I’m Not As Old As I Thought

Last week was my birthday, my 71st in fact. Seventy-one is sort of anti-climatic and a little depressing. Seventy was fine. We celebrated, went out to dinner and late night partying and dancing with friends, but seventy-one is like, well, you’re in your 70s for real. How depressing. I told my husband I didn’t want to go out, didn’t want friends over, wanted a quiet birthday. “How about fixing soft crabs,” I said. He did. And crab cakes. That was nice. And quiet.

What do you do in your 70s? You get old, that’s what you do. Eighty is less than ten years away. But I went up to the farm, alone, a few days later for three days of focused writing. That was a gift to myself. You can find several posts about the farm, but an overview is here.

It’s a good drive to get to the farm–three hours give or take fifteen minutes, and we’re always glad to arrive. This time, I arrived alone. Unloaded the car; checked to make sure I had all the keys I needed; got into the house without mishap, and closed the door.

basementNext, I went to the basement. Said basement on your left. I always go to the basement first, it’s my job, while Cliff unloads the car. But I traveled an….. I vant to be alone….adventure. After unpacking, I went to the basement.

Imagine my surprise when I pulled the light cord (yes, we have a pull cord on the farm), and found the basement floor covered in water. Ankle-deep water, as a matter of fact, because I took my shoes off and walked across the floor to the fuse box which you can’t see on the far right.

I did not tell my son, whom I talked to later in the evening and he warned me not to, which I already had, that I walked in the water barefoot to the fuse box, flipped the breakers for the air conditioner and refrigerator, (although not the hot water heater which you can see in the background), and went back upstairs to unpack and brood.

I called the farm neighbor and he came by but he didn’t have a pump and it was probably ground water and his house had water in the basement too and more than twenty inches of rain had fallen in the last month and yes, most of the fields were planted.

I texted the plumber. He texted back…at a wedding…

Since I couldn’t do anything else, I rewrote the first chapter and redid the title so I think I have it. Written on the Reverse: a love story. At least that’s my title. We’ll go with it for now.

I slept in a fugue. But woke the next morning thinking, got out my trusty Samsung, and searched “sump pump.” You don’t probably need to Google that and I’d tell you what it is except I don’t really understand fully, but I knew it wasn’t it. I did, however, find the word, “submersible.” Submersible pump. I went to town, even on a Kansas Sunday morning to Oschlen’s in Marysville, and found the pump, easy directions, an ultrasound something or another clicker which you plug in and it seems to keep critters away (old one submerged in basement) and went home. And set up the pump. The electrical cord went upstairs and the hose went out the side door. It worked all by itself. I also bought a pair of rubber boots to keep my son happy. You can see said cord/hose/setup in the photo above.

Which leads us to the next photo: mare’s tail weeds, which if you look closely, look more like a mane, but that’s what they’re called. And they grow everywhere.

6' of pulled weedsThe dark pile on the left is the pulled ones, the ones on the right the mare’s tail wall I didn’t breach.

But with the hose emptying at a pretty good clip and soaking the ground fast, mare’s tails were easy to pull. Not so easy when the ground’s dry.

After I cleared that there slough…well, sometimes you gotta talk farmer talk…I went down to the basement and drug out all the stuff that was water sogged and nasty: a couple of lawn chairs, an old suitcase from when we had the camper, a small grill we no longer used, and a large three-tired, carved wood, African, lazy susan thing with a carved pineapple on top that my mother’s oldest friend, who was a pastor’s wife, gave to me, and carried it all to the lawn to dry out. Or sit. I’d think about it tomorrow.

I heated water on the stove and cleaned up (remember? no hot water yet). It’s called a sponge bath. I washed my hair in cold water in the kitchen sink. It helped to cool my head, ate some yogurt. It was really weird being there without Cliff. I didn’t even know how to work the remote.

So this has become one of those long-form blogs. You still with me?

The next morning, I sat with Vivian Gornick’s book, The Situation and the Story. If you write personal essays or memoir, this book is a must. And I spent the morning writing out quotes and thinking/re-thinking my memoir. I lived in love with a dead man most of my life I suddenly journaled. So it was a good writing morning. And somewhere in there, maybe Sunday night, I figured out the opening for the next chapter. I also planned out the rest of my chores, put my dirty clothes and boots and gloves back on, and went to plant peonies.

But first, I took the soggy chairs and lay them out on the cement slab and either they will get clean in rainwater and sun or I’ll dump them. And then I took the small grill and the carved pineapple head tower to the garage, and the old suitcase to the dump. We will not talk about the dump, but every farm has one. Ours is discreet.

