Am I declined into the vale of years?

I was hoping it would never come to this; I was hoping that no one would ever think it would. I thought that perhaps the fact that I am not turning silver would fool them -not grey, not bald, not stooped or hobbling. Not even cranky or unreasonable… well, not after I’ve finished eating, at any rate. But that’s just it: what I eat. I’ve changed, my grownup children say.

Changed? Of course I’ve changed. We all adapt to evolving circumstances -solitude does that as much as Age. Or so I tell myself. But how such an unrelated thing as food could unmask my years I found puzzling -I’d covered my tracks so carefully I thought…

I’ve never been very good at food. I mean I eat it and everything; it’s just not something I approach with any confidence. I never actually watched my mother preparing food in the kitchen -it was simply there on the table each time she summoned me from wherever. I’m embarrassed to admit that I grew up in a time of sexually-assigned duties -mine was to go to school, do my homework, and keep track of where I had thrown my dirty clothes; hers was to cook, yell at me, and threaten to tell my father when he got home that I was never around whenever there was any work to be done. It was like that in those days -I never thought about roles or gender equity… I was just a short little kid with braces on my teeth; I probably figured that was enough. 

But in every fairy story, there is always a comeuppance, isn’t there? Always a price to pay. The unfortunate cost of my youth, was a naïveté that never grew up, an inability to cook that stubbornly defied the years. Still, I wandered through life without giving it much thought -there was always somebody sufficiently enamoured of the old ways who took pity on my disability and helped me through any rough patches. Alas, Age and Solitude caught up to me eventually, leaving the toaster as the only kitchen gadget with which I felt at all comfortable.

And yet, you can do a lot with a toaster if you put your mind to it. I mean, there are all sorts of breads and bagels that fit into it. And there are pop-up waffles. I even tried a wiener in it once… I needed a new toaster anyway. My new one pretty well does double duty now for breakfasts and lunches. That, and peanut butter.

A few years ago friend at work who was getting tired of hearing me complain about my abysmal cooking deficits, suggested I get a propane barbeque, and a microwave oven. So, what with frozen peas, microwaveable rice and an incredibly sugary instant cake added to the menu, I solved suppers. Anyway, I don’t know what my kids are talking about. I eat well. I just have to remember to take something out of the freezer each morning -I have about a month’s worth of chicken breasts in there.

I try to structure my meals to fit around news broadcasts on TV and radio so I’ll have something to think about while I’m eating. It’s almost as good as Sudoko. Oh yes, and I even discovered how to boil potatoes on the barbecue too, so life is good. The kids think I need more variety, though. But after a while, you get used to things, eh? You walk your own trail.

And things are even improving -I can’t seem to eat as much as I used to, so I’m saving money. This is important when you’re retired and living on savings. I mean, I remember a time when I could easily work my way through a couple of breasts, without wondering if I’d left enough room in there for dessert. I used to estimate my cookie consumption in aliquots of 5 to figure out how many nights a package would last me; with peanut butter, it was jars per week. I had a system. I’ve cut back on pretty well everything now, though; indigestion, and chicken dreams plague me otherwise. Still, I suppose it’s just what happens when you get older: space inside shrinks.

I tell my kids that, but they only snigger and remain, by and large, unconvinced. ‘It’s not how much you eat so much as what you eat’ I hear each time they phone. I’m not sure how old they think am, but I assure them I still have my own functioning teeth, and am quite capable of shredding a chicken breast like an animal. Nevertheless, I have to keep dispelling their fears of my imminent dementia, so I reassure them that I always check to make sure I’ve turned the barbeque off before I do the dishes. It’s strange the concerns they have…

Anyway, they insist on Emailing me articles about how dietary requirements change as you age. I don’t know where they find them, but some are pretty scary. They are usually written by younger people who are constitutionally unable to reason like seniors. I imagine the average author is often influenced by what she saw her aged father eating in the Assisted Care Home where she had to put him because he kept falling whenever he wandered away from her house at night. I mean, they don’t think like old people.

My kids certainly don’t. The other day they sent me a well-meaning article about nutrition for seniors featuring a picture of two elderly ladies both with obvious dentures. Come on, eh? Nobody with thinning mops of silver hair has straight, white, and perfectly aligned teeth. Anyway, they both looked so pleased at the mushy bowl of lumpy soup they were about to nip into that I wondered if the take-home message of the article was that they were actually sight impaired.

In fact, I suspected the article really had something to do with the daily requirement for micronutrients, and perhaps a warning for people with loose dentures to pay more attention to what they were doing. But no, the intended message was apparently to be careful not to overdose on the lightly-buttered bread the ladies had stacked beside the soup for quick dips. The whole thing was wasted on me, however. If there hadn’t been a caption under the picture I would have guessed it was supposed to be a warning about the soup. Old people have drowned in soup.

Well, message received. There’s little chance my children will arrive at my house one day and discover a lifeless hand sticking out of a deep bowl of porridge or anything. I’m really careful. Honest.

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