At Seventy

I sit in the leather chair, feet outstretched on the ottoman, pillow on my stomach, book resting on top of that.  I have a very limited view of myself, basically my hands and the outline of my feet inside a pair of socks.  This is a welcome change from Zoom calls where the time spent looking at my image has surpassed the cumulative time in front of a mirror.  I’m tired of dwelling on the emerging dewlap on my neck, a structure commonly seen in hoofed mammals, lizards, and 70-year-old humans.    

The ottoman is weathered with crisscrossing scratches and dings, but it is an inviting look.  The same lived-in look on upholstery – tattered, frayed – would call for a freshened, upgraded makeover.  I share a serene sense of identity with my ottoman.

I look at my hands and realize that if I hyperextend my wrist, my lax skin is thrown up into folds that look like a mountain range from the beginning of time.  As I slowly clench my fist, the skin tautens, the wrinkles disappear, and a flat plain of smooth skin emerges, like an unruffled desert   I practice simulating the millennia of erosion and imagine the dinosaur era, from the Mesozoic through Cretaceous period when an asteroid wiped them all out.  

A distinct memory from my 45th birthday burbles up – the moment I realized my life was surely half over.  This did not prompt thoughts of how to ennoble my remaining time.  I was completely consumed with the responsibilities of parenthood and a career.  The care of my aging parents loomed on the horizon.  Now, at seventy, I have graduated, with honors, from the “sandwich” generation, parents peacefully departed after full, well-lived lives, children fully fledged with lives of their own.  I am a grandmother of two.   Thoughts of mortality now have the time and opportunity to slither from the depths of my mind.  They hover patiently at the periphery.

Decisions need to be made about my remaining time.  I don’t want to make my parents mistake.  They did not embrace technology beyond the clicker on their TV – no cable, no internet and had nothing to entertain them as they transitioned to a sedentary life.  My father could have spent hours researching his passion of antique cars, my mother would enjoy witty emails with remote friends.  What technology should I keep up with?  How about a Twitter handle, an Instagram feed?  What will sustain me for the long haul?  When will it be too late to start? 

An offensive genre of books gleefully proclaims, “The 100 Things [To Eat/Visit/Travel, etc.] Before You Die.”  I don’t want anyone else telling me what I’ll be missing.  However, my bucket list needs attention.  My only item consists of my goal to author a  crossword puzzle that is published by the New York Times Sunday magazine.  I’ve already nailed the concept.  It will be titled R.I.P.  The theme answers will be idioms for death, such as “kick the bucket” or “bite the dust.”  I hope that the New York Times will publish it on Memorial Day. 

Ensconced in the senior generation, I’m at an age where a friend advises me to get to know my doctor better because inevitably I will need his services more.  Fortuitously, I have had few encounters with the medical profession.  Over the past seventy years, I have broken a leg, an arm and a rib (not all at the same time), have had two benign breast biopsies and have had surgeries for an obstetrical mishap and a stone-laden gall bladder.  A pretty decent record that I’m proud of, but I recognize that I’m heading into a decade where death will seem increasingly less untimely. 

My mother, at my age now – or to give myself a bit of breathing room maybe in her mid-seventies – shopped for a wardrobe suitable for funerals, “since I will be going to so many more.”  Any moment of forgetfulness, previously easily dismissed, now acquires an ominous aura – perhaps flailing to recall the word etui, an essential piece of my vocabulary built on a 50-year history of the New York Time Crossword puzzle., a persistent cough, a skipped heartbeat, a splotch of blood where it doesn’t belong.  So far so good. 

I look down at my socks, decorated with birds on a wire.  The jagged outline of a troubled toenail strains at the fabric succumbing to the planned obsolescence of novelty socks.  They won’t last the summer.  My living room is filled with images of birds, some gathered on my own, but many are gifts from friends who know my interest.  My son once counted over 50 birds in the room, but he inflated the number by counting every bird in a flock of sandhill cranes. 

A hutch filled with ceramic birds sits on the mantel.  Many years ago, I glued an aspirin to one eye as part of a rousing “hide in plain sight” game for a large family gathering with many young kids, now all grown up.  We haven’t played the game in years, but the aspirin is still there, as is the penny glued to the eye of a copper bird statue on the table next to the ottoman. 

I wonder what will happen to all these birds when it comes time to dismantle this house.  Will anyone play the “hide in plain sight” game again or wonder why there is an aspirin glued to a bird’s eye? 

