My hips are still agile

Christmas Eve and I’m well
again.  At last.  Only a few days of ill health but
enough to have me imagine I would never feel okay again, never my normal self.  Last week I copped a virus of some
sort, presumably one I caught from my grandson after he had stayed with us.  I held myself together until the final
day of my work and then collapsed. 
It’s always the way.  I’ve come to expect it: go on holidays
and fall ill, mostly with a minor ailment but I tend to imagine it’ll be worse,
as if I’m waiting for the final diagnosis that signifies my pending death. 
I’ve said this before, I’m
sure.  When I was young I thought
sixty would be a terrific age at which to die.  When I was young, a child at primary school, old age seemed
such a foreign country.
Last night I visited my mother in
her retirement village, the centre of that foreign country.  I arrived at the end of dinner and
walked with her as she shuffled back from the dining room.  There was a bottleneck of people
hunched over their walkers as we entered the corridor that leads back to her room, three old people staggering on the slight incline that leads from one
part of the corridor to the next, my mother at the rear.  I looked down at my mother’s legs visible under
her skirt, at her angular though shapely ankles, on her unsteady feet.  And I shuddered.  
It was hot yesterday, and yet it
had stayed cool in the nursing home as my mother proceeded to tell me while she
manoeuvred her walking frame behind her fellow residents.  Her hips
swayed from side to side as if without the frame she might totter to the
My hips are still agile.  I can walk without difficulty, though
yesterday while I was shrugging off the last of the virus, still feeling
queasy, I went with one of my daughters into the city for a dose of last minute
Christmas shopping, and thought otherwise.
do you need to stand around like that?’ my daughter said to me after she came
out of the change room where she had tried on a new dress, a potential
Christmas present.  ‘Like you’re a
person with special needs?’
I was not aware I had been standing
around in such a way.  I imagine
she expected me to look purposeful but by this time of the year
after more than one such visit to David Jones’s women’s clothes’ department –
four daughters after all, two of whom have particular tastes in clothes – I
found myself looking for a seat while I waited for said daughter to try things
 I have noticed, in this department store at
least, there are no seats available for the likes of me on which to sit.  There was a sort of cabinet in the Ted
Baker section with a British flag painted on top – Ted Baker must be an English
label, not one my daughters choose – so I sat on the edge of it.  None of the sales staff seemed to
mind.  But my daughter found my sitting there troublesome.  
I did not find my mother’s gait
troubled me yesterday, not at my age now, other than as a reminder of what is
to come.  My daughter on the other
hand is in her mid twenties still in that place where old age is foreign territory and not worth considering in terms of self yet.  
After my mother had reached her arm
chair and flopped down into it, I sat on the flat seat of her walker
nearby.  Proximity makes it easier for her to hear me.  
For the first time I noticed a
bracelet on my mother’s wrist, one I had not seen before.  She told me she had bought it in Holland.  It was silver with delicate incisions
cut into the surface like lace.  I
knew at once I wanted it. 
There is not much that my mother
leaves behind that I desire other than her bracelets, this one and another, a gold
bracelet, an heirloom left to her by a long dead aunt, also from Holland – a
thick gold chained bracelet that is linked to a single guilder.  I would be happy to settle
for one bracelet only, if I could choose, but how could I tell this to my mother? 
So far it has been easy to tell her that I’m okay about most things she leaves behind.  She can choose.  
Though I once mentioned a particular preference for the crucifix on her mantlepiece, not for
religious but for sentimental reasons, as in it revives memories of the time it
sat on the mantelpiece throughout my childhood.  
The crucifix will no doubt go to one of my mother’s more
religious children.  Sentiment is not a good enough reason to inherit a crucifix. 
Bracelets are different. We
daughters might fight over them after our mother has gone.  Not that we would fight.  Not openly at least. 
We never fight, not these days, not as we fought when we were
To speak of wanting something was
forbidden from my earliest memories, only hinting would do.  But it is no longer in my style to
Next time I see my mother I will
ask outright.  It’s not as hard as
asking her other questions about the past whose answers she holds so close to
her chest I fear she will never part with them. 

