to do with various kinds of intentional or negligent harm people inflict on each other — excluding breach of contract, which is part of contract law. It has to be harm for which the court can provide relief, usually in the form of financial compensation.

“Civil law?” Not criminal law. No jail time. No executions. It can get expensive, though.

Ouch. But how can I tell you about I. and his wife, who both lived in S. in the middle of the fourteenth century, without the vocabulary? Anyhow, that’s all out of the way now. Onward!

As I recall — and it’s been a while so some of the details are fuzzy — I. was a tavern keeper. After he had shut up shop for the night, W. — also of Suffolk, or Smithfield, or Sheffield — came over to buy some wine and found the tavern door bolted. He had a hatchet with him, and swung it at the door, cursing and “caterwauling” near the window.  I.’s wife stuck her head out and told him to stop the noise, whereupon he swung at her with the hatchet too. Although he didn’t hit her, she was “afeared” that he would. I. — her husband — went to the local assizes, which functioned as a court of law in the counties, and brought suit against W.

The judges decided there had been an assault, even though W.’s hatchet hadn’t actually touched or cut I.’s wife. It was the first actionable tort, and its facts provided us, the students, with the legal definition of assault. It’s 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 exam: (1) intentional; (2) reasonable; (3) imminent; and (4) bodily. But never mind that.

What was really significant — to me and all the other women in the class — which in 1983 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 — which were the eyes of the contemporaneous fourteenth-century world — she was not a person, and therefore could not be injured. She was I.’s appendage, his property, his chattel.  (Not so different from the fox in Pierson v. Post five hundred years lateralthough the legal issue was different there.) Frightening her — by causing her to experience a reasonable apprehension of imminent bodily harm — was an injury to him, for which he was entitled to compensation. Perhaps he loved her, but the law wouldn’t care about that. Perhaps he went to court because W.’s assault had made her too “afeared” to work in the tavern. We will never know. In any event, we will probably say it sounds nuts, and 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 file 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 pay himself through his insurer for hurting his own flesh?

The Marital Harmony Doctrine may have finally faded away. And now we have decades of state and federal legislation prohibiting sexual discrimination and harassment in the workplace. But much of the country sat glued to their televisions or other devices a few weeks ago as the Kavanaugh confirmation hearings touched on “boys will be boys” conduct in high school and the hallowed halls of Yale — conduct demonstrating that when some young men get drunk and their inhibitions dissolve, at bottom they still believe women are not quite people but prey — prey for touching, and grinding against, and sexual manhandling, and also fair game for sexual conquest by any means. A woman is still — to too many men, including those no longer young — not quite an autonomous person but flesh to be grabbed or bargained for when the woman appears not to belong to — that is, be the property of — a husband or father or other man.

This did not of course begin in the 14th century with I. de S., his wife, and the assizes court that awarded him compensation for her having been made afraid that a would-be customer was about to hurt her.  In reading a biography of Cleopatra, I learned that the Romans of the pre-Christian era were surprised to discover Egyptians of that time treated women as the equals of men, permitting them to own property and run businesses by themselves without oversight or supervision. The Romans themselves were required to raise only the first-born of their daughters; they could dispose of any subsequent others at birth if they so wished.

But I digress. To sum up: long after I shall have forgotten just about everything else I learned about the law in law school, I will probably go on remembering I.’s nameless wife. Not for the definition of assault with which she provided us, but for how her husband’s case illustrates millennia of male attitudes towards women. Unfortunately, I very much doubt Mrs. I. de S. will become a mere historical curiosity in my lifetime.

LIFE LESSON FROM LAW SCHOOL

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[As some of you may know, I became a lawyer in my mid-fifties.  The process of becoming one has therefore probably remained clearer in my memory than it might have been if I had done it in my twenties. I’ve even occasionally blogged about certain aspects of law school that seemed to me to remain relevant to life outside the law.  This piece, and the one to follow, appeared in “The Getting Old Blog” about four years ago. But who digs back in the archives that far? So here they are again, in slightly different form — because they’re still useful to me, even now that I’ve embarked “On Being Old.” This lesson is instructive.  The next one will be illustrative.]

