In Our Sunset Years, Buying Trees and Shrubs Is Like Buying Life Insurance

If you’re 50+, trying to get a reasonable life insurance policy is a frustrating, expensive task.  As far as the insurers are concerned, you are two steps away from the grave.  (Well, maybe three.)

“Age is the most important contributor to both term and whole life insurance rates. How old you are plays the biggest role in how much you’ll pay to purchase a new life insurance policy.  The reason every year inches up the cost of term life insurance is simple math. Every birthday puts you one year closer to your life expectancy and thus, you’re are more expensive to insure—rates increase every year by 5% to 8% in your 40s, and by 9% to 12% each year if you’re over age 50.” —  Chris Huntley, life insurance agent at Huntley Wealth and Insurance, San Diego, California

Okay, you’re thinking.  I see the title of this blog but don’t get the connection between buying life insurance and buying trees and shrubs.  Let me fill you in:

Yesterday, my husband and I went shrub and tree shopping.  It wasn’t a bad winter here in the Chicago area (Well, not for us because we got out of Dodge) but something went wrong with our 20+-year-old red bud tree, our privets along the south side of our property, a shrub that will remain nameless because I simply can’t remember, and several of our miniature boxwoods that encircle a blue stone patio.

My garden is my temple.  I tend to it with loving care, backbreaking weeding, watering (except for a “summer” like this one that feels more like early October), and with a sense of wonder at how flowers and plants decide to return year after year—most of them— in all of their glorious colors, designs, tactile differences.  I spend a lot of my money on my garden, but I can justify the expense because, the way I see it, the garden is an extension of my home—an integral part of the design to be used and enjoyed.

The saleswoman at the garden center read the tag on a a multi-colored bush perfect for the empty corner where a hydrangea died over the winter.  “Well,” she said.  “This shrub should grow a couple of inches a year and reach a height of 5′ to 6′ in maybe six or seven years.

“Great,” my husband said.  “We’ll either be blind or half dead or in a senior home by that time.”

The saleswoman in her 20s didn’t really connect.  All she could think of was that her shift ended in 10 minutes and that she craved a hot dog with everything on it.

“How about this one?” my husband asked, pointing to another bush.

“Same thing.”

He looked like one of the gangly clematis vines hanging on for dear life on the trellis along the side of our deck.

“This sucks!  Either we pay out the nose for a mature bush or tree or we settle for a little nothing of a plant that we’ll never be around to see when it’s full grown.”

I never envisioned the day when we’d suffer the consequences of aging in the garden.  I anticipated physical and mental insults.  But decisions about shrubs and trees?  Never.

If there is a moral to this story, it would have to be this:  Buy trees and shrubs when you’re young so you can age together.

 

 

 

Cobblestones and Aging: Strange Bedfellows

 

I’m in Mexico head down, walking on cobblestones, stepping in between the uneven cracks trying to avoid snubbing my toe, twisting an ankle or, worse yet, stumbling into a pothole that comes up fast, out of nowhere like a wave on an otherwise calm sea. I raise my head for just a second or two and spot a pair of long, shapely woman’s legs—pale as a newborn baby’s butt—too pale to reflect the hot afternoon sun that shimmers on the dark skin of many Mexicans whose quaint World Heritage town has been overrun by gringos who have flocked here after Travel & Leisure crowned it the Number One—that’s Numero Uno—city in the whole world. (I wonder if the editors tried to walk on the cobblestones before they made their choice.)

Aside from a slight jiggle on the back of the young woman’s calves with each step, her pale legs are a blank slate like a piece of notebook paper sitting on a desk in front of a kid who has not done his homework and itches to play video games—to do anything—except fill the blank piece of paper with something that resembles a few coherent sentences.

I follow the gringa with the pale legs and imagine what they’ll look like some forty years hence. The legs are no longer spotless but covered by purplish spider veins that resemble the random rivers, streams, and arroyos on a detailed page of an atlas or an online map of the world’s most popular biking routes.

