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Preservatives and red hats (09/12/2004)
By Janet Lewis Burns

If insecurity, anxiety, and self-doubt would make a person more attractive, wouldn't it be a beautiful world!

What is it in staring eyes of the elderly, the stone-still glare, the confusion in the wrinkled brow? My own face is beginning to speak the same language. These eyes see beyond the morning paper and an evening stroll down by the rhubarb patch and the borderline arbor...beyond "home."

What could it be but "FEAR?" Hands frozen to a steering wheel, where her stationary head peers, barely within view. Her passengers, of similar circumstances, like marionettes their mouths move frantically in mindless chatter, avoiding distressing subjects...nursing home fees, giving up lunch for medications, and $4.00 boxes of cereal. Someone's daughter fell off the wagon again. Mum's the word.

I took note of the faces one day, as I tooled around Winona streets completing a list of errands...yet, all the while I was foolishly anxious to finish so I could hike, however briefly, Prairie Island woodland trails. Well, maybe next time. My windshield face wore an agitated, forlorn frown, no doubt.

Driving down a street and becoming confused as to where I was heading, I pulled into a drive-through bank's narrow slot, by habit, only to realize that wasn't where I was going. Rattled and weary, I looked over at the bright purple convertible to my left.

A sweetly smiling, fluffy-white headed, short-in-her-bucket-seat lady radiated that assured "don't let the looks fool ya" appearance. I noted the fuzzy dice hanging from her windshield mirror and the flashy red sunglasses and dangling earrings. I melted.

Maybe I should look at the faces in the windshields in a different light. Had I been failing to detect the "guts" of each expression? Is it all fear? Knowing what I've already learned of growing old, I am forced to override the fear theory.

DETERMINATION! That's what it is...determination, slightly frazzled by "so much I want to do, and time is growing shorter." One doesn't turn useless with old age, just different. It's a contemplative season of life. We've grown...to grandparents and mentors, waving surrender flags at housework, committee meetings, and piles of laundry, far from any finish line.

One of the most narrow-minded, misguided assumptions humans can allude to is attributing every sort of negative trait to "old age." When a senior citizen happens to be involved in a vehicle collision, passersby assume the old guy was at fault.

A doctor will occasionally dismiss an ache or malfunction, as "just old age," or, even worse, "senility." Don't let any disrespectful health care provider put you off like that!

That smoking little engine that could, the late, and very much alive, George Burns, knew how to guffaw at elderly prattle. "I want nothing to do with natural foods," he smirked. "At my age I need all the preservatives I can get." (The weak, whining, and the wimpy need not apply!)

We seniors are saved by our stubborn independence. Fear is not where it's at. Perhaps the elderly lady driving her friends around Winona streets was frowning because she had danced too much the night before and her feet hurt.

Maybe it was just that she was watching for a parking spot near the VFW. Or maybe they were running late for a yoga session. Thinking back, all those little gals had showy red hats atop of their permed heads. Cute!

How could that have slipped my mind! My eyesight isn't what it used to be. I get confused when preoccupied, and lose my way at times.

Just old age, I guess. Oh yah, I forgot. Flaunt it like you got it! And you got it girl! 


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