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WHAT TO DO WHEN YOU’RE TOO NERVOUS TO DO IT

In England I believe it’s known as “reading law.” That makes it sound very grand, although I understand you can get right to it after finishing secondary school, as long as you’ve passed three A Levels in “hard” — that is traditional academic — subjects. Here in the United States, it’s just called, quite casually, “going to law school.” But you need four years of college or university education and an undergraduate degree in something or other in order to apply.

Nonetheless, unlike many other graduate programs, and contrary to what you may have thought, law school is much more a glorified trade school than an immersion in higher thought. When you finally acquire the J.D. degree — “J.D.” meaning juris doctor, or doctor of law — you’re not yet entitled to practice. There’s another hurdle ahead: you must take and pass one last big test in a state or states of your choosing. And that’s what you really need the J.D. degree for. It’s your entry ticket to “sitting for the bar.”

“Sitting for the bar” means you register to take, and then actually take, a two-day examination — three days if you’re sitting for two state bars at a time. Each day’s part is six hours in length, with an hour’s break after the first three hours for lunch and for standing in long bathroom lines. It’s administered in a huge aerodrome or covered stadium designated by the state in question as the place where its bloodless torture takes place twice a year. The size of the venue is driven by the fact that as many as 1500 newly minted J.D.’s may be taking the bar exam at the same time, in addition to the ones who failed their first or second try and have to try again.

Only when you’ve at last “passed the bar” may you finally proceed to the practice of law, and find out how little you really learned about it in law school. You will either (1) become an associate at a private law firm; (2) find a municipal, state or federal government job as a lawyer; (3) go what is called “in house” as a member of the legal staff of a corporation; or (4) “hang up your own shingle” — quaint phrase — usually because none of the other three possibilities have panned out.

But let’s back up. Although I don’t know what’s involved in learning how to be a plumber or electrician, I imagine the subject matter to be mastered for those trades must be broken down into manageable bits.  So it is in law school. Allegedly learning how to be a lawyer is broken down into various subject matters to be mastered, most of them in year-long courses. The specific choice of first-year course work may vary from law school to law school. In the end, however, all law schools will cover the six courses we took during my first year. Four of them ran from September through May: Property Law, Contract Law, Tort Law, and Civil Procedure. A fifth course, in Criminal Law, was tested at the end of the first semester and replaced in the spring by Constitutional Law, which was tested at the end of May, together with the four that had run for the whole year.

That’s right: five examinations at the end of the first year — and the first and only examinations we would have on each of those five subjects. Each exam lasted three hours, and consisted of three long-paragraph accounts of complicated hypothetical fact situations which between them raised every possible legal issue that had arisen in any case discussed or even mentioned in that course since September. We were advised to write for an hour on each hypothetical, but for no more than an hour, quickly identifying and explaining every legal issue we had spotted. Bathroom break? Take it at your peril! Leaving the room would mean less time to write, fewer issues spotted. Brilliance on one hypothetical did not compensate for ignorance on another. Failing an exam meant having to repeat the year-long course. Doing poorly in any exam adversely affected one’s class rank, an extremely important consideration in securing a first job — unless one of your parents or relatives knew somebody.

Understandably, there was much growing tension in the classroom as the weeks of May rolled by. Many of us, myself included, were there on federally backed student loans which would need to be repaid irrespective of the outcome of these exams. Some students were the first in their families to go to graduate school. Not making it would mean not making a family’s dream come true. The school had thoughtfully provided a ten-day study period following the end of classes before the first exam was scheduled to take place. But how do you study when you’re too nervous to focus on anything except the possibility of impending doom?

