A Life in Passports

When you turn sixty I suppose that it is inevitable to get misty eyed and look back.  After all, I am standing on what I hope is a threshold (and not a precipice) between middle age and the next phase – which I cannot bear to label “old age” or even “senior citizenship.”  I don’t have to look far to see the inevitable signs of aging, particularly where gravity has suddenly taken a tenacious grip on certain body parts.   We often Skype with Ned who lives in China, and typically the iPad is placed on the counter and we look down into it.  Oh the horror of gravity, the horror! Tugging at every loose fold, highlighting every wrinkle and creating ephemeral jowls!  Now when I Skype I use gravity to my advantage by holding the iPad over my head so that I am looking up into it.  Alternatively I have discovered a gravity work-around by putting my elbows on the counter and my face in my hands.  Then, as I look into the iPad, I stretch my skin to give myself a temporary face lift. My mother used to write little ditties celebrating her friends’birthdays.  For her younger friends, she would include a stanza along the lines of:

 “Look at the firmness of her bustle, and the tautness of her muscle.”

 She made the necessary adjustments for her older friends with the line:

 “There is a broadening of her bustle, and a sagging of her muscle”

 I fall squarely into the second category.

And then there is the whole issue of your shifting demographic.  I am no longer desired by advertisers and in fact simply cannot understand some of the ads. Nick, who used to work in advertising, tries to console me and says,“Don’t worry, you are not supposed to understand those ads anyway, after all they were written by 25 year old kids.” Several years ago, I remember prefacing a story of my teenage years by saying, “About 25 years ago…”  I was so startled to say “25 years ago” because it seemed to me that that my conscious memory should not extend that far back.   How could I have stories that old? I have finally grown accustomed to saying “25 years ago,” but now startle when I have to say “About 45 years ago…” 

But beyond these physical and cultural mileposts, there is the more contemplative question of who I am and how I got here.  As I was walking out to the garage the other day, I spotted the perfect vehicle for a retrospective of my life.  We posted a bulletin board there where we display all the old ID’s that any of us have had through the years – school ID’s, work ID’s and even a collection of Ned’s fake IDs before he turned 21.  When my cousins were cleaning out my uncle’s house, they even added his ancient firearms license to the mix.  But the centerpiece of the bulletin board is a collection of every single passport that I have ever had, from 1967 to present.  It is somewhat of a miracle that they all came together, because I have no recollection of carefully saving them.  Some must have been in my parent’s house and turned up when we cleaned that out, some were in my possession before I got married, and some were stored by Nick. But all of a sudden there they were in the same box, offering a snap shot of the passage of time.


So young, so fresh so innocent, with a white shirt with a Peter Pan collar, and a button up cardigan.  I still remember that sweater, it was a sage green, and there was a grosgrain ribbon along the inside.  I am certainly wearing a skirt, as required by my school, lace-up oxford shoes and bobby sox.  I was a very slow starter, and if I had been kissed, it was probably by an unwilling loser in a game of spin the bottle.  My friend Jay looked at the picture and said, “You look virginal and fresh, like an Ivory Soap ad.” No hint of a Queen Bee in this photo.

The passport was prompted by my grandmother’s generous gift of a traditional “grand tour” of Europe.  We actually sailed across the Atlantic on the Queen Mary and experienced the last vestiges of the Titanic lifestyle.  I remember swimming in the pool where the rocking boat creating the very bizarre perception that you were swimming up hill. We had to get all dressed up for dinner every night in the restaurant and ate things like Baked Alaska.  One of our stops in Paris was the Lido, where my friend Helen and I were shocked and intrigued by all the naked ladies.


Quite a transformation in three years. My friend Jay says that I now have a “sultry, come hither look,” although he says it still looks like I trying to find myself. I remember that I was fresh off the tennis court, so any sultriness was probably due to a lingering sheen of sweat. By that time, I had a few summer romances under my belt, but nothing major and would agree that I was still unsure of my identity.  In 1967, my passport indicated that I had brown hair.  So perhaps one sign of confidence was that I now called myself a blonde.  

In 1970 I had just graduated from high school and was spending a “gap year”in Madrid before entering college.  Generalissimo Francisco Franco was still in power, left over from the Civil War in the 1930s, and I have a clipping from a newspaper where my friend Susan and I were part of a crowd shot cheering Richard Nixon as he rode in a motorcade with Franco.  I’ve got to say, it does make me feel very ancient if I can claim a connection, however tenuous, to the Spanish Civil War.  Also, the newspaper clipping has turned brittle and yellow with age.


