I ran into this fabulous, 94 year-old at the Vegas airport last week. Her 10 year-old, great-granddaughter, Gianna, who clearly adored her, was pushing her in a wheelchair.

“Whatcha readin’?” I asked her.

 She grinned and said, “Finding Joy.” Then she thumbed through a few pages, turned the book upside down, shook it and added, “But I can’t find her in here anywhere!” We both cracked up.

Ironically, on the same flight was another woman, also in a wheelchair, who appeared to be at least 10 years younger. She met my attempts to chat with both indifference and a nasty scowl on her face. When it was time to board, she had to wait for an attendant to take her in, so the gate attendant motioned me forward ahead of her. A few moments later as the woman was wheeled towards me in the gangway, she suddenly yelled, “I’m going in there first, you know!”

 “No worries,” I said a bit taken aback. “You’re welcome to go first but believe it or not, we’re all going to get there at the same time.” Others laughed but she didn’t find that funny at all.

 Just then, my new friend, Elaine came rolling up with Gianna.

 “Let’s all sit together!” she said with a big grin.

 “I’d love that,” I replied. “Now are we gonna sit in the cabin or do you want a seat on the wing? It does get a bit windy out there but the view’s much better.”

 “Oh, Let’s sit on the wing!” she said with glee, playing along with my silliness.

 And in a sense, we did sit there.  For isn’t it the wings that lift you soaring into the clouds? Without them, a plane would never leave the ground. Likewise, without joy, we are inexorably left with the heaviness of our own sorrows like that bitter woman. Some folks can find joy under a dusty rock. Others wouldn’t know it if you dumped it in their lap but my new friend, Elaine?  She carries it with her wherever she goes. 






silent crowd at starbucks

Take a good look at this picture of a group of 20 somethings at Starbucks this morning.  I watched and photographed them for several minutes, during which time not one of them looked up or even acknowledged one another.  Welcome to 2015.  I would not want to be their age for anything right now.  Why?

1. I wouldn’t be able to talk to my friends as conversation now is done primarily via thumbs. (The last time I actually used mine was to hitchhike).

2.  I would never feel the heart-palpitating anticipation of waiting days for handwritten letters from someone I love.  (Instead, I could ‘hook-up’ or ‘break-up’ instantly via Facebook.)

3. I wouldn’t be able to get the 6 o’clock News in one, nicely, digestible, half hour. (It would bombard me 24/7 on Twitter.)

4. I couldn’t say the bill ‘got lost in the mail, ‘ as it would be sent directly to my Inbox.

5. I couldn’t have a wild time at that private party knowing it would stay private. (By morning, my hat dance routine would be viral on Instagram.)

6. My boredom tolerance would be zero, my curiosity likely non-existent and my sense of allegiance to country, place and home not even a memory.  (Now, thanks to politicians and lawyers, I can’t say the Pledge of Allegiance but can read Lolita– just not the Bible– in class.)

7. Most anything I say would be politically incorrect. (Now I would either have to pretend to like everybody– no matter how wacky– or simply remain mute.)

8. I would neither be able to remember nor mourn my innocence. (Thanks to the Internet it would never exist.)

9. My moral compass would be all screwed up. (Instead of making a bowl of popcorn for the movie, I might well, ‘smoke a bowl’ instead.)

10. I would likely still be living with my parents! (My college degree wouldn’t get me a job and even if it did I still couldn’t afford to live on my own.)

It seems that a sense of gratitude has now been replaced with a sense of entitlement.  Many of my friends say they wouldn’t want to be younger simply because they have, “Been there.  Done that.”  Truth is I haven’t been ‘there’ or ‘done that’ at all.  And I sure wouldn’t want to be there doing it NOW. 


Right now, this page is as blank as my cupboards are bare of gifts this year. I just read, “Breaking News” from the New York Times, which says that “Spending is down for November which indicates a gloomy forecast for 2012.” Part of me feels guilty for this downturn, for I have not spent a single penny on this Christmas. No, not one.

Well, I did spend $6 on some holly cuttings for a wreath which I fashioned and hung on the front door. Around the edges, I tied five, old, pine cones from a long ago walk with the dog. When a friend assumed that I had purchased it, I was pleased.  But the usual fuss I make shopping, buying, wrapping, hanging lights and decorating the house has not happened.  In fact, I even forgot to pre-order our usual 12-lb turkey.