Our dining room contains portraits of my triple great grandparents, salvaged from the attic of my uncle’s garage.

I had recently stayed in a bed and breakfast whose dining room featured similar portraits.  When asked about their ancestors, the owner told me she had picked up the pair at a flea market to enhance her Victorian theme.  I didn’t want my triple greats to become random tchotchkes.  I removed the portraits from the impending dumpster, repaired them and hung them in my dining room.  One 32nd of my DNA can be traced back to these pioneers who left their farm in upstate New York to settle in Illinois.  However, I sense that any connection to these folks has become so tenuous that it is unlikely they will escape the dumpster on the next go-around.  They take up valuable wall space.

I became a compulsive quilter during the pandemic, completing thirty quilts in the past two years.  I’ve given away many as gifts to friends, as wedding gifts or contributions to silent auctions, but keep my favorites for myself.  What will become of them?  I have no control over how anyone chooses to remember me or my possessions, I do hope that my more creative improvisational quilts will be passed on to future generations.

Concessions to age accumulate.  I always check bags on an airplane, fearful of dumping my overpacked roller bag on the head of a fellow traveler.  We no longer replace the heavy storm windows on our own but dragoon a likely candidate passing through – a hearty nephew, younger friend, or a repurposed tradesman in exchange for a quick and grateful tip. 

Reading a book this afternoon is another concession.  I don’t ever recall seeing my mother read a book.  She was a bright and curious woman but focused on physical and social activity.  She collected all her projects in a notebook embossed in gold with the title, “Woman of Action.”  Reading in the afternoon would suggest that someone had a serious case of not enough to do.  She would say, “it’s a beautiful day, why don’t you get outside?”  Aside from violent weather, she considered every day a beautiful day wasted on sedentary pursuits. 

I still carry this guilt, particularly since I will surely fall asleep.  A nap in the middle of the afternoon would have been anathema to my mother.  The book is an important prop, it keeps me sitting up and makes the nap seem like an inadvertent mistake.  I choose a hard-back book because it lends a certain gravitas to the tableau.  A magazine, (and God forbid a People magazine) would double down on indulgence, a sight unfit for public consumption.  I align the spine of the book on my sternum.  The equal weight pressing on both sides of my rib cage feels like a comforting and protective hand. 

An elder friend/mentor of mine forwarded me the link to “WeCroak,” a website focusing on mortality.  The website explains:

“The WeCroak app is inspired by a Bhutanese folk saying, ‘To be a happy person, one must contemplate death five times a day.’  Each day, we’ll send you five invitations to stop and think about death.  Our invitations come at random times and at any moment, just like death.”

I’m momentarily tempted, but the app requires a two dollar per month subscription.  At the onset of my eighth decade, I see no need to offer a paid encouragement to mortality to step forward from the shadows for a full-frontal view.  The meager website following of 175 subscribers – within the range of family and friends – suggests that the bigger world of strangers shares my reaction. 

Several years ago, my son Ned was traveling on a slow train through India, seated next to a proselytizing Hindu determined to convert him.  He kept asking Ned about his thoughts of the afterlife.   Ned stopped the interminable harangue with the simple statement, “I’m willing to be surprised.” 

I could spend quality time with deep philosophic thoughts as so many others have  – how to take advantage of the time that is left, the death moment itself, how people will remember me, and how long will that memory be retained by future generation.  Not today.  I don’t have the emotional wherewithal to do more than skitter around mortality’s fringes.  “I’m willing to be surprised” is the perfect solution at this very moment.  I lean back and feel the gentle spring sun.  A breeze riffles the pages of my book.  I close my eyes. 


  1. Richard Baker on June 12, 2022 at 4:11 pm

    Thank you for posting. The reality of being 70 in less than 1000 words.
    I’ve learned that what we call wattle, you call dewlap and that you are a damn fine writer.
    BTW, we have heaving out our old brown leather sofas and armchair, ditching the mahogany coffee table and getting with the 2020’s with a new three-piece fabric suite and a coffee table and occasional tables in light oak. That should see us to the end of our days.

    • Liza Blue on August 28, 2022 at 12:16 pm

      Thanks for your comments, Rich. Yes a refreshing upgrade is also a refreshing tonic!

  2. Nancy C. on June 13, 2022 at 2:07 pm

    One of your best, EB!

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