The Revenge of My Father

As my father got older, into his 80s, he was cold all the time. I remember being at our family cottage in Wisconsin and wanting to swim in the lake on a day that was warm but not hot. He stood on the pier, wearing a cardigan and long pants, and watched me enter the water. “Aren’t you cold?” he asked, and it seemed a silly question. It was summer, the sun was out, and the temperatures were maybe in the low 80s. How could he be cold?

All winter long, my father, who had been skinny all his life, wore long johns—inside the apartment he shared with my mother, and even with the thermostat set at 70. When my siblings and I visited, we would complain about how hot it was and ask if we could turn down the heat or open some windows, while we rolled our eyes at each other.

In my youthful arrogance, I must have thought my parents were coddling themselves. Maybe if they got out more or experienced the real cold outside, they would see that their apartment was too warm. I thought this, even though I knew my dad loved to walk, that he exercised every day even if it was just circling the interior of the retirement facility in winter.

And now I’m old, and I feel the cold more intensely, wrapping myself in my fleece robe once it gets dark. On a day when it’s 40 degrees outside, I’m wearing a parka, hat and gloves, while younger people are out in shorts and tank tops. I suspect they are sneering at my bundled-up outfit, while they’re running loose and free. And I look at them in amazement, as my dad once looked at me, and think, “What’s wrong with them? How can they not be cold?”

Not a Slave to Fashion

I remember clearly the first time I chose function over fashion. I was in my 50s, ready to go for a walk on a cold day, and I had a choice between a hat that was fashionable and less warm, and one that was warmer but made me look like an old lady. I went for warmth.

I never cared that much how I looked, although for most of my life I followed the current fashion trends. In high school and college, I dressed in mini-skirts and platform heels, and when the hippie era came along, I wore bell-bottom pants and peasant blouses. In my working years, my attire was pant suits and dress shoes.

But once I stopped working in an office and could stay home, I was only too happy to slip into comfortable slacks and loose shirts. From there it was down the slippery slope to pants with elastic waist bands—ideal for an aging body beginning to sag. I haven’t yet gone as far as my onetime elderly neighbor, who in warm weather wore muumuus—those loose dresses that hide a multitude of body issues—but I can see the attraction.

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Now I’m Part of History

Rocky Flats encirclement, 1983

I guess it’s inevitable that after living 70 years you become part of history, especially in this swiftly changing culture. Because I’ve lived more than 50 of those years in the same place—Boulder, Colorado—I’ve seen a lot of transformations. Yet I was still surprised a few years ago when the local oral history project wanted to interview me about the 1970s—the fabled time of anti-war protests, hippies, drugs and (apparently) wild sex. At the time Boulder proudly wore the slogan, “where the hip come to trip.”

Yet, it didn’t seem that long ago that I interviewed an older woman for the same history project, but, I realized, it was 40 years ago, and the Boulder native described life in the 1930s and 1940s in what was then a sleepy college town. I thought history belonged to my parents’ generation, who were born in the Depression years and lived through World War II. It hadn’t occurred to me that the 1970s, when I came of age, eventually would be considered an historic era, nor that I would ever get old enough to be an authority on that history.

But I kept getting reminders. Last year my 16-year-old nephew wanted to interview me for his “counterculture” class. I was happy to oblige, because I wanted to convey to him the turbulence of those times: the anti-war protests on campus; female staffers at the university striking for free child care; how men started wearing their hair long and women gave up girdles and high heels to wear long, loose skirts; and how marijuana was everywhere.

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