Months ago, I reminded my teenage daughters that this would be our, “handmade Christmas.” It is a tradition we started some years back which has yielded some of our most treasured possessions: a hand stitched quilt our oldest made for her sister; a hand-sewn bag our youngest made for us; a photo collage which hangs on the mantle from a happy, family time.

But this year feels different and not because it has been a difficult one but because I want it to hold meaning. Granny taught me long ago that you can’t buy that. It is always wrapping itself effortlessly into your heart and head.  So, I have decided that my gift to my family this year will be my happiest memories of time with them. I began writing them some weeks back. The task was harder than I thought it would be, because as you remember the happy times, the sad ones have a way of creeping in, too.

So, as you fill-in-the-blanks of your own Christmas this year, I wish you moments of meaning.  They will fill the pages of your heart with more laughter and tears than you can imagine.  One day, you may just be lucky enough to have the time to write them down . . . or even read them.

P. S.  Just before posting this, I heard the sweetest sound coming from my husband’s office.  He was whistling, “The Christmas Song,” in its’ entirety.  Those lovely notes are filling my heart line by line this very second!  Merry Christmas!

Helen Hudson is the author of, “Kissing Tomatoes,” a memoir of her grandmother’s years of Alzheimer’s.



When my oldest first said these three words to me I really was speechless.  Then I laughed.  After I wiped the incredulous look off my face I just stared into her then 16 year-old eyes and said:  “I have one but unfortunately for you, you’re a BIG part of it.”  Now if you have teenagers and haven’t heard this yet—trust me—you will.  And, if you are a parent of ANY sort you know one thing for sure:  Your life hasn’t been YOURS since that first cry.

Some parents simply cannot handle the reality of that.  It’s just too all-consuming.  Casey Anthony comes to mind.  But most of us adapted piece by piece, year by year as our offspring grew.  Then one day we realized that even our simplest thoughts almost always include our children.

Teenagers aren’t cool with that.  They so desperately want to be free and on their own that sometimes just looking at them sends them into a frenzy.  This afternoon, while driving my youngest, I was warned, “Don’t talk to me!”  So, I didn’t point out the cool clouds that were stretching across the purple sky ahead of the oncoming storm or the funny, looking dog being walked by the funnier looking woman.  Just drove in silence.

 I remember being her age.  When my grandmother drove me places I even hunkered down in the seat if I saw anyone I knew.  Just couldn’t wait to be ON MY OWN.  It didn’t help that hers was always the slowest car on the road.  The worst thing, of course, was running into a friend when she was with me.  If it were a boy, I fairly died inside.

Somewhere along the line, though, I grew up and thanked her for all those rides.  Had lots of adventures.  Saw some of the world.   Graduated from college.  Had a career—then another career.  Fell in love.  Married.  You know the rest.

I have 40 years of memories BEFORE my kids were born.  Way I figure it, they have a LOT of catching up to do to REALLY get ‘A LIFE.’  Yup, (and it makes me smile just thinkin’ about it) I had a life.  Still do.  Only it isn’t just MINE anymore. 


 While rinsing the chlorine off this morning in the YMCA shower, a gaggle of giggling little girls squeezed altogether in the open stall next to me.  Although several others were open, they chose to rinse off together.  Like spies on a secret mission, they peeked out from behind their vinyl curtain as if to be sure the coast was clear.  Then the giggling stopped and the whispering began. 

“My aunt is visiting us,” confided the first.  “She’s the one with the gray hair.  She is very, very old.. . .but don’t tell anyone!”

“Why not?” asked the smallest in a whisper.

“It’s a secret.”

“Oh,” they all seemed to understand at once.

Then one broke the silence:  “How old is she?”

“Oh, pretty old, I think,” the first replied.  “Like my dad’s age.”

“That’s not old,” piped the third.  “My dad isn’t old but his mother is REALLY, REALLY old.  She’s my grandmother.”

“All grandmothers are old,” added the fourth. 

“How come?” asked another.

“They have to be cuz if they weren’t we wouldn’t be here.”

At that moment, I turned off the water and pulled back my shower curtain.  As I stepped out, four pairs of very wide eyes looked up at me.

