EXTENDED PLAY (EP)

     His first name was Eldridge but that wasn’t the unusual part.  I was in Nashville, sitting in a large room packed with aspiring country songwriters.  They were a mixed bag; all ages from all walks of life.  Ponytailed men in dress slacks, a biker with more tattoos than skin, a teenager fresh off the cover of Taylor Swift’s last CD, a Dolly Parton wannabe, a guy with a crew cut who never stopped texting, a high school kid in flips flops and Hawaiian shirt, and a man who was clearly homeless. 

     What they all had in common—perhaps the ONLY thing they had in common–was their desire to impress the guest publisher that night with their self-penned songs.  The demos they brought ranged from tinny sounding, cat-like, wailing recordings done at home to professionally, produced records with string arrangements.  The publisher politely played the first verse and chorus of each and then went on to the next.  If he heard something he really liked, he kept it, garnering a round of applause. 

     Several hours into the evening he pushed the PLAY button for the umpteenth time.  As the demo began I was immediately intrigued.  The words were clear.  The form was good and the melody was catchy.  It was so good in fact, that I was already singing along as the 2nd chorus came around.  The title?  “I’m a Six-Pack Away From Loving You.”  This writer had a great sense of humor AND the audience loved it!!  However, the publisher suddenly clicked STOP and tossed the demo into the reject pile. 

     But I wanted to know WHO wrote that song, so asked that he be pointed out.  As the audience began to applaud, I strained to see where he was.  There, in the very back row, an older man with white hair shyly put up his hand.  Now ask yourself this:  how many people of an age long past retirement are not only writing songs but out there trying to pitch them?  Most people his age are dusting off their old trophies, not trying to earn new ones.  I was smitten and even scrawled a one-line fan note which said, “You are AWESOME!”  Now I’d tell you his last name.  It’s as unforgettable as his first and as memorable as his song.  But in deference to his seeming shyness I will merely say this:  his initials spell EP.  That’s right.  It’s the phrase in music meaning “extended play.”  And that is exactly what I hope he gets!!   (http://www.helen-hudson.com). 

FACE OFF ALZHEIMER’S WITH FACEBOOK

Two years ago my 15 year-old suggested that I get a FACEBOOK.  I told her that was ‘the most ridiculous thing I ever heard of.’  I am eating my words.  In the last two years I have found not only old friends, teachers and ex-students, but have entered a cyberspace world that adds richness to my real one.  I can hear the music my kids are listening to, catch short videos of graduations & trips to Greece, and if I had no real life of my own, could simply watch the LIVE FEED scroll by and see what everyone else is doing in their little corner of the world. 

However, it does come with a few shocks every now and then.  For example, a gal with a name I did not know asked to be my ‘friend.’  Looked at her picture.  Didn’t recognize that either.  Looked at her INFO, found she lived in Arkansas.  Didn’t know anyone there.  Who was this middle-aged, woman with the glasses?  I was stymied.  So, I checked her INTERESTS.  Nope.  Nothing in common.  It bothered me for days until I finally placed her by her maiden name.   Then, another friend request came in.  This gal was a knockout.  Unbelievably beautiful and coiffed right off the cover of Vogue.  Her smile alone could send Crest White Strips flying off the shelves.  Didn’t recognize the name.  Didn’t recognize her.  Eventually I uncovered the mystery girl, who while my age, now looks young enough to be my daughter.

Now I have friends who won’t do FB because they’re afraid to put their picture on it.  They want to be remembered how they were not how they are.  But how we were IS how we are.  Even psychologists tell us that we don’t change much after age six.  So if you’re over 50, get yourself a Facebook and make some FRIENDS.  If you can’t stand the sight of your own mug, take a picture of your dog and put it on your PROFILE.  I promise the experience will be both humbling and uplifting.  Increasing your social connections delays Alzheimer’s.  If your own memory is going, someone out of the blue might just remind you that when you were 13 you used to “bend restaurant spoons.”  If my granny were alive today, she would have one and I would post “XOXOXO” on her WALL right now.  (Helen Hudson is the author of, “Kissing Tomatoes.”  http://www.helen-hudson.com    

“GRAY IS THE NEW BLONDE”

     That’s exactly what the receptionist said to me this afternoon as I was paying a doctor’s bill.  I had just made fun of their new office sign which said:  Settle Your Encounters Here.  “Encounters?  Good grief.  Why don’t you just say, ‘Bills?’  Are we going back to the 70’s or something?”    The young receptionist, (who reminded me of Tina Turner back in the day), just laughed.  “Well, No,” she replied.  “It just sounds nicer.”  “Yeah,” I replied.  “But let’s call a spade a spade.  Here is my Visa to pay the BILL and THIS I said pointing to my hair is GRAY HAIR.”  “Oh , No,” she hurriedly said.  “Gray is the New Blonde.” 

