Coping with Life Past 50

      Comfort Food (Essay, Part 1)

When I turned 50 I jumped into Payette Lake with my swimsuit on and then beneath the screen of green-black lake water, I took it off. It was a two-piece so as I tread water I fumbled first with the bottom half, trying to curl it off over my hips, and then the top, which was stretched like a tight rubber band across my chest.  I didn’t care that there were three or four people staring at me on the dock where I slung the two parts of my swimsuit; or that a few male swimmers seem to be circling nearby like sharks.  I was celebrating a half century of living.  I wanted to feel free and alive.  Still, as I slid my hand underwater over the skin of my cold belly and thighs, the image of a slick round dolphin came to mind and I sighed inwardly: if I want to live another fifty years, I needed to lose weight.

That somber thought seemed to trigger others as I dog-paddled farther and farther away from the dock.  What would life be like the next fifty years should I live so long?  No doubt I’d experience an increasing number of losses, my youth leading the list of greatest hits.  And how would I cope?  I was never great with drugs or alcohol, but food, the very thing I needed to restrict, has always been my go-to pain killer.  Advil works for a back ache, but oven-fresh chocolate chip cookies can turn a bad mood good.  And food is cheap.  It’s the least expensive fun you can have.  Cheaper than an amusement park, an ocean cruise, or a hot date.  Oprah, I’m sorry.  I just don’t think emotional eating is all bad.

Moby Dick

It’s high time to get to the sea as soon as I can.

“Call me Ishmael. some years ago–never mind how long precisely–having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world.  It is a way I have of driving off the spleen and regulating the circulation.  Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off–then, I account it high time to get to the sea as soon as I can.”

(from Moby Dick by Herman Melville)

Evangelical Baby Fini

Evangelical Baby (Memoir, Fini)

The weeks were passing too swiftly, fall was coming, and my parents wanted me to come home for the holidays. Now, despite pressure from his family to dump me, my boyfriend volunteered to drive me across country to my parent’s house.  Even though he still had not told his own parents about the pregnancy, he was willing to face mine.  Did this mean he had emerged from the fog to discover, yes, he wanted to marry me and support this child?  I still didn’t know.

We couldn’t leave though, until the sugar beets were harvested in late October.  I was in my 7th month when my boyfriend finally met my family.  He seemed to enjoy them and they, him.  He even weathered well the talk with my dad about responsibility and “just give the baby a name ….”  Then one early December morning he drove out of our driveway to go back to the farm.  I waved to him through a frosty window, tears streaming down my cheeks.  He promised to call, but I fully expected to never see him again.

So it was a surprise when the phone rang the next week.  My boyfriend told me he’d finally broke the news of my pregnancy to his sobbing mother and disbelieving father.  At the top of the eighth inning a wedding was planned, and not long after I found myself reciting my vows in a deep red wedding gown.  The color seemed fitting considering my tenure as a Scarlet Woman.

My boyfriend and I have been married for several years now.  Sometimes I think back to that time when I was pregnant and afraid of the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse.  How after that worrisome time, I thought a new thought, something totally out of the realm of my evangelical upbringing and almost sacrilegious, but yet I found so comforting:  maybe the Bible was a book full of both truth–and myths.

Sunday Song, a Poem by John Tagliabue

Sunday Song (a poem)

Will you stop for a while, stop trying to pull yourself
for some clear “meaning”–some momentary summary?
no one
can have poetry or dances, prayers or climaxes all day’
the ordinary
blankness of little dramatic consciousness is good for the
health sometimes,
only Dostoevsky can be Dostoevskian at such long
long tumultuous stretches;
look what that intensity did to poor great Van Gogh;
scrounge and be stupid, that doesn’t take much centering
of one’s forces;
as wise Whitman said “lounge and invite the soul.” Get
enough sleep;
and not only because (as Cocteau said) “poetry is the
literature of sleep”;
be a dumb bell for a few minutes at least; we don’t want
Sunday church bells
ringing constantly.

(Title: Moderation Is Not a Negation of Intensity, But Helps Avoid Monotony

 by John Tagliabue)

Book Review: The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer

The Feminist Persuasion (Genre: Literature, Novel)
by Meg Wolitzer

This Feminist Persuasion asks the question:  which is more important to you, your relationships or your ambitions?

Wolitzer tells a beautiful story that has a long arc of wonderfully rendered characters.  Essentially, it is the love story of Greer and Cory and how they grew up and together, and then apart.  That is the best and main part of the book and it is such a warm, charming, and often funny story.  But within that story we get to know Greer as an ardent and committed feminist, and Cory as a good man who tries his best in the face of a family tragedy.  That tragedy and Greer’s striving ambitions as an activist, seek to pull them apart.  Wolitzer brings these and other story lines together so well by the end of the novel the reader is left with a deep sense of satisfaction and awe.  The author amply displays a keen understanding of relationships and human nature.

I felt enriched for having read The Feminist Persuasion.  However, there is one caveat to this read: the entertainment value of the book for me was only about 75%.  Wolitzer spent too many words and pages on the plight of women, the injustices done to the female half of our species.  Everything she writes here is true and bears repeating, but she’s speaking to the choir, and that can become tiresome.  I found myself skimming pages to get back to Greer and Cory’s love story.

