Posted by: Harold Knight | 01/13/2013

“. . . doesn’t seem to matter if you’re old and gray. . .”

comfort from things past

comfort from things past

Amanda Redman is leaving “New Tricks” (BBC) as Detective Superintendent Sandra Pullman. She has played the part for ten years. James Bolam, who played the part of Jack Halford has already left and has been replaced for the 2013 season. I haven’t been able to find out when the episodes with Bolam’s replacement will air on KERA in Dallas. The episodes now airing in Dallas are the 2012 series.

I look forward with trepidation to the show without Redman and Bolam—I’d rather see it end than see it with new characters. The four original characters are perfectly fitted to each other and, regardless what Redman and Bolam think, I don’t think the plots have become “stale.” Perhaps when I see the 2013 series, I will understand. The probability is the show will end. And I’ll be sad to see it go (as I suspect millions of the over-sixty-five crowd will be).

As I wrote on Facebook this morning, even if the show ends, it will leave behind my current favorite song, “It’s alright, it’s OK, doesn’t seem to matter if you’re old and gray.” Dennis Waterman, another star of the show recorded the song which was written by Mike Moran.

“God, you look awful,” she told herself. “Old crone, with hardly a wisp of hair left, and those dewlaps, and those wrinkles.” Merciless she was. But there was also the pleasure of recognition. In the mirror she recognized her self, her life companion, for better or worse. She looked at this self with compassion this morning, unmercifully prodded and driven as she had been for just under seventy years. The sense of who she was and what she meant about her own personage began to flow back as she ran a comb through the fine childlike hair, hardly gray, and brushed her teeth—her own, and those the dentists had had to provide over the years.

“Damn it!” she said aloud. It meant, in spite of it all, false teeth, falling hair, wrinkles, I am still myself. “They haven’t got me yet” (Sarton, May.  Mrs. Stevens Hears the Mermaids Singing. New York: Norton, 1965).

I met May Sarton (1912-1995) in 1986, twenty years after she wrote Mrs. Stevens. I remember marveling then at the grace with which this 72-year-old (old, by my standards then) woman carried herself, and the energy with which she gave a reading of her poetry and short stories. Sarton must have been prescient because her description of the aging woman, written when she was only fifty-three, is—judging from my current experience—spot on.

May Sarton takes the same unflinching look at the process of aging in several journals of her experience. My two favorites are At Seventy (1984), and  Encore: A Journal of the Eightieth Year (1993). I read both of them almost twenty years ago, I must say, before I had any idea what aging is all about. I am irresistibly drawn to her writing style, and—of course—I had met her, so it seemed I should be able to discuss her work. I met her at Salem State College in Massachusetts where I was an adjunct professor of music who had been recruited also to teach Freshman English. Her reading was arranged by the other (at least the only other of whom I was aware) gay member of the English Department. Sarton was openly out as a Lesbian.

An armchair  of my father's

An armchair of my father’s

As a gay man in America—especially one who was never slick-porn-magazine -pretty and who has never paid much attention to pop culture or the ins-and-outs of Hollywood and “Project Runway”—I have lived most of my life somewhat in terror of being OLD. You know, the “tired old queen” (an epithet I’ve heard gays use to describe someone in his forties).

That’s not exactly true. I really don’t give a damn what anyone thinks of me. That’s also not true, of course. I merely want to live my life as if it were true. When I am patently dishonest, I hope I can be honest about my fudging of the truth.

My terror at growing old has little to do with the fact that I am not a pin-up model and never was. It is about my inability to come to terms with my own mortality, an intellectual and what I suppose some would call “spiritual” dilemma of which I have been acutely aware since I was in my thirties. There are many reasons for my (perhaps) obsession with death, not the least of which is that “the afterlife” was so present as an idea and a reality in the community in which I was raised. And I never believed it. (It turns out that true orthodox Biblical Christianity doesn’t, either—but that’s a subject for another day.)

One way I have tried to come to terms with my acute awareness of my own mortality is to submerge myself in art and literature that deals specifically with aging—hence, my love of “New Tricks” and May Sarton. “Doesn’t seem to matter if you’re old and gray. . .” and “They haven’t got me yet.”

I also surround myself with things—things that comfort me because they come from some time before I was born and give me a sense of a continuity of existence. I know this is neither profound nor original thinking, but I need to inventory a few of those things.

New Tricks

New Tricks

A New England blanket chest, perhaps 300 years old left to me by my late partner. Hanging over it an antique mirror my late ex-wife and I bought at a forgotten antique store in Wisconsin in 1972. Two art glass vases of unknown origin I bought. And a photo album with pictures of such persons as one of my paternal great-great grandmothers—and a tiny piece of tatting someone in the family made.

A plant on the floor of my living room that grows from a slip of a plant owned by my late partner’s great-grandmother (who posed for Norman Rockwell). A small glass picture holder with a photo of my mother’s parents on their wedding day. A wooden armchair from my father’s office fifty years ago. A wooden chair from my great-grandfather’s office 100 years ago.

And then there are the plants. There’s the table, the lamp, other “things” I would not own were it not for the encouragement of my brother and sister-in-law and my inamorato who have helped me to live more in the present than I am wont to do.

As usual, I’m not quite certain of the point of this writing except to say I am sixty-eight (I know, if you read my blog, you’ve heard this before). However, I have an unusually sanguine understanding this morning. Thanks to “New Tricks” last night and May Sarton on my iPad, I’m thinking more nostalgically about finitude than normal. “It’s alright, it’s OK.”

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