Though one of the most positive aspects of reaching retirement age is the opportunity to travel, I wish I had photos of the incredulous expressions on airport security personnel when my husband and I show up. They look like, “Why don’t people like you, just stay home?” Their feelings may be justified since they spend twenty minutes patting down my husband, whose pacemaker can’t go through the x-ray machine, and about fifteen minutes examining my wheelchair as I limp through, at the same time others are dismantling our sleep apnea machines. I’m not sure what terrorist profile we match, but believe me, you are safe from us.
Back in our youthful sixties, we each took only a small rolling suitcase and backpack for eleven days abroad. This meant we could take it all as carry-ons and not risk the trauma of lost luggage. Now, in our seventies, we need an extra suitcase just for medicines, heating pads, sleep apnea machines, current converters, and outlet adaptors. The upside of my wheelchair is that we customized it to carry both me and the luggage. Of course, we look a lot like a traveling circus act. But that’s one advantage of being over seventy, who cares? One small warning to other wheelchair travelers however; all those lovely little bridges, that you have to cross every two blocks in Venice, actually consist entirely of stairs. A wheelchair with pontoons and a paddle would be my suggestion for Venice.
Traveling late in life has given me a new twist on the old joke, “What do you call someone who only speaks one language? An American.” My version is, “What do you call someone who can say, ‘Where is the bathroom?’ in six languages? Any woman over sixty ,who travels.” And I am currently creating a coffee table book of photos of my husband waiting patiently outside loo’s, el banos, il gabinettos, and badezimmer around the world and including a warning about the sale de bains in France that are ecumnenical.
I remember callously laughing years ago, when hearing about two young men on one of those farcical thirty minute tours of the Louvre getting on either side of an elderly woman and literally hauling her like luggage, as their group raced from Winged Victory to the Mona Lisa. That’s not quite as funny to me now, but I do try to bring a bit of lightheartedness into having to use a wheelchair in countries that lack accessibility in their transportation systems. When I have to stand up and struggle up long sets of steep stairs, I sing out, “I’m healed. I’m healed.”
Since I’ve never been compulsive about seeing every single thing there is to see, I don’t mind sitting in sidewalk cafes or under shady trees, while my husband and son are climbing castle ruins that are too much of a challenge with the wheelchair. Being a devout coward, I declined my son’s suggestion that we ask if there was a catapult available. Besides, I have memories of the time my husband and son, energized by several glasses of beer, attempted to run while pushing me up Mont Saint-Michel over its large cobblestones. We threw a wheel about halfway up. I decided then that the view from the bottom is just as interesting and tasty as that at the top.
One surprising travel experience was sitting in a row of white-haired, rosy cheeked Miss Marples in the theater at Stratford-on-Avon. I was the only little old lady to gasp aloud at sudden full frontal male nudity on the stage. It would seem that the English are at least a verbally reticent race. Or perhaps the Miss Marples had been coming to the play every day since it opened.
There was another experience that’s funny now, if not then. We stay mostly in clean, but literally ancient, B & B’s or small hotels that have lots of atmosphere, but limited plumbing. Once, at three in the morning in Vienna, I spent fifteen terror-filled minutes locked in a tiny bathroom down a very dark hall, listening to heavy breathing sounds outside the door. It turned out to be my husband’s snores echoing out the bedroom door that I had left open for a hasty return.
I confess that planning trips seems a tad less fun now that we tend to choose the countries we visit by the quality of their medical facilities. And shopping for insurance that will fly us home dead or on life support conjures up some daunting scenarios. Recently, just my husband was planning to visit one of our sons, who was staying in London for a month. Since I do most of the practical preparations for our trips and I’ve also reached the age where funerals are a frequent part of my social life, I checked out the pros and cons of return by urn, rather than by casket. When I suggested to my son that should the need arise, he bring Dad home in an urn, he responded with great outrage, “That’s a horrible thing to say. There’s no need to be morbid.”
