Archive for Sunday, July 29, 2001

At 80, life’s in focus, even if eyes aren’t

July 29, 2001


Well, I turned 80 three days ago. "Eighty" always seemed like real old age. It doesn't feel any different from 79 or 75. But it does seem to be a landmark year, a time leading one to do some reflecting.

I don't really know what 80 means, other than to face the likelihood that there probably won't be a column about 90. It's always nice when someone says "You don't look like 80." For years I've asked people whether they remember the movie, "The Picture of Dorian Gray." There was Dorian, forever young, forever evil. In his attic was a portrait of the real Dorian. I don't mean that you'd see a monster in my attic (I have no attic), but you would see that I'd look older than 80. My back reached 90 many years ago, and since I had that nasty fall in December I don't seem to move rapidly, and I wear out sooner.

There's little doubt that the number of pills I take each day are about the number many of my friends are taking. None of the pills are for any ailment that's life-threatening, but who knows what "life-threatening" means? I get to thinking pretty often about all the relatives who have died, and our friends in Lawrence and elsewhere, and my high school and college friends. I read the Journal-World obit page each day, glad I'm not on it.

There's no point in kidding myself that I'll make it to places where we've never been. No China. No India. Probably no South America. No Africa. I'd like to see London and Paris again, and Florence, Italy. There are many places I just wouldn't care to see.

I've told people for years that I'm never going to read "Pilgrim's Progress." There's a "Complete Chaucer" in my bookshelves, but I avoided Chaucer in college and I intend to keep avoiding him. I'm not going to read Proust. Or "Finnegans Wake." My eyes aren't so hot as it is, and I'd rather do my reading in books I'd enjoy, that take little effort.

There's not much chance that we'll ever be great-grandparents. So that's no big problem for me. I would like to see my two grandchildren graduate from college, but that's some distance away. I don't think that I'll see Laura walk down the aisle.

Three of us in the Journalism School used to smile when, in faculty meetings, we were asked to speculate on what KU would be like in, say, 2010. We knew we wouldn't be on the faculty to worry about that. One of the three has been gone since 1987. So I'm not concerned about what will happen years from now. I'm always a bit annoyed when told that one of our athletic teams is rebuilding, with a great team due about five years from now.

Whenever I get new clothes I try to wear them as soon as possible. Why wait for a better day? I look at all those ties and wonder how I accumulated so many. (I still have the tie I was wearing when we were married in 1947. A moth dug a hole in it.) Most of my jackets and suits don't fit. I seldom have reason to wear a suit, or a tie. The last time I wore a tuxedo was in 1978, when Carolyn was married.

Will I be able to keep working in that big yard of ours? Of late I tire rapidly when using a shovel or hoe. I can't kneel any more. I can bend over, but I have a hard time straightening up. Too many times in surgery. Both knees, both shoulders.

Why have I amassed all those tapes, CDs, video cassettes? Even if I tried to look at all those grand old movies the eyes wouldn't hold up. I did sneak a look at "Casablanca" a few weeks ago.

Should I get into some kind of exercise routine? Twenty-five years ago I ran two miles every day. Then I went to walking one. I know that I weigh too much, and I try to avoid looking at myself in profile. Maybe at 80 there's no point in worrying about such things.

Maybe friends who have reached 80 can give me guidance. I do want to keep writing this column until I get fired. I have my radio program essentially written through 2002. If my eyes hold up I'll keep reading at Audio-Reader. I hope to keep working outside. I hope to be with my family as long as possible, and I hope my friends will hang on so I can be with them.

Turning 80. No different. I used to hate birthdays, but when I reached 50, as I remember, I quit thinking about such things. Maybe I'll be able to write about how it feels to turn 85. But right now I'm certainly not concerning myself about things like that.

Calder Pickett is a professor emeritus of journalism at Kansas University. His column appears Sundays in the Journal-World.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.