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On Thanksgiving in 2006, I was reminiscing with my Aunt Pat and Uncle Andy about our frequent outings to New York City when I was little. I was remembering walks in the park, movies in midtown, fancy restaurants. One time I asked for ketchup with my steak…Wasn’t that silly of me? I laughed. Good thing my taste has improved as I have gotten older. Ah, good times.

My aunt and uncle looked at me incredulously, and then my Aunt Pat said, “Jennifer, we only took you to the City twice.”

I was speechless.

Before you say to yourself – here is yet another example of how Jen has created an alternate reality in her head – I will beat you to it. Clearly, my memory of spending time with Pat and Andrew was a bit exaggerated, but with good reason. To a precocious girl of nine years, it was extremely meaningful that a sophisticated couple like Aunt Pat and Uncle Andrew took an interest in me.

I thought their life together was fascinating. They complimented each other perfectly. Pat was fun-loving and Andy had a wicked sense of humor. She laughed frequently and with abandon and he had plenty of material to fuel her outbursts of laughter. They enjoyed each other’s company and spent many afternoons or evenings sitting in their backyard or on their porch, Pat enjoying a cocktail while Andrew smoked his pipe. They enjoyed music, visited museums, read lots of books. They were an intellectual couple, eschewing TV-watching to such a degree that they only had a small black and white television set which was hidden in a closet. As a child, that fact was simultaneously maddening and admirable.

They were also fascinating to me as individuals. Pat made me want to be a working woman. Her life seemed glamorous as she ventured into New York City each day to work at a prestigious company like IBM. Pat’s career achievements were especially notable since she was one of few women in the technology field in the 1970s. I was amazed at her ability and willingness to be a pioneer. Pat showed me that it was worthwhile to strive and it paid off to make your own rules.

My Uncle Andrew was a writer, a career choice I found intriguing. I loved sneaking off to pore over Andrew’s stash of Cracked magazines, and I would spend an hour just skimming old issues for his writing and jokes. I thought it was remarkable that his observations on life were so sharp and witty that someone wanted to publish them in print.  My aunt and uncle were urbane, and I wanted to be like them.

Even in light of these outward achievements, Pat and Andy were extremely accessible people, and their approach to Thanksgiving was embodied how warm and inclusive they were. Each year when I arrived to their house there was someone new: a distant cousin of Pat’s from West Virginia who happened to be in town, a coworker from decades ago, a friend who couldn’t make it home to visit his family, a fellow cyclist who just wanted to join the fun. It never occurred to either Pat or Andrew that they shouldn’t invite more people over, that there might not be enough chairs or enough food. They just embraced everyone and let the rest work itself out. It always did.

As I grew into adulthood our relationship evolved into friendship. Aunt Pat and Uncle Andrew mentored me, encouraging me to follow my instincts, to take calculated risks with my career, and to make the most of the life I have to live. When I contemplated leaving public education for a career in the corporate world, they helped me put aside my doubts and take the leap. That decision was a defining one in my life, and their faith in me was crucial at a time when I was unsure of myself. After twelve years in the corporate world I yearned to start my own consulting firm, and again Pat and Andrew encouraged me to trust in my abilities and in myself. As a result a whole new world of opportunities has become available to me.

I continued to uncover new reasons to appreciate each of them. I noted the depth of my Uncle Andrew’s kindness and generosity toward others. Whether he was visiting my ailing grandparents multiple times per day or spending hours coaching aspiring cyclists who don’t know how to get started, he never expected anything in return. Andrew demonstrated to me how caring for other people makes one’s own life more significant.

As I learned more about my Aunt Pat, it was her bravery that struck me. Pat survived two World Trade Center bombings and helped others to safety both times. She and I spoke over the phone on September 14, 2001 when I was living in Texas, and I was surprised to realize she was comforting me because I was far from our family, even though she was the one who had just had a near-death experience, days before.

Andrew’s caring and Pat’s bravery was the crux of their relationship during their last years together on Earth. Pat was extremely brave during a battle with cancer that lasted over two years, and I know her strength was grounded in how Andy attended to her. Pat needed to be as fun-loving as her body would allow, and Andy facilitated that by enabling her to stay at home and have as close to a “normal” life as possible. Even the day before Pat died, she and I sat on her front porch with her daughter and her sister, telling stories while Pat nursed a martini. It was clear she was losing strength, but she wouldn’t let her spirit be subdued by her fading body. I am appreciative to Pat for being so brave and to Andy for creating an environment in which she could be that way. I am indebted to both of them for leaving me with such an indelible happy memory of her.

I am unbelievably thankful for having had someone like Aunt Pat in my life. I am extremely grateful to still have Uncle Andrew with me now. There is no doubt in my heart that I will be given the opportunity to see them together again, because Pat and Andrew are soulmates. I feel lucky to have witnessed their relationship.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Why isn’t the Greatest American Hero in syndicated reruns? Just asking.

A disturbing thing happened to me this past weekend.

My parents and I were watching college football. We were having a blast watching Navy outplay Notre Dame. There was shouting and taunting and pizza. It was a great day.

At least, it was a great day until I tried to read something to my dad during a commercial. As I held the paper up, I said to him, “I guess I should go to the eye doctor. Lately, when I try to read my eyes jiggle.”