The youngest of our professors was an attractive woman who may have been a bit past thirty but certainly no more than thirty-five. This was only her second year as a member of the law faculty. It was known that she had taught fourth grade for a few years before going to law school; she brought a touch of the kindly and patient manner with which one instructs young children to teaching us, which was perhaps an error of style when addressing an auditorium full of twenty-somethings, plus me. What’s more, although she taught Civil Procedure — which governs courtroom practice in civil cases –she had never actually practiced law. She may not have even sat for a bar. She was slender, shapely, had great legs, and wore high heels to show them off — which was much appreciated by the young men in the class but did nothing to enhance her reputation as a professor to be respected for her knowledge.

On the final day we met with us, she did a quick review of what we might anticipate could be on the Civil Procedure exam. At last she put down her pointer and chalk, turned to us, and said she knew we were all very nervous. She had been through it herself not so long before, so she understood completely. And then this pretty woman with the gorgeous gams said something so important, and so applicable to so many other aspects of life, that I’ve never forgotten it, although by now I’ve forgotten almost everything I memorized that year.

“You may be so nervous,” she said, “that you’re too nervous to study. So this is what you do.”  Now no one was looking at her legs. We were all listening very carefully. “What you should do when you’re too nervous to study,” she said, “is study. And then the nervousness will go away.”

I was nearly fifty-two, as old as the mothers of my classmates. They called me Mrs. Mishkin very politely, but not one of them had invited me into a study group at the beginning of the year. I had to do all the class outlines by myself. I hadn’t taken an exam, except the one in Criminal Law, for twenty-seven years. The word “nervous” doesn’t begin to describe my state of mind. My husband had been out of work for well over a year. I had two adolescent children. I had done this all on loans. But I took her advice. And studied. And studied. And studied some more. And the nervousness did go away.

When the class rankings were posted after the grades were in on all five exams, I found myself tied for first place in a class of 345. That rank opened doors for interviews in major Boston law firms, despite my age. One of those interviews — and all it takes is one — one of those interviews led to a job that brought money into our family again, paid for braces, sneakers, music lessons, good private schools.

That’s why what I heard on the last day of the Civil Procedure class in May 1983 was the most useful lesson I learned in law school. There would be many more nervous-making situations ahead, beginning with sitting for the bar. Then came standing up in court in front of judges known to be misogynist. Leaving a marriage after twenty-two years. Being let go in my sixties and having to find respectable, interesting work again at that age. More recently needing to pull myself up from a nearly fatal medical experience and its aftermath. But I’ve never forgotten that when you’re too nervous to do something, just do it. The nervousness will go away. And then who knows what good things will happen next?

 

 

 

 

GAME CHANGER, NAME CHANGER

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Readers for whom new posts from this blog arrive via email may not have noticed. Between the last post and this one, “The Getting Old Blog” acquired a new name.  It was time.  How long can you go on “getting” old without eventually reaching your destination?

“The Getting Old Blog” began life nearly five years ago, in November 2013.  (This was after three weeks or so of baby-step experimentation in “Learning to Blog” — still out there in the ethernet if you’re interested, although I don’t see why anyone would be).  Despite the scary-sounding year of my birth (1931), I didn’t feel particularly old at 82, and thought a blog marking my passage into the “later years” might be a good place to park bits of memoir (old folks tend to look back), memoir disguised as fiction, and general reflections on what was happening to me as I reluctantly rolled towards becoming 83, and then 84, and so forth.

But as you’ve already read (two posts back in “So What Happened?”) last year was for a nanosecond the end of me. Having your heart stop beating, although they get it going again, really does change the rules of the game. Not to mention the months and months of medical and pharmaceutical tribulation that necessarily follow such a near-terminal event.  Who was I kidding with this “getting old” stuff?  I was old.  I am old.  In bed at night, with the lights out, I can still fantasize that a near-crazed-with-lust eighteen-year-old is pressing hard and stiff against my luscious seventeen-year-old body. It helps, of course, if I’m on my back and an eleven-pound cat is lying vertically on top of my mid-section or else pushing in rhythmically with its two front paws. You think that’s funny? With the lights on, I do too. I know what I look like undressed; I still have a full-length mirror. I’ve been called a lot of things in my life, but no one ever called me stupid.