I don’t have a photo of my peonie garden so you’ll have to imagine it. It’s in a V shape from the drive and the big cement block the rock drive circles. This may be too long a story to add, suffice it to say big cement block is the old cement steps Dad poured for the mobile home. Sturdy. Stephen had dug up peonies for me here at home which needed to be divided, and I took them to the farm in plastic bags. And two bags of mulch. And a spade and rake.

The other plan was to see if I could finally get compost, from our monster composter in the basement, to use for the garden. Said composter across the room from the steps. I did. Two trays. And dug up two trenches, composted in, planted, mulched, and for good measure poured on a half-bucket of water.

That was the only planned chore. The basement, while not planned, was demanding.

However, Monday night I drove into town to have a real dinner (taco salad at the Wagon Wheel and a gin on the rocks) and stopped at WalMart’s once again and bought Clorox. Mopping up the floor seemed like too much to accomplish, especially if it was going to possibly seep in again. So, in consultation with my son who knows these things, I planned to put down a layer of bleach. Tomorrow I”d Clorox the floor.

Early Tuesday morning, it must have been, I went straight to work and finished cleanup. I Cloroxed the basement floor; cleaned up the composter; the hot water heater (which by now was working-I’d carried the wooden ladder to the fuse box, per son’s instructions, the night before, stood on a dry step in my rubber boots, and flipped the water heater switch with my rubber-gloved finger); and cleaned the submersible pump (we’ll probably need it again).

After resting a bit and showering a lot, after stuffing nasty clothes in a plastic grocery bag by themselves, and stripping the bed, towels, etc etc, after getting redressed in clean clothes and packed and shut down – one more trip to the basement to flip the switches off that needed to be off and check the locks again, I got in the car.

But first, I took one more photo. Disregard the arrogant crowd of mare’s tails on the left and focus instead on the soft green spreading down from the house. That’s the red clover I planted a month ago when we were last up. It’s taking hold. The bees will love me.

Which reminds me: two bumblebees at separate times, came to feed on my hat, alas, fake flowers in a cotton band. But they were determined, each in its own way, to see if there lay a reward. Only woman-sweat.

And then I drove home and pondered that perhaps I wasn’t so old after all. A most interesting lesson.

Clover at the side of the house. west view

 The end.






30 thoughts on “I’m Not As Old As I Thought

  1. Can only imagine, barely—70 is still about two decades to go for me (sigh).
    But reading the story.. Hey, Lady, I suspect you’re younger than me! 🙂

    1. Hey, You!! Thanks so much for stopping by and for commenting. Growing older is what we do, so I expect you’ll get here one day! 🙂

      I had fun reading the comments on your blog. You do get around! I especially liked the one that replied, “I speak Star Trek.” That was a laugh!

  2. Janet! Happy (belated) birthday, first of all! Your feelings about your 71st this year reminded me exactly of my 41st this year…no party, please. Last year yes, but this year, 41 came and I looked ahead and thought 9 years til 50…Funny how we shared similar thoughts..
    Anyway, about your post…
    I read as if I were an observer, watching everything you did on the farm (seeing how your post was so descriptive! Hope that doesn’t sound creepy!)
    I can imagine your surprise to find all that water in your basement…And by the way, we had a pull cord in ours…funny how that reminded me.
    Your determination to get that water out is commendable…and I bet that taco salad and that gin on the rocks were mighty fine after all that work you did.
    And the bees on your hat? I bet they weren’t disappointed at all to find nectar-less flowers…They got a chance to hang out with you for a time…Lucky bees!
    Sending you friendship, joy and light,

    1. What a fine compliment! No it doesn’t sound creepy at all. So glad the story lifted off the page and into your head. Seeing is good.
      Don’t fret the forties. They are a woman’s best years. At least that was when I was at my best. So savor them and rejoice. Although I guess I mean physically, come to think of it. I was beautiful and thin, but not particularly happy. Now not so thin and very happy. So there you are. It’s all relative anyway.
      Hugs, Lady. We may need to meet up in Cincinnati…..:)

      1. Janet, I read your comment while sitting on the side of the fountain at the entrance of Central Park on 59th Street…You know, the fountain with that golden chariot on top? (or something shaped like it?)
        My smile was so wide that it seemed to span the length of the park…
        Your words of advice are so welcomed and I am grateful!!!!
        PS: Cincinnati sounds great! I’ve never been but I’d be thrilled to meet you there one day!

      2. Sorry to take so long to reply, Lia. I have focused on the memoir so much that time gets away from me.

        I liked the image of you sitting at the Central Park fountain! I always looked for it when I rode the bus down Broadway. And I’m glad my words resonated. Maybe if…when I get the memoir finished, queried, find an agent to represent etc etc etc, I’ll have a reading in Cincinnati…or maybe NYC. That would be a blast.