A bracelet is easy to give away
even if to speak of it again is to signify death.  And then I imagine myself wearing my mother’s bracelet.   I imagine my skin brush against the bracelet that my mother’s skin now brushes against and feel a mixture of pleasure and of revulsion.  Such these days is my attitude towards death.  
And here for good cheer is the
Lemon Myrtle my youngest daughter and I dragged in from our garden for this
year’s Christmas tree.  My daughter decorated
it with her nephew.  Together they
basked in that lovely place where old age and death are almost unthinkable.

20 thoughts on “My hips are still agile”

  1. I can't imagine what would happen if I spoke to my mother as your daughter did. Maybe I would not have pay her electricity bill again. The thought of speaking to my mother like that is not imaginable. Ok, there are big age differences but your daughter seemed to be very confrontational and direct, to say the least. I feel very very old.

  2. Carrie’s hips hurt constantly. She walks with a stick even in the flat and occasionally with crutches outside but she’s being doing a little better of late and has been making do with just her stick. It is only a matter of time before she’ll qualify for hip replacement surgery but she’s in no rush to go under the knife since she expects to live to a ripe old age and, despite the twelve years head start she has on me, probably outlive me and, as replacement hips are only good for about fifteen years at the moment, she really doesn’t want to be thinking about it for another ten years.

    Grandchildren are wee buggers. Most of what’s wrong with Carrie was triggered by a virus she picked up from one of her grandsons who was ill when she visited and lay all over her; he got better but she never has. I don’t know the kid. I met him once just after we’d got married—we’ve just celebrated fifteen years together—and I’ve never been back to the States since nor do I expect I ever will. I’ve seen it; I wasn’t overly impressed; the ice cream sandwiches were nice. I’ve woken a sore throat. Not sure who I could’ve caught a bug from other than a delivery person but it’s pulling me down a bit which is a shame because today’s when my daughter and her husband are coming over to exchange gifts. I say “exchange gifts” as opposed to “celebrate Christmas” because that’s what it’s been reduced to and since my ever practical daughter’s restricted me to one gift each for them much of the fun’s gone out of it for me. I know I went overboard, especially while I was working and flush (and if her friends were coming over they’d get almost as many presents as she got) but the burden of buying just one thing (and getting it right) is so enormous that there’s no fun in it. Still it’s what she wants and I find myself not caring.

    My parents were not into things and so when Mum and Dad died there was very little for us kids to squabble over. My brother and I both wanted his bible and I won but have felt bad about it ever since. Maybe one day I’ll package it up and send it to him; it’s only sitting in a boxful of bibles under my desk that I never need to look at since the Internet turned most of my reference books into clutter. I took back the gold pen I bought Dad for their fiftieth wedding anniversary. He never used it, not once, and neither have I. Mum got an engagement ring—she’d always wanted one—and that went to my daughter; my sister got Mum’s wedding ring. Other than that there was nothing of any value. I got Dad’s writing bureau which doesn’t go with anything in the living room but I’ll never throw it out and, knowing how sentimental my daughters is, fully expect her to hang onto it. When I send you my short story collection next year you’ll see it has a cameo. The only other things I wanted—and I fully expected to have to fight for them but neither of my siblings wanted them—were the two SylvaC rabbits that somehow managed to survive our parents’ marriage and all our childhoods undamaged and now sit on the windowsill behind me; I think they’re in a book or a story too. Dad had no jewellery bar a tie clip. I’m not sure Mum had anything much, maybe a string or two of beads, certainly nothing fancy.

    That is one sorry-looking Xmas tree by the way, Lis. I’ve seen pictures of a few online and wonder what people are thinking of. One of the few things I still enjoy about Xmas is the tree in the living room. I’ve been getting up in the early hours for the last few weeks to work on my short story collection—I’m onto my sixteenth draft which is so unlike me—and it’s nice to sit here in the dark with just the tree on working away. At the moment it’s obscuring the writing bureau which is fine because a couple of weeks ago (after being with us for about seven years) the bird just discovered it and started chewing on it so now it’s covered with a cloth to protect it not that it’s worth anything.

    Happy Xmas, Lis.