One of my grandsons, who at twelve of course knows nothing of his Nana’s occasional nighttime fantasies, tried to reassure me last week that “you’re only as old as you feel.” Like many pre-adolescents he’s a sponge for grown-up expressions — even though he still lacks the life experience to know when they’re cliches. To which I immediately replied, “That’s a lot of crap!” and everyone burst out laughing, partly because it’s true, but also because 87-year-old grandmas aren’t expected to say “crap” out loud– at least not in the suburbs of Brandon, Florida.

I’ve therefore been thinking for a while of what to rename the blog. Some ideas — “While There’s Still Time” or “Near Journey’s End” — were too funereal. “What It’s Like To Be 87” was appealing; I could change the number each time I acquired another birthday. But it would be inaccurate. Each of us ages somewhat differently, and what 87 is like for me will not reflect the experience of every 87-year-old woman. I seem to be an outlier.  One example only: I know a number of near-87-year-old women who sleep with their cats but are glad — at least they say they’re glad — their sex lives are over. Hand-holding might be all right, but anything more than that: no-siree, an expression that dates them as much as anything. Bottom line: “On Being Old” seemed most descriptive without necessarily being depressing.  It’s also an accommodating title. It can encompass scraps of memoir as well as details of my life in a so-called “over-55,” but really more like “over-70” or “over-75,” community.  In fact, it will accommodate just about anything about being me at this stage of my life, whatever that stage is.

So welcome to “On Being Old.”  Don’t get hung up on the new name and go away.  It’s really just the same old same old… me.

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Selfie taken in Florida last week. (Slightly retouched but only slightly.) The sunglasses do help.

 

NEVER TOO OLD FOR ADVENTURE!

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Am I still up for adventure? I’m about to find out.

I haven’t been overseas since 2009. In 2010, I had my right hip replaced during peak travel months. (The hip decided the timing, not me.) For much of 2011, Bill wrestled with erythromelalgia, a  rare nerve disease of the extremities — in his case feet.  It causes extreme pain and you don’t want to get it. Thank God it’s intermittent. All we both hoped for that year was for it to go away, not for us to go away. In 2012 and 2013 came more physical deterrents of one sort or another, none fatal but none travel-friendly. And then his asymptomatic pulmonary fibrosis developed its symptoms, which put the kibosh on any kind of intercontinental movement, even if we had wanted to go in such gloomy circumstances.  But now it’s 2017, my passport’s good, and I’m off tomorrow — age 86 — for seven days of a sponsored program in Dublin, to discover what I can still do.

Why Dublin?  Because (1) it’s one of the very few short programs in the Road Scholar brochure marked “Easy.” Baby steps to begin with. And also (2) I needed a euro country, preferably one where I hadn’t been before.  When downsizing last year, I found inside Bill’s old wallets and mine 380 euros left over from all the lovely summer and autumn traveling we did together in Greece and France and Italy and Portugal.  Every year when our holiday was over, we would bring euros home as a magical promise to ourselves we were going back.  These last ones certainly aren’t accomplishing anything languishing inside my passport case inside a bureau drawer. They need to be where they can do their business.

I had forgotten going away takes such a lot ofpreliminary work (and dollars). But now I’ve arranged for cat care and plant care and being driven to the airport and back… and had my hair cut (and colored) and toenails done and did my own fingernails and notified family and the front desk downstairs as to my coming whereabouts and how to reach me…and broke in a pair of ankle-high wine-colored leather walking shoes and trimmed the packing list down to whatever will fit in a carry-on — challenging, because it’s not summer weather in Dublin anymore. It looks like if I’m ready to go.

I realize every brochure is partly PR, but Road Scholar usually delivers.  So if you’re curious about some of what I might be doing and seeing starting Wednesday, and if you can read the print below on whatever device you’re using to access this post, here’s what they’ve promised:

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Spoiler alert: no more blog posts till I return and recover from jet lag. Not that I’ve been the soul of regularity in the past year or so.  But I have been trying for a post a week lately. Alas, this one will have to do for at least two weeks. However, I shall return.

Wish me luck, wish me fun.  