I am 23 years old and out of college and frankly, now it looks like I’ve really got it going on, but any look of confidence must be something of a façade.  I spent the year flailing around working menial jobs, but eventually I pulled it together and entered medical school in 1976.  I think that I took comfort in the thought that my life was planned out, but I didn’t truly appreciate that medical school and residency would consume 9 years of my life, before spitting me out at age 32!  Many people in their twenties experiment with different jobs, but I was locked and loaded into medical school.  Without knowing what hit me, my twenties were over and done, and I was officially in middle age.  I don’t remember much of that time.


Of the bunch, this is actually my favorite picture, though Jay says that I look thin and tired and that work has taken its toll.  I am into my pathology residency, and recently engaged to Nick.  In fact, I got this passport for our honeymoon to the island of Madeira.  I like this picture because I think I look happy and above all, friendly, non-threatening and nice, which has really been my basic goal since my first passport, i.e. for the past 45 years!


Here I am in the early stages of doing the “have it all” juggling act with work and family.  Ned was 3 years old, and this picture was probably taken when I was just pregnant with Frances.  I’m not sure why I got this passport, since not surprisingly, I didn’t use it for another 5 years.  I do remember the winter coat that I am wearing.  Nick had encouraged me to go to the dentist before our dental insurance ran out at the end of the year.  Unbelievably, they found 7 cavities.  In order to meet the deadline of December 31st, the dentist had to fill them all in one day – 4 left ones in the morning and the 3 right in the afternoon.  The dentist said, “I normally wouldn’t recommend such extensive work in one sitting, are you sure you are up for this?”  Nick pointed out that this strategy would save us about $500.  I wanted to be the perfect low maintenance and frugal spouse so off I went to the marathon session of drilling and gagging.  However, during my lunch break between right and left, I went shopping.  In my benumbed state I bought myself a new winter coat.  It cost $500.


Uh oh, the wheels came off.  At this point, I was slogging through my 40s, a decade that was bereft of any personal growth.  The job was no longer fresh, I was deep into child care and also experiencing the challenges of the sandwich generation.  We got this passport to travel to London to celebrate the millenium and were staying with Nick’s mother who lived on the outskirts of London with her elderly companion.  I was itching to get down to the Thames to be part of the throng, but would be saddled with two young children and two elders and it turned out to be just impossible.  Instead, we ended up watching the celebration on TV.  I was acutely and agonizingly sandwiched.  On the up side, this passport also includes some fabulous family trips we took when the kids were older.


Oh the horror, the horror!  First I should say in my defense that the passport agency absolutely insisted that I refrain from any smiling or any expression whatsoever. But this is really dreadful – is this what my face looks like at rest?  Nick thinks this looks like a mug shot of a strung out meth dealer eking out some sort of hardscrabble existence.  I wouldn’t disagree.  My friend Sallie coupled my first passport with the latest and said, “Look, this could be mother and daughter!”  If so, you could use the two pictures as a prompt for a creative writing workshop, i.e. write a story about the relationship between these two women.  Well, I think that the “daughter” has an anxious and tentative smile, very fearful and unsure how to placate her volatile mother.  The“mother” is a mean vindictive “Mommie Dearest” type who, at the slightest provocation, spanks her daughter with a hairbrush.  Perhaps I would turn it into a gripping murder mystery, or submit a script to Law and Order. 

I am not due for another passport for another 7 years so I will have to wait until 2019 to rectify the miserable impression of this photo.  I am hoping for a picture that shows me gracefully aging, buffeted by a strong community of family and friends, and comfortable and confident for the next decade. 

The missing words in the following poem are anagrams (i.e. share the same letters like spot, post, stop) and the number of asterisks indicates the number of letters. Your job is to solve the missing words based on the above rules and the context of the poem.  Scroll down for answers.

Father Time sits on his throne with his jeweled ******* in his hand,

And taps his giant hour glass to unclog the stifled sand.

He is a hated man and knows he will never get any *******

Until people realize that eternal youth is something you can’t protect.

Fighting the ******* of oncoming age is a game that nobody can win

So embrace your broadening bustle, sagging muscle and the wise wrinkles in your skin.







scepter, respect, spectre

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