      3. No worries at all! I’m glad you are focusing on your memoirs! In fact , I’ve been away from blogging a bit more than usual because of the summer weather and spending lots of time outdoors!
        Yes yes it would be great to meet up and I’ll be in the front row at your reading!
        Have a lovely Tuesday and sending you my best,

  3. 1. Happy birthday!
    2. You inspire me–please keep writing about adventures past and present
    3. I miss you. I want to stroll your city garden when I’m back from NYC!
    4. My birthday was far from quiet, but 64 just means I’m not yet 65–retired, but working full time during school year–finding new identities and paths .

  4. Take it from a seventy-eight year old you are not old! I love your problem solving skill and the consults with your son. You are an amazing woman as well as a good writer. ❤

  5. My goodness this was a great read. I’d say that you did enough work for a forty year old and as they say, “age is but a number.” I have you beat by seven years and even though I know how old I am. by jove I’m not going to creep around and walk hump shouldered with a frown on my face. Life is what you make it or make of it,” Keep on, keeping on, Janet.

    1. Thank you! Actually, it was great fun writing it. In working on the memoir, I realized I’d lost my sense of humor in Georgia (well, southern Georgia isn’t exactly fully of humor) and had to practice and bring it alive again (the humor that is). I even used that line. “Along with my way, I’d lost my sense of humor.” But really, with all that water and trudge, what else are you going to do. By jove! Loved seeing that. Hardly anyone says it anymore…..

      1. You know one of my favorites? God willing and the creeks don’t rise. And I’ve been known to spout By Jove, from time to time. Seems to be required from my Kansas family heritage although most of my siblings don’t use them that I can think of….that may have something to do with they don’t live in Kansas anymore and I came back….

    2. I have this friend Jessica who, in her late 30s and a writer, says she wants to be me when she grows up. Well, my dear, if you’re still doing what you’re doing and almost eighty at that, I want to be you when I grow up!

      1. Ha, ha Janet, thanks so much. You can live a long life but, you must keep on shoving forward.

        There is much that I want to accomplish before I bite the dust and I hope to live to 95 but I doubt I’ll be that lucky. Just take care of your health and don’t take anything for granted.

      2. You had someone read you palm’s lifeline? Somebody read mine when I was in my thirties and she told me I had a short life line and would not live to be old.

        Or were you kidding about your life line and 104 years is your aspiration?

  6. I agree that you don’t look your age, nor do I, or so I’ve been told. We oldsters have to stick together, although I’ll pass on water in the basement, thanks very much. We didn’t have sump pumps in Ohio, but in Illinois, it seems everyone has them. I find them rather creepy: build below the water line, pump the water out (if the pump doesn’t fail), then the water goes back into the ground and… Well, you get the idea.

    Happy birthday and may your year be filled with blessings.


    1. Oh. Below ground. Now I understand. Well, it wouldn’t have done much good, I fear, as we were sitting on the water table near as I could tell! Dad, in his wisdom nearly forty ??? years ago? Dear me, that’s an old basement come to think of it. Anyway, he left a good round hold, and I suppose that was to let water drain out. Or something. I never asked. But the hole down through the concrete into the ground is still there and I expect that’s where most of the water seeped in. So yeah, I got the picture. Well. Now I own a pump.

      Thanks for the good wishes, Janet. I expect my year has begun with plenty of blessing. A reminder that I can still work physically hard for three days is pretty cool. Although I must admit, the catching up to energy again after I returned home took some time. 🙂

  7. Happy birthday! And after all — what’s a better gift than a submersible pump? A delightful recounting of the sort of “vacation” we’ve all had from time to time!

    1. Yeah, I thought it was a pretty neat birthday gift too. And a keeper. I’ll go back up in a couple of weeks and see if another lake has seeped in. Or maybe I’ll just watch the weather up there and pray. That’s it. No doubt that will help…..

    1. You know what girl? It’s because of you. Really. All the times of reading your posts and wishing I could write funny and practicing to write funny, and by golly, I can! I just didn’t quite know how to get the sense of humor on a page. But I’ve been practicing. Thank you sooooooo much for teaching me and for your fabulous compliment.

    1. Thanks, Terri. For the birthday wishes and the compliment. That’s what forty years of being a professional actor will do….take care of the face and hair. haaaahaaaa. But it’s true. You know what all that work did do? My legs woke up and are working again. And that’s pretty fab too. And I’m back to daily workouts (although I must admit, I’ve also had several naps since coming back….)

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