OLD’S NOT ALWAYS BAD

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For cut flowers bought in a shop, these carnations are very old.  Survivors, you might say.  I carried them home two weeks ago today, part of an ill-advised purchase of red wanna-be petunias that were really something else (what I still don’t know), plus these rimmed carnations, plus a large bunch of spiky greens, all of which I disliked intensely once I had managed to stuff every last stem into an oversized container fit for major floral condolence.  I had wanted yellow flowers, or orange ones, and not too many. I had wanted to put them in my own much smaller rectangular glass vase, wanted them to look at home.  Instead what I let myself be talked into was stiff, institutional, fancy. (SeeMeditation on Flowers,” two posts back.).

But after ten days, the petunia wanna-be’s began to shed their red petals all over the glass table top. The spiky green things wilted and yellowed.  The carnations hung on. Time isn’t always the enemy.  Now that I have only the carnations, they seem more orange. And now they do look the way I wanted them to, a little sloppy, a little droopy, just right next to Bill’s orange bowl.

They’re not going to last, I know that. If you look closely, you can see one carnation has given up, its stem bent sharply towards the ground.  Several of the others are beginning to wrinkle. But even if it’s just for now, that’s fine.  Isn’t now all any of us have, even the young who feel they’ll live forever?

For now, there’s also a bonus.  It’s on my other table, in a little vase I’ve had since I was twenty-seven.  That’s fifty-nine years ago.  Old can surprise you.  Hang on.

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MEDITATION ON FLOWERS

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I bought myself some flowers...to cheer myself up..I was the one who bought them. It wasn’t an impulse purchase.  Last Sunday afternoon, I deliberately walked to the flower shop a few blocks away.  So how could this large arrangement of fresh flowers feel so wrong when unwrapped and on the coffee table?

I never used to buy myself fresh flowers. Before Bill, I was working in downtown Boston all the time, and nowhere near a florist. I certainly could have picked up reasonably priced bunches of multi-colored flowers at my suburban supermarket on weekends just before checking out with a cart of groceries. But they somehow always looked unreal to me, and cheap.  Besides, when would I have enjoyed them, or even have had time to change the water? I always seemed to be at the office.

 Afterwards, it was Bill who brought them home.  Always for birthdays and holidays,  more often for no reason at all.  In fact, it was unusual for there not to be a clear glass vase of fresh flowers on the coffee table in the family room where we spent most of our time when downstairs.  (The clear glass was my choice; I disliked opaque containers for fresh flowers.)  When they began to wilt, my frugal tendency would have been to nurse them along a little longer. He would insist on throwing them out. Then he would add “Buy flowers” to his daily list of things to do.

 He especially loved sunflowers.  If they were out of season, he chose lilies, preferably yellow or orange ones.  He never really spent a lot. Three stems, or even two, would do for him, with as much greenery as he could persuade the lady florist to throw in for free. (He had a way with ladies.)  When very occasionally persuaded to bring home roses because they were more romantic, they were yellow.

 My favorite color is red.  (You can see it in the chairs we bought together.  He chose the designs, I chose the reds.)  This made for a certain amount of mild dispute about flowers.  Once he did yield: a dozen red roses on my birthday.  I received them with great enthusiasm, hoping to encourage repeat performances.  No such luck, even though I generally expressed somewhat less warmth than he would have liked for all the yellow, or orange, or yellow and orange it fell to me to arrange in one of our two clear glass vases.

 As for the sunflowers, when we began life together they were my special bête noir.  I had never liked the ubiquitous Van Gogh that shows up in all surveys of French nineteenth century painting. And I particularly disliked the large brown centers and short little petals of the sunflowers themselves. They just didn’t look flowerlike to me.

