By: Ruth Z. Deming
My word! How could we have gotten so old? Most of us are eighty years old. Yet we have our annual trip to Marlene’s cabin in the deep woods of New Jersey.
I woke up early. My house was freezing. Before I made breakfast, I went out to my front yard to view the landscape. It’s a habit, a ritual. And quite a sight. As an artist, I have three American flags I found in the Dumpster on nearby Sleighride Road. Spray-painted hubcaps that encircle the birdbath. And a tall painted PVC pipe from Home “Despot,” as I call it, that I painted in neon-bright colors.
The bird bath was empty. Remember to refill it before I leave but care-befull since at my ancient age, one slip and I’d be down for the count. Broken hip that portends the end of the road.
Would that huge moon be out again? Pink moon it was called. So big it was like the Hope Diamond in the sky, all it needed was a long chain descending to the earth so I could climb up. Gravity, be damned!
There were only four of us left now. A quartet of former Girl Scouts from Troop 324 in Shaker Heights, Ohio. Janet Bolton had left us, beautiful blonde girl, dead of one of the cancers. And Jill was gone from, the worst of the worst, ALS. If it were me I would’ve done myself in. And, if memory serves, Annie, Ginny, Bev, and someone else I really liked – I’ll think of her in a moment – but we all still drove.
Oh, that’s right. Judy. A cop caught her driving on the wrong side of the road and insisted she take driving lessons.
“Me? at 75?” she told me angrily over the phone. “Pisses me off.” I could hear her inhaling on her cigarette.
It was important we take our own cars in case one of us needed to go home.
Confession time: Whenever I leave home on a long trip, say, to visit my sister Alice in her nursing home, I’m afraid I’ll die en route. Alice understands this as she feels the same way.
“Clumsy” is a word she taught me. When she checked into Golden Doors Home for Active Seniors, she had a health examination. They had her lift trays, like they’d have in the dining room, she told me, and could barely hold it still, nearly slapping it into the nurse’s belly.
So, yes, I am clumsy. When making my pancake mix this morning, I spooned it into the hot buttered griddle and missed. Plop. The first pancake landed on the floor.
Took me an hour and half to get all the pancakes nicely done. I put them in an unbreakable dish and gobbled up two pancakes before I got hold of myself. And they weren’t even that good, until I made them better by putting real maple syrup or Philadelphia cream cheese or Jif peanut butter on top.
In these parts, most of us don’t have real garages. I have a carport to protect my 1969 Cadillac from the bitter Philadelphia winters. Salt, to remove ice from the roads, scratches off the finish of cars. Except for mine. Why drive when it’s dangerous?
Some days, I’ll back out of the carport, bring my black coffee outside on my front porch, and simply stare at its beauty.
Yes, that lima bean green car, long and slender, with its classic Cadillac fins is a thing of beauty.
I would cradle my coffee cup in my hands and look like a lover stares at her beloved.
Don’t think I’m comparing it to the love of my life, Jimmy O’Riley, who died 20 years ago.
“I’ll do anything for you, Carolee,” he would say. And it was true. What a marriage we had!
When driving down the street in my Caddy, I’d wave to the neighbors. Many were new and hadn’t an inkling who I was.
Into the back seat I put my supplies to get to the cabin. A bucket of fried chicken I ordered from “the Colonel,” French fries, cole slaw, potato salad and shimmering rice pudding for dessert. This would be my dinner.
When I was younger, I hated “cruise control.” Now I welcomed it. My GPS was set. I drove off slowly, trying to remember if I brought everything.
I went back into the house and walked slowly up the steps. In my bedroom closet was my old green Girl Scout uniform. The material had thinned with age and disuse. I brushed off a spider web.
Ever notice how spiders are everywhere? I swear they will outlast us when the bomb goes off.
“Doin’ great!” I said out loud as I backed out the drive.
I talk out loud from morning to night so I remember how to do it. So many of my friends had passed.
Chuckling at my cleverness, I listened to the GPS. I’d set the voice to that of a British gentleman who reminded me of “Carson” in Downton Abbey.
In the middle of the steering wheel was a round button for honking. Should have been bigger, but I honked a hello at the old lady across the street, who no longer drove. Old lady? She was the same age as me. Her son did all the errands, now, including taking her to Lehman Bible Church.
Church, I was not a fan of. At all. If you die, that’s it. I took a sip of my Dunkin’ Donuts coffee, residing in the pouch next to me. Hot and delicious all the way down. It was in a thermal cup.
Merging onto the Pennsylvania Turnpike greeted by a dark green sign, I said a silent prayer to Jimmy. “Allow me to merge well.”
It always worked.
Spring was here at last.
In the slow lane, I drove 55 mph, the minimum and cast glances off the side of the road.
Moo-cows chewing their cuds, some resting beneath the high clouds in the sky; rows of corn fields; huge crows flapping in the wind.