“You’re so right,” I told them.  “Without grandmothers we wouldn’t be here—and don’t worry I won’t tell anyone how very, very old your aunt is.”

“Okay,” said the girl, “Cause she would really kill me.”

“No worries,” I said, “Considering there are about 400 people out there today, I will never even know who she is.”

“Phew,” said her friend as I left.  “That was close.”






My husband ruptured a disc in his back several weeks ago.  Despite the many pain medications his doctor has proffered, he is still in agony and barely able to navigate from bedroom to kitchen.  So, on the eve of our 31st anniversary, I drove to purchase him a cane.   

As I parked at Walgreens, a very, tall man was getting into the car next to me.  Suntanned and well-groomed, I noticed that he still had some dark hair in his sideburns that refused to go white.  Figured he was an ex-athlete, likely basketball.  When I noticed he had a crutch under each arm, I assumed he injured himself playing sports.

“You look about 6’ 7”,” I said as we came face to face.

“I used to be,” he replied, “until I shrunk.”

It was only then I realized he was missing an entire leg.  At 17, while driving a tractor on his dad’s farm, he was thrown off into the oncoming scythe of the thresher.  Said he has a prosthesis but it’s “a lot more comfortable without it.”  No wonder.  Even without his leg, he moves like a WHOLE man.

As we part, I imagine what my own 17 would have been like with only one leg.  I was crazy for dancing and twirled and twisted across too many floors to remember.  While I can no longer do the limbo, I can still dance.  Made me walk taller just thinking about it.

Driving home with a new, blue cane for my husband, I am grateful he has both legs though he can’t use them well now.  I think of the woman I met with Alzheimer’s who cannot walk, not because she lacks legs, but has forgotten how.  I remember the boy I met in college who was born with no legs. 

At the corner, a young man with pants so low that I can see the heart tattoo on his right buttock, waits for the light to change.  When it does, he shuffles slowly across in the slouched-style of an old man.  I want to roll down the window and yell, “Walk Like A Man!”  So I do.  He straightens to attention as if shot by a rifle.  As his eyes meet mine, I smile and add, “While you still can.”  (Hudson is the author of, “Kissing Tomatoes,”a memoir of the years she and her husband cared for her grandmother with Alzheimer’s).  






How dare TIME magazine announce:  “Alzheimer’s:  At last, some progress against the most stubborn disease.”  Imagine my disappointment to read merely the same old stuff:  It’s hereditary.  No drug cures it.  Some have side effects worse than the disease itself.  We still spend 5 billion a year on cancer research and only 500 million a year on Alzheimer’s.  So where’s the progress?  Slow in coming.  “Ironically, it is the one disease that most of us are likely to get,” says Dr. Peterson, head of Alzheimer’s research at the Mayo Clinic.  One in ten of us if you want the exact statistic.

Now I don’t need statistics to tell me my own prognosis is not looking so hot.  My grandmother lingered for 13 years in its stranglehold.  My mother may well have had it but other ills took her sooner.  This week, though, brings another blow:  my aunt, the one with the doctorate, who edited my college papers and never let me get away with ‘shallow thinking,’ has just been diagnosed with it, too.

The signs were there:  Last year, she sent me a copy of her Will along with a partial recipe for shortcake with the last paragraph inexplicably cut off.  The year before, after her recent visit to China, I invited her to visit.  She was always independent, so I rented her a car.  However, after watching her turn the ignition two more times while it was already running I returned it and kept her with me for the rest of our visit.

I am still keeping her with me though ‘she’ is vanishing fast.  The authors that she insisted I read in college: Whitman, Frost, Voltaire, and Shakespeare, still stand tall in my bookshelf.  Believe it or not, I can still do a perfect cart-wheel just the way she taught me when I was 12.  ‘Now hold your arms and legs into a perfect ‘X,’ she commanded, ‘then roll straight over like a wheel.’   My aunt didn’t just outsmart me at Bridge and Scrabble when I was a kid, but always showed me how she did it.  She questioned my answers until my answers became questions themselves and I loved her for it.  Still do.  Always will.  The important thing is that when she was here she was HERE.  May the rest of us be so fortunate.  (Helen Hudson is the author of, “Kissing Tomatoes,” an Alzheimer’s memoir.