 Unfortunately, at various times — either before he met me or surreptitiously afterwards — Bill had acquired about twenty stems of artificial sunflowers. They were to tide him over, I suppose, during those periods when there was a dearth of live ones.  Some were close replicas of the real thing, down to the big green leaves.  Others, more fanciful, were white and red, as well as yellow, with larger-than-real petals and colorful smallish centers.  He also had a secret cache of objets d’art in the depths of his large office closet, from which he produced three containers in which to put nine of the fake sunflowers. (Three, three, and three.)  These, after much discussion, found their way into our bedroom, to the top of the piano, and onto a sill in his office. Some of the others   appeared in the finished basement in still other containers I’d never known he had, although we’d been together for over eight years at that point.  The remainder of his sunflower stash I found thrust into the back of that capacious office closet when I was staging the condo to sell it; they were still waiting their chance to come into the light.

 It should come as no surprise I kept them all after he died.  Death changes the value of everything.  In retrospect, I was sorry I’d made a fuss about them.  It wasn’t such a big fuss, but still.  How much I would rather have had him back with all his nutsy sunflowers, actual and artificial, than live alone in a sunflower-free apartment!

 Bill’s fake sunflowers are therefore flourishing again at WindrowsThree sit in my office window:fullsizeoutput_c08 Three are on the bureau next to what I still think of as “his” side of the bed:Bill's sunflowers in the Windrows bedroomThree of the most fake adorn the all-purpose table in what the Windrows architect  designated as the “dining” area:fullsizeoutput_c0a The rest are stuffed into a red (yes!) vase that sits in the living-room window:fullsizeoutput_c0c But even with all the manmade sunflowers artfully placed here and there, up until last week my “new” apartment (not so “new” anymore) still had no fresh flowers in it, if you don’t count the two white orchids given to me on my most recent birthday by people I’ve met only in the last year. Yes, I put the orchids on my living-room windowsills away from direct sun, and yes, I keep them going, as recommended, with three ice cubes in each pot once a week. But to me they’re something else:fullsizeoutput_c0fArt objects maybe. fullsizeoutput_c0eNot what I think of as “fresh flowers” though.  And what’s a home without real flowers?

 About some things I’m quick.  About others not. A while ago, during a burst of sporadic early morning exercise, I passed Monday Morning, an upscale flower shop in Forrestal Village a few blocks from where I live. In the window sat a huge water bucket crammed with bunches of large-faced sunflowers, their big brown living centers turned avidly in the direction of the sun.  $7 a bunch. Instead of going right into the shop as Bill would have done, I walked on by, with a smile of course – thinking how he might have run amok inside and bought two or three bunches.  (One summer he gave my older son a dozen huge sunflowers in thanks for having invited us to visit in Southampton. It was hard to find a vase large enough to accommodate them all in the rented summer house.)

 It took me two weeks of staring at the empty surface of the black glass table in front of the sofa. That was two weeks too many. By then only a few bedraggled sunflowers with little faces remained drooping in a small bucket at the back of Monday Morning, far from sun. Poor sunflowers. (I know: pathetic fallacy.)  And now they were priced at $5 a stem, a deal breaker.

 But I had come out for flowers and I’m stubborn. So what did they have in the big window water bucket this week? There was a twenty dollar bill and a credit card in the back pocket of my jeans and I wasn’t going back with nothing.

 What they had, in more than one bucket, were bunches of red blooms that looked to me sort of like petunias but weren’t. That tells you how much I don’t know about flowers. Almost everything looks like petunias to me. Except sunflowers and lilies and orchids. (And pansies and daisies and carnations: I know what they look like too.) There were also bunches of carnations in all colors, including not only red, but yellow and white and red-rimmed cream.  And also many bunches of greenery, some in thick-leaved silvery green, others with dark green spikes and feathery fronds. $10 a bunch; 3 bunches for $20. All very fresh and perky.

“What color do you like?” asked the saleswoman, closing in for the kill.  “Her chairs are upholstered in red,” said a Windrows acquaintance helpfully; she had come out with me for the walk to Monday Morning and was now putting in her two cents.

I kept eyeing the yellow carnations“Can I mix yellow with red?” Bill had always said you can mix anything with anything, and I always disagreed.  Except now death had intervened.  “Not really,” declared the saleswoman decisively, ending discussion.  “Try these.”  She pulled from the water a bunch of red-rimmed white carnations and pressed them against the bunch of dripping wanna-be red petunias she was already holding.

