“Read Before Tossing”

In cleaning out old (paper) files, I found those words on a folder with my dad’s initials. He was an incorrigible saver of almost everything, including clothes and shoes. He made a practice of clipping articles from magazines and newspapers, scribbling in the margins the names of one of his seven children whom he thought should find this article interesting. After his death, we found stacks of articles he had saved, which somehow never reached us. Because these missives often were tinged with my father’s biases, they weren’t entirely welcome, especially since my father and I had different, if not polarizing, political views.

Yet, I inherited the need or desire to save articles from magazines or newspapers, stashing them away in folders and large envelopes, which have been sitting for decades unbothered until I embark on a cleaning project in the basement or the back of my closet. I have found articles I saved 10, 20, even 30 years ago on subjects that no longer mean anything to me. In a file folder in my cabinet called “Articles, interesting,” I found a 2001 interview with former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark and an article about “Truth in Advertising” from 2001. I can no longer  remember why I found those articles from 20 years ago interesting, but you can be sure I won’t be rereading them to find out. Today, I need to educate myself on new issues and challenges—the Ukraine war, gun violence, climate change.  

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Sweet Memories

Lately, tender images from my past have been popping up, unbidden: my childhood home, the family cottage in Wisconsin; hikes to alpine lakes and along the ocean coast.

It’s an adage that the elderly live in their memories because that’s all we have. This is especially true for those whose lives have been reduced because of health issues, who can’t partake in their former lives—whether it’s hiking, taking care of grandchildren, volunteering, singing in the choir or gardening. For most seniors, healthy or not, there’s no doubt that life shrinks as we get older: friends die, we move to smaller spaces and avoid city driving or stop driving altogether.  

But there’s a societal judgment that dwelling in the past is not mentally healthy. For one thing, we can put on rose-colored glasses and distort our views of our lives: be overly sentimental about our long-dead parents; remember only the good parts of our work life; or glorify old friendships that may not been as rosy as we want to remember.

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Desperately Searching for a Human Being

I was watching a movie from a few years ago and saw a scene that would be considered implausible today, almost laughable. A woman was on the phone with an airline employee, asking if there were any flights out of Mexico the next day. Not only was the woman able to talk to a real person, the airline staffer found a flight and booked it for her. It’s hard to believe there was a time when you could get true customer service. But we seniors can remember—and lament what’s changed.

Last week, I was clearing out old tax returns, some from the 1980s. In one stack I found a postcard from an IRS agent, politely asking me to call her about an unresolved tax issue. Included was her name and phone number. That meant I would have had a direct line to the agent instead of spending an hour going through a phone tree that offered multiple and confusing options. This is the new world we live in, far different than the one most of us grew up in.

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