Evangelical Baby Part 6

Evangelical Baby (Memoir, Part Six)                         

crazy baby 4My roommate. who shared expenses for the apartment I was living in, was a girl named Trish.  She’d just graduated from college and was slim and athletic.  She told me she loved to ski, both snow and water.  I could tell she felt sorry for me, pregnant and unmarried, but life was her oyster.  I sadly, had landed in the stew.

I remember Trish gathering her bikini and towels one Saturday in July.  She was going off with her friends to water ski on Lucky Peak reservoir.  When the apartment door shut, I waddled over to the cupboard for a bag of salt and vinegar potato chips, then settled back into the couch with my snack to watch the summer Olympics on TV.  That was a happily spent afternoon, eating one greasy chip after another, seeing Olympic divers perform elegant somersaults over the curve of my swollen tummy.

I told my Evangelical mother about the pregnancy right way:  (“Oh why didn’t you wait to have sex! You’re wedding night won’t be special at all!”)   This, despite the fact my mother had sex with her boyfriend before they got married.  I know because I asked and under duress, she confessed.  Though I love my mother, I couldn’t ignore the “do what I say, rather than do what I’ve done” mentality.  Hypocrisy is a plague for Evangelicals.

My boyfriend still had not told either of his parents.  When I was six months along he wanted me to go with him to the farm for a big family dinner.  What was I to wear?  Fortunately, the tent dress had come into vogue that year, so I strolled into his family’s farm kitchen to greet his mother looking, I thought, rather stylish.

His mother stood next to the kitchen stove wearing a homemade, flower-print dress with an apron tied around the front.  She looked tired, maybe from cooking all day.  Strands of grey hair which had escaped from a bun at the back of her neck, hung limply around her face.  She gave me a tepid smile.  My red-painted lips and voguish tent dress evidently did not impress her.  After all, I wasn’t a Mennonite, and that soon became the fourth horseman of my apocalypse.

Untitled, a Poem by Philip Appleman

by Philip Appleman

O Karma, Dharma, pudding and pie,

gimme a break before I die:

grant me wisdom, will, & wit,

purity, probity, pluck, & grit.

Trustworthy, loyal, helpful, kind,

gimme great abs & a steel-trap mind,

and forgive, Ye Gods, some humble advice–

these little blessings would suffice

to beget an earthly paradise:

make the bad people good–

and the good people nice;

and before our world goes over the brink,

teach the believers how to think.


Evangelical Baby Part 5


Evangelical Baby (Memoir, Part 5)              

Back at the farm my boyfriend was busy planting beans with his dad’s old 3020 John Deere.  He got in contact with a group of Christian counselors, InterFaith Counseling, and set up an appointment.  I didn’t have any money to pay for our couple’s therapy so he footed the bill.  Oblivious to all this drama was our little girl, suspended in my womb, whirling and twirling as she slowly added cells and fat.

The first and only time I went with my boyfriend to talk to our InterFaith counseling team, a Catholic priest and a Lutheran therapist, they seemed sympathetic to our situation.  But they told me I needed to tone it down a notch, because I was pressuring my boyfriend into marriage and he couldn’t see beyond my anxiety to discover whether or not he truly loved me.

I finally understood what Tina Turner was warbling about.  I was starting to shed any allusions I had about love being the answer.  Actually love was beginning to feel like a high school thing, a second-hand emotion.  There were more important things to consider, more pertinent things, like how I was going to raise a child by myself?

Evangelical Baby Part 4

Evangelical Baby (Memoir, Part 4)

My boyfriend’s sister suggested we see a therapist and work out whether or not we loved each other enough to get married.   Marriage, love, and now baby were all pieces of my predicament.  Sadly, these pieces seemed all out of order now.  Maybe a counselor could help us.

Meantime, most mornings I found myself in a beige waitress uniform walking (since I didn’t own a car) two miles across the interstate overpass from my apartment to the truck stop restaurant I worked at.  Each day I thought about the degree I had in history, the one with the focus on medieval Europe and the Reformation, and wondered how that degree was going to help me pregnant and in debt.

Debbie, another waitress on my shift, was someone I talked to about my pregnancy.  “Listen, you’re not even showing yet. If this is your first pregnancy you probably can keep working and no one will know until the last trimester and you figure things out.”

“Thank you for saying that. You must have kids?”

“Nah. I had three abortions before I finally got a tubal.”

I was so shocked I started madly busing tables, as if cleaning tables with a dish rag could somehow rid my ears of what Debbie said.  Why didn’t Debbie use birth control?  I could see one slip-up, but three?  Obviously, Debbie was not an Evangelical Christian.  But still, three abortions.  I’d never seriously considered abortion because in my religion if birth control was wrong, and extra-marital sex worse, abortion was the third horseman of the apocalypse (doom and damnation prophesy from the Book of Revelations).   I was beginning to see how my religion was waging war with my young woman’s body.

Sometimes, a Poem by Sheenagh Pugh


Sometimes (a poem)
by Sheenagh Pugh

Sometimes things don’t go, after all,
from bad to worse. Some years, muscadel
faces down frost; green thrives; the crops don’t fail,
sometimes a man aims high, and all goes well.

A people sometimes will step back from war,
elect an honest man, decide they care
enough, that they can’t leave some stranger poor.
Some men become what they were born for.

Sometimes our best efforts do not go
amiss; sometimes we do as we meant to.
The sun will sometimes melt a field of sorrow
that seemed hard frozen: may it happen for you.