Life in the Nineties

When I was 89 I hid my age. But when I turned 90 it came as such a shock, I had to share my age with everyone. The number is awesome. Now I am 93. There are more than a million people in the world who have reached this age — but none in my family.

Luckily, I have experienced only minor medical inconveniences so far — such as difficulty hearing conversations, especially at lectures, movies and in restaurants. Hearing aids and lip-reading are helpful. Locating public restrooms is a must. The polyps in my nose affect my breathing, especially at night — so I use nasal sprays and Neti pots. A bum shoulder is an added burden, and there are a few other sensitive details that I will not mention.

Then there are the litanies of my devoted children. “You should live in Florida for the winter,” Louie tells me. “You need a driver in the winter,” David says. “Why don’t you want to hire a driver?” Joyce asks.

I had to give up my 14-year old Buick (it rusted out), which I had purchased used at a house sale and came to adore, so Louie found me a used Honda Civic. A big adjustment, but I learned to handle it despite all the new gadgets (I am still learning how to open the gas tank). I am a careful driver, and my children trust me driving with my grandchildren, as I drive only short distances with them. In fact, I don’t drive long distances without them.

My computer and IPad keep me in touch with the world, but I find them time-consuming. There is so much to do. Weekly I mentor kindergarten children. They always ask me, “What are those things in your ears?” — referring to my hearing aids. I tell them, “They are my microphones.”

One day, as I was interacting with three of the children at Cleveland’s Gearity Elementary School, one little boy looked at me and said, “You look young.” Surprised, I questioned the next child; “Do I look young?” “No,” he answered, “you look old.” We began to talk about the ups and downs of their grandparents. When time was up, and the children were about to leave, one of them added: “Mrs. Powers, please don’t die this week. I want you to come back.”

Recently I published a book, “Letters From Gelvan,” about my father and my Lithuanian grandfather. I wrote this book instead of traveling to Florida. Writing gives me more pleasure than travel.

I have seven wonderful grandchildren — eight really, but one died in infancy, breaking our hearts. I have two great-grandsons so far, and I keep in touch with all of my descendants at every opportunity.

Earlier in my life I was the founding librarian of our Solomon Schechter Day School. It was a most rewarding career. I was 78 years old when I retired — reluctantly. However, retirement allowed me to become more active in synagogue life, to sit on the board of the Beachwood Arts Council and, best of all, to spend quality time with my two young local grandchildren. They will become a bar and bat mitzvah, together, in 2016.

I speak every day by phone with my sister Etty, and we both participate in the dynamic activities of the Park Synagogue. Etty is the anchor of my life, and we cling to each other. We serve as co-chairs of our sisterhood book group. We are in charge of selecting the book of the month, a task we take seriously. Our group has become intimate, and we do a lot of soul-searching.

During quiet times there is much loss to be conjured. Losing my 64-year-old husband in 1985 was a blow that took years to overcome. Lou seemed to be with me wherever I was. It was my good fortune to meet and marry another man — Dan — and we support each other through the vicissitudes of the 90s. He will soon be 96! Lifelong friends disappear one by one. How I miss them! And the recent loss of my precious sister Ruthy, who was 10 years younger than I— how could that be!?

Many of my nieces and nephews have defected from Cleveland, but we manage to stay in touch. Some have remained in town, and it is always a pleasure to meet up with them.

Most of my contemporaries have given up their homes and are living in assisted living of one sort or another. As for me, I live in the house that Lou and I built 57 years ago, and it is my wish to stay here as long as possible.

We live in Beachwood, Ohio, where there are synagogues of every persuasion, many in walking distance of my house. A fabulous Jewish Community Center provides activities for everyone. I take yoga classes there twice a week. The headquarters of the Cleveland Jewish Federation is in Beachwood, and it provides services of all sorts for the local Jewish community and for communities overseas.

Music has sweetened my life. Playing the French horn in junior and senior high school inspired in me a life-long love of music. In high school I met a tall and fabulous clarinetist — Lou — and married him when I was 19. To this day I love to hum and sing to myself. To this day I cry and clap my hands when I hear beautiful Yiddish melodies like “Tum Balalayka,” “Sheyn Vi Di Levone,” and “Romania, Romania.” Also, Mozart’s clarinet concertos take my breath away!

On gray days I feel like I am living under a death sentence, but the next day the sun shines and I count my blessings and savor each moment that has been bestowed upon me. What a gift!

Geraldine Powers was the founding librarian of the Solomon Schechter Day School in Cleveland. She is the author of “Letters From Gelvan.” She currently lives in Beachwood, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland.

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