      If only that were really true, hair colorists wouldn’t be making a veritable fortune off the Baby Boomers right now.  But not me.  I’m keeping every lovely strand of the stuff right where it belongs–on my head.  Back in the 60’s, my grandmother tried combing her hair with some dark, sticky goop from a bottle.  Kind of looked like shoe polish really.  Guess as the oldest high school counselor she felt she shouldn’t look quite so old.  But she gave it up after a while.  It stained her shirts and she was a practical woman.  She played Bridge with some ladies who actually had blue hair.  For years, I thought my own hair would turn that color when I got old.*  But it didn’t.  Apparently, I am the “new blonde,” in this present euphemism.  I can live with that.  Tina Turner is 70.  Makes me feel downright young come to think of it.  (*Excerpt from, “Kissing Tomatoes,” by Helen Hudson.  http://www.helen-hudson.com.)   

ALZHEIMER’S & THE GIFT OF FORGETTING

     Only ONCE did Granny say to me during her Alzheimer’s years, “I think I am losing my memory.”  It was towards the end, in the middle of that period when she was wearing a diaper and I was re-instructing her on how to use a spoon.  She didn’t even know my name and my first instinct was to laugh.  Instead I replied:  “Yes, Granny.  You are.”  She paused and then added, “Well, I guess that’s God’s way of making me forget what might hurt me to remember.”** 

     Wow.  That moment literally changed my thinking about the whole Alzheimer’s saga; the nightmarish horror of watching a person go from themself to NO self.  Until then I was always on the outside looking in.  Now I had a tiny glimpse of the inside looking out and it seemed less frightening.  While memory brings me both joy & sorrow and while it is memory that has informed who I am, it was not mine at birth.  Alzheimer’s returns us to childhood, albeit in a convoluted way.  Of course the particular journey back differs for everyone. 

     In all, Granny’s journey was a gentle one, much like the man who swam next to me this morning.  Well, he wasn’t swimming exactly, just kind of grinning as he dog-paddled back and forth.  I guessed him at about 65, but the incessant grin was more reminiscent of a six year-old.  As I lapped him I kept trying to remember where I had seen him before.  I knew that it was not here in the adult lap pool.  Then it came to me.  He was the same man I had seen months earlier being held by the hand of a caregiver in the shallow end of the kiddie pool!! 

     For a moment I panicked.  I stopped to check on him.  Yup.  Still grinning with his head out of the water.  Suddenly, he stopped, and said to me, “Oh.  I thought you were my daughter.”  Before I could reply he said, “Or my daughter’s friend?  Or are you my …daughter….?”  As he kept trying to figure out who I was, I suddenly replied:  “Yes.  I am your friend.  We are friends!”  “Friends!” he grinned as he dog-paddled away.  As I left, I recognized his caregiver on the other side of the kiddie pool.  “Does he have Alzheimer’s?” I asked her.  “Why, yes,” she replied.  “How did you know?”   “Well,” I replied.  “There are certain things you don’t forget…..at least while you can still remember.”   (** Excerpt from, “Kissing Tomatoes,” http://www.helen-hudson.com.    

STRAIGHTEN UP AND FLY RIGHT!

     When I was a kid and my grandmother said, “Straighten up and fly right!” It meant pull your shoulders back and act proud to be who you are.  When I was a teenager and she said it, I  recall coming up with this flippant remark:  “People don’t fly.  So it won’t do me any good to straighten up!”  If only I had noticed old people then, I might have paid closer attention.  But I didn’t.  They were a separate species and not on my radar at all.  

     I realize now that there are two kinds of slumpers:  teenagers, who haven’t yet grown used to their bodies and old people, who are getting tired of them.  However, I have discovered a little known secret about the older ones:  If you smile at them, they actually stand up straighter.  Here’s the problem.  Who smiles at them anymore?  

     Face it.  Getting old means getting less attention.  In fact, it’s so much less it borders on non-existent.  Old people are so used to being ignored that they are disappearing right before our eyes.  No, not like in primitive societies where they literally walked off into the wilderness when it was ‘time to go.’  In modern society, they do it in small steps.  It starts with that slump–a drawing in to their shell–perhaps so they won’t be bumped & jostled by all those young people rushing past them.  The voice gets softer, not just because it’s worn out, but because there’s no real reason to raise it anymore.  Who is listening?  