I wonder whether she swallowed her ego enough to wear support hose during one or two pregnancies (actually, 2.4 according to the most recent data)—stockings advertised as “elegant in appearance,” “ultra fashion” support, on sale at Walgreens for $24.99. If she didn’t wear support stockings in mortal fear of looking like a Red Cross nurse, then perhaps she discovered Joan River’s The Right to Bare Legs, a foundation makeup for legs that does a decent job of camouflaging all the insults of aging but also does a number on pant legs, bath towels, and sheets. I’m not sure which is worse—doing laundry with those hard-to-remove stains or baring legs will all the markers of a life many decades in the making.

If I take any lesson from this pale-legs-go-bad saga, it is this: best to focus on the potential hazards of walking on cobblestones than on a young woman’s pale, unmarred legs that remind us senior women that young women age like the rest of us and will have to either accept the physical chain reaction of a long life, well lived, or fight a losing battle (unless they are part of the 1 percent) with both their bodies and their minds.  (Warning: Don’t use the same plastic surgeon who did Goldie Hawn’s facelift.)  Growing older can be a gift, if only we open the package and treasure what’s inside—whether or not the gift was on our wish list.

Photo by Giselle Peters

AGE JUMPS

No, not the age jumps (gaps) between brothers and sisters. For now, I’ve written enough about that topic in both The Sibling Connection: How Siblings Shape Our Lives (shameless plug) and in many posts right here.

 

An age jump day.

An age jump day.

Nope, I’m talking about the days when you wake up, look at yourself in the mirror and stare in dismay at a new line that has made its debut around the corners of your mouth, the corner of an eye or anywhere else.  Or maybe a slightly deeper fold that runs along the side of your nose like a river in the Grand Canyon.

Oh, I could go on about the physical “ravages” of age.  I fondly remember the day when I was in my early 40s and a friend sat on a porch step one rung higher than mine.  She peered at the top of my head adorned with a mass of what I called a “lion’s mane” and declared, “You don’t have one gray hair!”

Honestly, I hadn’t given a thought to turning gray.  I was concerned about the small amount of loose skin between my bra strap and my arm.  (If only I’d realized then what I know now.  I would have worn sleeveless tops every day of the year.)

So, back to the present.  A new wrinkle . . . a deeper line . . . crepe paper skin . . . Your first response?  If you’re like most of us, you want to slam a bag over your head (any material/size will do) and sulk for the rest of the day.  And that’s what I recommend—minus the bag, of course.

We need to grieve.  To feel sorry for ourselves.  To wonder where all the time has gone and why we look more like our mothers/grandmothers than we vowed we ever would.

Hell, if you feel like buying a burka, go right ahead.  Cover yourself and all your imperfections from head to foot.  (If it’s summer, take care: you could suffocate.)

We grieve all kinds of losses: loved ones, pets, friends, satisfying jobs.  But, rarely, do we give ourselves permission to grieve for what society has convinced us is a loss of beauty.  Oh, we complain to anyone who will listen.  (My husband has had it up to “here.”)  We bitch about our flabby stomachs, our sagging chins, the veins large and small that mar our legs into an atlas-like illustration of all the rivers that flow through our state.

(BTW, I may take the prize for the flabby stomach thing.  Mine used to be so flat and taut.  Farewell.)

What I’ve found is a little bit of grief goes a long way.  Feel sorry for yourself.  Look at old pictures and curse the day you were born.  Maybe even try on that size 8 dress you’ve hidden in your closet in the hopes of someday being able to wear it again.

But at the end of your age jump and your day of grief, give it up.  Look straight in the mirror and thank the gods or goddesses that you look (and feel) as good as you do.  And remember: Next week, next month, six months from now you’ll look back on today and wish that you had embraced that wrinkle or sag because you looked damn good.

 

 

JL-Siblings-Hdr

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