“Jiggle?” he asked with a smirk. “What does that mean?”

“You know, they go like this.” I held my finger up and waved it back and forth, which is the universal sign for eye-jiggling.

He instructed me to remove my eyeglasses and try again. I did so and the jiggling stopped. “Well,” he said, “you need progressive lenses.”

“What?”

“You know, they have different prescriptions depending on the distance.”

“BIFOCALS?!” I shrieked.

Ugh. I am 40 and a half (as of October 24, and yes, I still track my half-birthdays). Why is it so hard for me to believe that I am that old? All of the signs are there: over 50% of my hair is gray (although I’ll never let you see it), I get tired at 8:00pm, and if I sit on the floor for more than a couple of minutes it takes me twice as long to get up. Even so, I am completely surprised when I am faced with hard evidence that I am, in fact, middle-aged.

I always joke with people that the key to staying young is to act really immature, and I stand by that. In fact, a couple of seconds ago, while I was writing the last paragraph, my husband interrupted me to ask what we should do with the gigantic turnip that was sitting in our fridge going bad. I said, “Oh, I don’t know…maybe we should….stick it up your butt?” then went back to writing. (See Mom, you aren’t the only one who is subjected to my immaturity.) I believe that to think young is to be young, and I extend the idea to acting like a seventh grader so I can feel really, really young. I am totally fine with that.

But even if I feel young in my head, every once in a while something happens to snap me back to reality. Below are a few examples. I know that a bulleted list is a sign of lazy writing, but in this case it’s a sign of me trying to hurry and finish this before the baby wakes up. Here are some of the incidents that have made me feel old, in chronological order:

  • The first time I noticed that a weatherman was probably younger than I was, I was dismayed. These are authority figures! They use science to guess what the weather will be in two days! That was the first time I remember feeling old and it was a weird, sad moment.
  • When I was teaching seventh grade, I once heard myself say, “Trust me, someday you will thank me for making you do (such and such)” I don’t remember what important task I was making the student do, but do I remember that I sounded like a caricature of an adult. I might as well have been going “Waa waa. Waa waa, waa.” like the teacher in the Peanuts cartoons.
  • Then there was the time I first noticed how much younger the players in college sports were. I mean, I was out of college already so of course they were younger, but I guess I never thought about it. Then one day I saw a quarterback being interviewed after a game and I was like…Whoa. He’s a baby.
  • Then there was the time I made a comment like, “I swear, kids these days tailgate so much!” The woman I was referring to was on her way to work during rush hour, so she was definitely older than the college quarterback. It was getting worse…
  • Then there was the time that the kid (again with the kid!) working the register at a convenience store said “Have a nice day. Ma’am.” I froze. Excuse me?!  Fortunately, I resisted the urge to bite his head off. Instead, I just said, “Oh, calling me ‘Ma’am’ makes me feel old.” He smiled and said “Sorry, Miss.” But while his mouth said ‘Miss’ the rest of his face said “Oh, you are sooo pathetic.”
  • Then there was the time I was dating a younger guy and found out that he had never seen Caddyshack. I wasn’t even sure he knew what I was talking about until I explained that it was movie. Yikes. That relationship ended a few weeks later, when I realized he was born the same year that the movie came out.
  • When my future sister-in-law started dating her fiancé, she mentioned where he grew up and I realized he went to my high school, Shore Regional. I was so excited, and the next time I saw him I was like, “Do you know the so-and-so family?” After a couple of seconds of that I asked, “Wait, what year did you graduate?” only to find out that it was TWELVE years after I did! My husband is five years younger than I am, and his sister is two years younger than he is, and her fiancé is five years younger than she is. That makes twelve. Needless to say, when we all socialize together I have a lot of similar conversations with their friends. I suppose that’s what I get for robbing the cradle.
  • I became pregnant with my first child at 39. During the first doctor’s visit, I had a quick conversation with the office manager about insurance: what would be covered, what wouldn’t. She said, “Well, due to your advanced maternal age, we will probably have to give you more tests.” I gave her the stare down – I couldn’t help it, I was really hormonal – and said, “Advanced maternal age is just a euphemism for old.” She looked startled, and I didn’t even feel bad. Did I mention that I was hormonal?
  • A few months later, I was sitting on the beach with my younger brother, who made some crack about me being old. I shot back, “It’s not like I‘m 40 or something!” Then I paused and remembered that I was 39 and was like, Oh…scratch that.

There’s more, but those are the highlights – or the lowlights, depending on your perspective. People often tell me I look young for my age which is feeling less and less like a compliment. I used to always say that I looked young because I had no kids to stress me out and age me, but that’s all changed. Nothing makes someone hit the wall like having an infant at age 40. I am pretty sure I have aged at least five years in the last ten months.

Whatever. You can’t fool Mother Nature and you can’t stop Father Time. But I still make a big deal about my birthdays and I am still honest about my age. And, I only have nine and a half years before I qualify for AARP insurance – so I’ve got that going for me, which is nice.

About Me

The purpose of this blog is purely self-expression - being creative for the sake of being creative. It has evolved into a collection of non-fiction essays.

All of the anecdotes and incidents you read in this blog are completely true and not exaggerated, no matter how sad, pathetic or unbelievable they may seem.

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© Operation Peace and Serenity, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Operation Peace and Serenity with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.