I decided right then to make the trip with my husband, figuring that one of us would survive to deal with any morbid decisions. When we both returned, sans urn, from what felt like the best trip of many years of traveling, I began to wonder just what made it feel like such a wonderful trip. That’s when I realized that there’s an upside to imagining worst-case possibilities. This particular trip seemed so delightful, at least partly, from sheer relief that nobody came home in an urn.
After years of feeling like white noise to family and friends, since starting my blog three months ago, I have been shamelessly exploiting blogging as a way of expressing some of the opinions, insights, and experiences I’ve garnered in seventy-five years of living the questions of life. Now, that I’ve done my share of flooding the blogging world with the pent-up musings of a frustrated guruh wanna be, I’m focusing outward and discovering the amazing riches of exploring the world across all kinds of physical and metaphysical borders through other blogs.
It’s like being able to teleport yourself anywhere immediately and to experience the world through both another’s literal views and their mental viewpoints to far exceed your own limited mind and means. It’s what books , television, and travel have done in the past, except this is on a much more personal level and has the advantages of immediacy, convenience, freedom of choice, and even interaction, all without the need for affluence or influence.
I reread this and it sinks in even more, how mind expanding and world changing the internet is capable of being. Not just for young revolutionaries on the other side of the world, but for people of any age, any gender, any nationality, any religious persuasion, any financial means, any limits, as long as they can get to a library or coffee house that has computers and the internet.
I think if I had the means, I would pour money into making it available to all people in every country. I realize there’s misinformation and poison on it also, but where there are human beings, those exist. In the past, if our immediate environment was limited to that, the possibilities for overcoming it were few. Those possibilities have now exploded exponentially.
I want to mention once again just several of the blogs that I look forward to.
Doctor Dad @ carlocmd.wordpress.com; Beautifully described father-sons relationship, and insights into the daily experience of a caring, committed doctor in a third-world country.
patricklatter.smugmug.com; Vicarious mountain hiking experiences through amazing photography of the awesome landscapes of Canada along with first person commentary on the experience with each photo.
Field Notes from Fatherhood.com; a blog by a teacher in a private English school in Hungary. Excellent on many levels on parenting, teaching from the insider’s view, travel with children.
youllshootyoureyeout-kathy.blogspot.com; delightful travel experiences, laced with touching honest reflections on relating to a beloved father, once a public figure, now suffering from Alzheimer’s.
For humor: (of course) The Bloggess and also maleparentalunit.blogspot.com(one of my sons’ blog, so some prejudice involved.)
Of all the birthday milestones such as: school age, driving age, voting age, and drinking age, the most unexpectedly celebratory one is Medicare age. Because without Medicare, just trying to stay alive would take an NFL star quarterback’s salary and bonuses. It also needs to coincide with retirement age, because we are suddenly averaging at least three doctor appointments a week. Since these often involve MRI’s, CAT scans, ultrasounds, treadmill tests, and more, this leaves a work week of about fifteen hours. My husband counted recently and discovered that he actually has one internist and sixteen specialists. I think that’s at least one specialist per body part. On the way to appointments with these, we find ourselves humming, “Getting to know us. Getting to know all about us” (our colons, our kidneys, our prostates, and mysterious moles in places that have never before seen the light of day). I suggest forgetting credentials and looking for specialists that are young and good looking, because believe me, we don’t know the ultimate in physical intimacy until we reach the age of sixteen specialists.
For some of us, a more positive aspect of retirement age is the opportunity to travel. We were blessed with thirteen years of free air travel, while one of our sons worked for an airline. So we got to travel abroad much more than we would have otherwise. Unfortunately, even in my best years, I was athletically challenged.
So my travel experiences often became unexpectedly medical:
a broken pinky finger while playing miniature golf in California,
a sprained ankle from a missing sidewalk tile in Spain,
an Achilles tendon screaming in protest when chasing taxis in Paris,
a gaping hole in my smile after a crusty bread roll removed the crown on a front tooth in Portugal,
traveling stoned on Benadryl after an English castle tour revealed a severe allergy to mold,
and finally loose dentures from riding in a wheelchair over cobblestones almost everywhere.