  3. My mother has been dead for some years now and she gave away all her things before she died, needing to give them up so that medicare would pay for the family home she eventually went to. We three siblings had very few things that we desired in common and no fights or hard feelings were engendered. but your desire for the bracelet reminded me of a piece of jewelry of hers that I had wanted as far back as I can remember. She had a crescent moon set in diamonds which was one of the first christmas presents my father gave to her. he had it made special to replace the silver crescent moon that she wore at the time, a symbol of her sorority. I borrowed it from her in my early 20s (she had not worn it in at least 10 years having other jewelry my father bought for her). Sometime before I married, my parents were robbed and all her jewelry was taken, except for the crescent moon which was still in my possession. Not long after we married, my parents, who were drinking a lot and not really getting along at the time, basically demanded that we invite them over for dinner which we dutifully did. they arrived drunk and my mother was in a nasty mood, feeling sorry for herself and before we even sat down to dinner she demanded the necklace back, the one that she had previously said I could keep. I was crushed. It enraged my husband so much that he told me to just go get it which I did. He handed it to my mother and then told them both to leave. Now. Threw them out of the house before we had even eaten. So they got no dinner at our house and were never invited back unless it was a holiday. She did relent and give it back to me some months later. I still have it.

  4. You've brought to mind how very civilized my brother and sister and I were on the division of my mother's personal things. We all wanted the same artwork and so decided to draw numbers for who would go first and then took turns choosing. Always the stoics, always practical.

    I love the little tree!

  5. The lemon myrtle is worth the effort. Just charming.

    My oldest daughter and I have always had that direct relationship. I enjoy it. My youngest daughter remains a mystery. As does her oldest daughter, my twenty year old granddaughter.

    Have a lovely Christmas season.

  6. I think your daughter was very tactless with her remark. She may remember it one day when she is waiting around for her own daughter and realise she should have asked if you'd like to sit down somewhere instead.
    The only things I have of my mother's is her thin wedding ring, a few pendants on long chains and her big wooden rolling pin.
    I love your little lemon myrtle tree!

  7. That I continue to be alive surprises me. Mostly I take it for granted, of course. But I went thru years of wondering when I ever might be happy. And now? I'm pretty happy. Age 50 is 3 years away and it amuses me to imagine the things I think I will be able to do when I'm 50 that I can't do now – a handstand away from the wall, for instance. I don't know for sure that will happen but I'm going to say I think it will.

  8. Children seem to retain their sense of embarrassment of their parents for an awful long time after they enter adulthood. I know I did. I said some terrible things to my mother and only desisted when I appeared to enter the fully adult stage (I was about forty – a long gestation).
    Being a male child (one of two) it was the daughters-in-law and the grand-daughters who had designs on my mothers jewellery. It did cause some distress because she had left clear instructions (she didn't have much) and had thought about it carefully. Unfortunately the sheet of paper disappeared (accidently?) and the shenannigans began. In the most subdued and secrtetive behind the scenes conversations. Eventually we all forgot and got on with things and chose to remember her rather than her jewellery.
    Funnily enough Iwas looking in the sideboard this morning as we put things away after a great xmas day and thought: 'Crikey, there a lot of stuff here we never use. maybe we should start the cull'.

  9. It's a different world from the one in which you and I grew up in, Andrew. I would never have been as direct with my mother either. In many ways I appreciate it. At least they – my daughters – are honest and they've also learned to ask for things directly and generally do not seek to manipulate me into giving. I prefer directness, even when it hurts.

    Thanks, Andrew.

  10. Well Jim, I'm sorry you think our tree looks so 'sorry'. It looks better in real life but you're right in the sense that it's certainly no conventional tree. But the smell it gives off is glorious – Lemon.

    As for hips, my mother had hers replaced three times, both sides every ten years from her late fifties through to her late seventies and nothing since. I recommend hip replacements to all who need one.

    I have a friend who's due to go into surgery for his hips in a couple of days. For five years, he who has always enjoyed physical activity, walking, cycling and the like has been so restricted. I reckon he should not have waited.