And the hawks soaring above us in thermals, wind tunnels, we humans are unaware of. If only I could make out what song bird they would find for breakfast. Look, if I still like crime fiction books, I’m not afraid to see a real-life saga. The law of the jungle. Or jugular.
Hah! Just as I hoped. Someone had parked his car, strode over the metal fence and was peeing against a tree.
The car in front of me had three children in the back seat. They turned around and made faces at me. One of them stuck out his tongue and wiggled it. Another made her hands go back and forth, back and forth, like window wipers, and the third stretched out her lips with her fingers.
It was very funny and I couldn’t help cracking a smile, as the car pulled further and further away from me.
Within easy reach, was my snack bag on the passenger’s seat.
I dug in and crunched on some Dorito’s original flavor, then wiped off my mouth, for surely it was as orange as the Creamsicles we sucked on as kids when the ice cream man would glide down our street.
Next I ate some sourdough pretzels with big pieces of salt.
At my age, we don’t worry about silly stuff like cholesterol.
We do worry, but only a little, about the Covid-19 virus. People my age are at highest risk.
My children, God bless them, who hardly visit me, know where my will is. And they know what to do with my body.
Toss it in the back yard and let the maggots and the foxes have their way with me.
In my rear-view I saw a black and white police car behind me. As he passed, he doffed his shiny black cap at me.
Ah, sex. Wouldn’t that be fun! When I read my crime thrillers, I must say I do get a little aroused. Forgive me, Jimmy!
“Exit 21A,” read the green Turnpike sign.
The cabin was not far. Who would be there?
My tires crunched on the gravel road, the road to nowhere.
The cabin was made of wood planks with Plexiglass windows. Marlene, who inherited lots of money from her realtor husband, had it built especially for her friends. The man who built it, Jack Walmsey, was a contractor, but she outlived him.
That’s the problem with us “elders.” I prefer that term to “senior citizens.”
Marlene’s black Porsche was parked. So was Florry’s shiny black Mercedes with the famous logo on the front and back. Darling Florry was quite the elitist and I doubt she knew what the trifold logo meant.
I would never tell her. She was Jewish and it meant “world domination” on land, sea, and air.
A real Nazi car.
Caddy and I pulled in. I was so excited to see my girlfriends.
Just the word “girlfriend” was magical. To be eighty and have girlfriends like when we were innocent children, never thinking about the future.
As I got out of my car, our fourth friend was pulling in.
She poked her head out of the window. “Yahooo!” Didi shouted.
“Hey, do you still have blue hair?” I asked walking to her car.
“Nah, that’s for kids. I’m a mature woman,” she laughed.
We entered the cabin. Marlene paid a caretaker to have it ready for us. There were two rooms. Two single mattresses were in the living room, and two more mattresses in the adjoining room, which had one toilet with a septic tank.
Didi cranked open the windows. Fresh breezes blew inside.
I inhaled deeply.
No viruses could possibly be here, could they?
“This is the life,” I said. “Ever wish you could live here year-round?”
“Carolee!” sniggered Didi.
Then everyone noticed and pointed to my outfit.
I was wearing my blue polka-dot pajamas!
My face was burning red.
I returned to the car and carried in my satchels.
I went into one of the bedrooms and put on my frayed Girl Scout uniform.
“I promise to do my best to God and my country,” I said, holding up the three-fingered salute.
Everyone clapped and whistled.
These were my people and I loved each and every one of them.
Marlene, beautiful Marlene, who had barely a wrinkle, brought out the Girl Scout Cookies.
She lovingly placed Thin Mints, Samoas and Shortbread on the table.
“I’ll go outside,” said Didi, “and find sticks so we can roast marshmallows.”
We lit the fireplace and gathered around.
Though I said nothing, I had lost a tooth on the side, and the marshmallow made the tooth ache. The dentist would cost a fortune.
“Do you mind if I play my guitar?” asked Flossie.
The huge guitar fit snugly on her body, which had shrunk over the years.
She’ll be Coming Around the Mountain, Oh Suzannah, Ain’t No Mountain High Enough, I Heard it Through the Grapevine, Georgia on My Mind.
We sat there banging on our knees, clapping our hands, and whistling.
Marlene always organized the dinner, taking each of our offerings – Flossie, for example, brought Burger-King Whoppers and sides – setting the table with black plastic utensils.
“Hungry, girls?” she laughed.
A chorus of you bets and yes maam’s echoed around the large room.
With barely a sound, Marlene dropped to the floor.
No one moved.
Nearly half a minute passed.
We surrounded Marlene, with her long black hair spread out like a fish net.
She was dead, stone-cold dead, from what we knew not.
The pandemic? A myocardia infarction? A brain aneurysm?
Next year, if we lived that long, we would only be three.