     This morning,  I noticed an older woman shuffling towards the supermarket a few feet ahead of me.  She had the slump and the slowed gait as she tentatively moved towards the large, heavy, glass door.  I realized that she was trying to estimate how much time she had to pull that door open before a young man coming towards her from the other side got there first.  She hesitated.  Smart woman.  He blammed through the door and would have flattened her if she hadn’t paused.  In fact, he didn’t even SEE her.  Quickly, I grabbed the door handle and held it for her.  For half a second she looked up, took a big breath and smiled.  “Oh, thank you dear,” she said.  As she continued on towards the shopping carts, I noticed she was actually standing taller.  I could hear Nat King Cole singing in my head:  Straighten Up And Fly Right.”  (http://www.helen-hudson.com)

KISSING YOUR TOMATOES!

     Exactly two weeks ago today, I began this blog having no idea what to expect.  Imagine both my shock and pleasure having just discovered this afternoon that 450 of you have actually CLICKED on my little page of thoughts!  I am both pleased and certainly humbled.  When one writes, it is always alone in a room with the hope that someday, somewhere, someone might actually read it and find something of value. 

     My Granny Jo, whom I wrote about in, “Kissing Tomatoes,” and I had a little ‘thing’ we did upon kissing each others cheek:  ‘I’m gonna kiss your tomatoes,’ one of us would say.  Ultimately, of course, it led to, “I’m gonna kiss your peaches.”  And then, when she grew old and her cheeks were wrinkly, I often said, “I’m gonna kiss your little apricots.”  Silly stuff–and yet it found its way to the title.  

     When I think about it, though, it really is the ‘little things’ in life that often make the deepest impressions on us.  For the last few years, when my husband gets up before I do (which is often), he makes me a cup of coffee and leaves it on the counter.  Even though he has done this at least a hundred times, I am always touched when I see it there.  As I pick it up, I can tell how long he has been up from the temperature of the coffee.  If it is still quite hot, he has just gone to work.  If it is quite cold, I know I am too late arising!!  

     I have so come to count on this ‘little’ thing that several weeks ago when I went into the kitchen and it wasn’t there, I actually had a quiet little panic inside.  ‘Is he all right?’ I worried.  ‘Has something happened?’ I wondered.  Turns out the machine was just out of water and in his rush to work, he hadn’t had time to fill it.  So, thank you for taking a little moment of your day to share a piece of mine.  I am presently savoring the 450 little cups of coffee you ‘clicked’ upon my counter.   (http://www.helen-hudson.com)

HELEN HUDSON HERE: BABY BOOMER SANDWICH ON WRY

     I never made it to Woodstock.  I was too young, didn’t drive and lived in the Arizona desert.   I listened to the music though, with a volume guaranteed to blow out eardrums for miles.  Couldn’t get enough of the music.  Dragged the needle back, over and over, to replay my favorite songs.   Wore lovebeads, went braless and flashed the peace sign to total strangers.  Pretended I WAS Janis Joplin in the shower with the door closed.  And while my generation did sing its share of romance & heartbreak songs, the REAL message of that era was:  FREEDOM. 

     At Woodstock, Tim Hardin sang, “A Simple Song of Freedom.”  Joan Baez, AND Joe Cocker sang “I Shall Be Released.”  The Who cranked out, “I’m Free.”  Crosby, Stills & Nash even asked us to, “Find The Cost of Freedom.”  My all time fave was Richie Havens,” singing “Freedom” with a passion and abandon that shook up my insides.  But who would ever have guessed that those barefoot, pot smoking, long-haired, free love children would find themselves so unfree 40 years later? 

     Our generation is not only finding their own kids still at home but now are facing the prospect of Mom or Dad also moving into that spare room over the garage.  Why?  You might blame the economy for the 20 something’s moving back.  You might shake your fist at science for making sure we live longer but the truth is we really didn’t prepare for the prospect of aging.  Nursing homes have long waiting lists & the price tag is steep. 

     Every 70 seconds someone will be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.  No, it wasn’t the drugs.  It’s our high tech, lazyboy lifestyle and it’s catching up with us.  What to do?  Move pops into that spare room.  You’ll save a ton of ‘bread.’  The kids are ‘free’ to keep their music blasting.  He might be a bit hard of hearing but music is good for the soul.  Feel free to put some black light posters up in his room.  Visual stimulation is healthy for the aging brain.  Take him everywhere you go & listen to his stories, no matter how often he repeats them.  Nothing makes an old heart happier. 

Then, if you’re real lucky, YOUR kids will put up with YOU when you start telling those Woodstock stories over and over and over again.  I finally found the cost of freedom the day we moved Granny in with us and it was worth every, single penny.  (From “Kissing Tomatoes,” http://www.helen-hudson.com)  P. S. Just read that 20% of us should EXPECT to get Alzheimer’s.