    Fifteen years is a long time in life, especially as we age. Fifteen years pain free is worth it and if necessary and Carrie lives that long she can have another. As I say my mother was nearly eighty for her last. She won't have it anymore. In any case, she barely walks these days . Her hips give her no trouble.

    I'm glad my daughters don't restrict the number of presents. We all tends to err on the side of excess. I try to tone it down somewhat but it never works.

    Today we have my husband's family over for a Christmas lunch so for us it has not yet ended. And tomorrow we'll start sating Happy New year and so it goes on. The cycle starts all over again

    I wish I could work as devotedly as you-draft number sixteen. I'm lucky to get beyond draft two.

    Happy seasons greetings to you, Jim.

  11. Now that's a sad story, Ellen. I hope you managed to make peace with your parents before they died. At least you have the necklace back. To me giving something and then wanting it back is pretty crass, especially from a mother. It must have been hard given she was drinking.

    It's funny how important these objects become in our lives, these objects that carry meaning for us, and leave us with some sense of our connection to the people who passed them on.

    Your connection to your parents sounds as mixed as mine.

    I hope you have a lovely Christmas/New Year break. Thanks, Ellen.

  12. I'm glad you enjoyed our tree, Rubye Jack. Your family sound very practical and stoical in relation to sharing your inheritance as you say. I wonder whether you might have preferred a little passionate conflict, a little bit of a fight over it. But then again, the extent to which you tried to play it fair suggests a deep awareness of the significance of the things you were thus carving up.

    Thanks, Rubye Jack and seasons greetings to you.

  13. My daughter may one day realise how it feels to have a younger child respond so forcefully, but I reckon she already knows something of that via her significantly younger sister. But I agree, Rhymeswithplague, what goes around tends to come back around.

    Merry Christmas to you.

  14. I'm glad you enjoyed the lemon scented myrtle, Joanne. As for the business of direct relationships, I'm with you. They are so much easier than those difficult and obscure indirect ones where no one says what's going on for them and you're all the time left guessing.

    Thanks, Joanne, and all the best wishes for the season.

  15. I don't think my daughter intended her comment as a tactless one, River. At least I didn't take it to heart. I am not so ancient or infirm. I think that was her point – stop looking like an old crock, she seemed to say, when you're perfectly capable of getting along.

    Who knows how my daughter will view such comments in the future. I doubt she'll even remember.

    I wonder about the things I might have said to my mother in early adult hood. I remember a time when I kept up a polite veneer with her. I was civilised but underneath I broiled. I'd much rather my daughter state her case than go into a cold unspoken rage as I did with my mother for a time. It made it hard for both of us to sort things through.

    I'm glad you, too, enjoyed our tree, River. Have a lovely Christmas/New Year interlude.

  16. You're a veritable spring chicken, Glenn, three years away from fifty. Fifty is the great introduction to old age but it takes another ten before you can really claim the privilege and then another twenty I'd say before you can really call yourself old. And after that, if you're lucky, another ten years before things really start to fall apart.

    My mum reckons she was fine till she hit ninety. Thereafter she began to slow down. I hope the same for all of us, if we want to live that long and stay well enough that is.

    Happy Christmas/New Year season to you, Glenn, and thanks.

  17. You're right, Little Hat, it's better to remember the person and not the thing, but even so those things can help us to remember. Maybe it's part of the grieving process, this battle over inheritance, this refusal to let go once the person has gone, as if by keeping hold of the thing left behind, be it jewelry, whatever, there is a fantasy of keeping that person with us. Who knows?

    I agree there are times when culls are most necessary. if only I could let myself get into one sooner rather than later otherwise my daughters will not have to fight so much about what they keep of what's left behind as they might fight to decide who gets rid of it.

    Thanks Little Hat and seasons greetings to you. I see from her blog that you might meet up with my good friend Christina in Murwillumbah. Please say hello from me.

  18. There's no cure for old age, is there, Kirk? Other than death as you and someone in Citizen Kane suggest. I maintain that it's easier to be dead than to be alive. Once dead – assuming there's no after life – there'a no more responsibility or burden or pain. In life all three and more apply. But in life there are also all the other joyful possibilities.

    Thanks, Kirk.

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