“Isn’t that nice?” she asked rhetorically.  “It will go perfect with your furniture.”  Really?  What did she know?  But it did make a third bunch of the spiky greenery free. And the greenery might help the flowers.  And the carnations were a kind of orange.  If you squinted.  I wielded the credit card, the acquaintance peeled off for a cup of coffee,  I walked back to Windrows alone with a tissue-wrapped armful.  Literally an armful.

 Which meant I now needed a very large glass vase. There was one, at the back of a high kitchen cabinet, which had come into my possession fifteen months before, when Bill died. It then contained an expensive condolence arrangement.  Bill wouldn’t have liked this vase, even if condolences on his death had nothing to do with it.  It was beyond large, and had a “fancy” shape.  As I trimmed each stem and placed it in the vase, trying to mix red-rimmed carnations with red mystery flowers, I knew the whole enterprise had been a mistake.  Why had I bought so many? Why had I listened to a saleswoman who didn’t know what was in my heart? Did I even know what was in my heart? What was it I really wanted? By the time I had forced the spiky greens in around the edges, and placed the completed arrangement in the center of the black glass table (see top of post), I was hating it.

 Maybe it would look better if I sat on the sofa?  Not really.  fullsizeoutput_bedHow could I make it look the way fresh flowers used to look on the family room coffee table before Bill died?   I moved the vase off center and considered:

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(Sophie had no aesthetic opinions to contribute here. However, as I had awakened her with all my fussing, she was plainly planning to taste the flowers when I finally went away and left her in peace. As there’s never any way I can stop her from doing most of what she wants to do, and since I was already disheartened by my purchase, I had no problem with her plans.)

The table was just too bare.  In the condo, there used to be a large shiny black ceramic bowl that looked like a giant ashtray on each of our two coffee tables, one of them next to the glass vase that held the fresh flowers of the week. The bowl in the family room had a bright yellow inside surface and the one in the living room a bright red inside surface. Occasionally Bill would switch them around — “temporarily,” he said — to see if they looked better that way. I didn’t really care which was in which room as I privately thought they were both extremely unattractive (although clearly some designer’s idea of decorative “art”) and hoped for a long time, without success, that they would fall out of favor when Bill acquired something new that needed table space.  It goes without saying I got rid of them both when downsizing.  Now my eye was missing them.  Why hadn’t I kept at least one?

What I had kept were two small black bowls of his — partly because they didn’t remind me of ashtrays but mostly because they didn’t take up much space. One was lime green inside, the other orange.  I put the orange one next to the oversize vase of red and red-rimmed flowers and pushed it around a bit until it seemed to settle itself on a diagonal to the vase.  It was much smaller than the shape in my memory, but it was all I had. Maybe with Bill's orange dish near it?To cover more table top, I added a third object — my black-bound Kindle, representing the piles of books that used to accumulate wherever Bill was sitting.

A little more mess? And the flowers pulled up higher?

Then I pulled the flowers out of the vase as far as I could — to give them air and free them up a bit.

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Bill would have said, “Enough already.  Leave it.  It’s fine.” And he’d have been right. This was as good as I could do. Let’s face it: I’m neater than Bill ever was.  I can’t leave messes of books and papers around, even to simulate the feeling that he’s still here.  My books are on shelves, my papers in files, magazines in magazine racks.  I was ying, he was yang.  Or vice versa.  That’s why our flowers looked the way they did. And why mine look like this now that he’s gone.

The bottom line here?  When these have lived out their natural life, I’m buying more. No one’s going to talk me into red ones next time. I’m going for yellow. Not necessarily sunflowers, although I’m not ruling that out. And definitely not too many, even if “many” is a bargain.  They’re going to have to fit into one of my own two much smaller rectangular glass vases.

Next time I’ll also know that buying flowers, even yellow ones, won’t be like bringing him back for a while, or making the place where I live like home.  It’s just as close as I can come to it. And that’s something.