I watched the first episode of the new Netflix series, “The Crown” the other night (if you haven’t heard of it, or seen it, it’s the fictionalized story of events in the life of Queen Elizabeth II from the death of her father, King George V, through her ascension to the throne and beyond. Known events [personal and political] are given a ‘behind the scenes’ treatment that is part soap opera, part reality-show, part reverie. Nearly everything that is ‘revealed’, however, is pure fabrication; there is no evidence that what we hear coming out of the actors’ mouths, or what we see them doing, has any basis in fact. Little is known about the actual personal lives of the Royals and the producers take full advantage of that fact to make up their own version of ‘the truth’ and present it as if it’s a factual portrayal of what really happened.) While the show had its merits (the costumes and set pieces were sumptuous; the actors portrayed their famous counterparts admirably), I came away feeling slightly ‘dirty’ for having watched it. It took me a couple of days to figure out why.
A number of years ago, an individual (related, but not close; curious about my life, but not concerned for me; living some distance away but in regular contact with other family members and friends of the family) decided to rewrite the narrative of events taking place in my life (a promotion, a divorce, a business opportunity, an invitation to my then 13 year old son to travel unaccompanied to another country, a new job, a new relationship, a change in my parents’ circumstances and living arrangements) in her own words. She neither cared to check the veracity of her ‘assumptions’ with me, nor to change her version of ‘events’ when inaccuracies and blatant untruths were pointed out to her. Rather, she continued to fabricate stories, tell lies, and spread rumors about me that were both insensitive and hurtful (a good number of which I wasn’t even aware of until years later!) When I begged her to stop, to listen to the truth, to apologize for the harm she’d caused, she refused. By that time, I believe she’d actually convinced herself – and others who’d been party to the gossip-mongering – that her version of my life and circumstances was actually the truth. And that my ‘side of the story’ was nothing but a pack of lies.
Ultimately I had to concede that when it came to ‘me against them’, ‘they’ were always going to come out on top. After all, how does one person convince a multitude that a single truth is more factual than a pack of oft-repeated lies? You can’t. Eventually, of course, I gave up and moved on with my life, leaving this person (and a number of others who chose to accept her false version of events over my very real truths) behind. My life is better without them in it. I will always know the truth, even if they chose to believe the lies. But what happened all those years ago wasn’t easily forgotten.
And the sickness I’d felt then came back to me after watching “The Crown” the other night. Because when someone (anyone – relative, friend, stranger, Hollywood scriptwriter) takes it upon themselves to put words into the mouths of people who have no say whatsoever in what is written or said about them – who cannot attest to (or argue against) the truth of words and actions attributed to them – it is a vile and contemptible act. I’m not sure why these individuals (writers, producers, director) were allowed to create a series about the Royal family without their permission (they are, after all, still alive, fully cognizant of their surroundings, powerful yet hand-tied by protocol to say nothing about such blatant invasions of their privacy), but (in my opinion) it shouldn’t have been sanctioned (certainly not by anyone with a shred of common decency).
And, unfortunately, the viewing public, with their voracious appetite for all things salacious (reality TV being a prime example), are very likely going to believe everything they see on this series to be ‘real’. They will think the ‘stories’, the fabrications, the phony conversations, the fake interactions really took place as shown. They’ll go on to repeat them as fact (look out Wikipedia!) They – like some people in my life years ago – will assume that something told on such a grand scale (or through the exchange of local gossip or social media) must – absolutely MUST – be authentic. Regardless of who says otherwise. Despite the fact that there is no proof to hold the ‘fact’ against. In spite of the surety that no one can possible know what goes on ‘behind closed doors’ in someone else’s life (except the person or persons themselves).
I won’t be watching any more episodes of “The Crown”. I have respect for the British monarchy (even if I don’t understand how it has survived all these years, or how the family can withstand the constant barrage of harassment and tabloid publicity they face every single day); they don’t deserve this ‘Hollywood treatment’ (not a lot of it is particularly flattering). Even if this show was about a less well-known family, I couldn’t bring myself to sit down in order to ‘eavesdrop’ on their (imagined) conversations without their permission (I’ve honestly never watched ‘reality TV’ for the same reason – even if it WAS ‘real’ [and let’s be honest here, it’s all play-acting for the cameras] what goes on in those homes is NONE OF MY BUSINESS!) “The Crown” felt too much like voyeurism for me.
And I have no interest in becoming a ‘peeping Tomasina’, now or at any future time on … the other side of 55.
People drive for miles (here in Southern Ontario) to see the ever-changing colours of fall. All I have to do is step out my door! Living in the country has surpassed all our expectations. I’ve never been happier to be living life on … the other side of 55.
I have always had a mental picture of how I would spend my ‘old age’ (which, until I met my now-husband, was a rather solitary vision) – I would take up residence in an idyllic cottage with lots of windows, a generous front porch and an English-style garden, and spend my days writing and socializing with cats instead of people. As luck would have it, before I reached that point, I met a man I wanted to spend the rest of my life with, and his vision for retirement wasn’t all that different from mine (he wanted a large plot of land somewhere in the country where he could ‘tinker with cars’ – as I call his passion for anything with an engine and four wheels – and leave the hubbub of the city behind). It didn’t take much to meld our individual dreams into a single fantasy of ‘life after work’, and we started planning –albeit unhurriedly – for that ‘someday’ eventuality.
In the beginning, our ‘perfect’ retirement property was far to the west – the Okanagan Valley area of British Columbia to be precise. The promise of wide open spaces, moderate year-round temperatures, and a view of the mountains was enticing (and 15 years ago, it was an affordable dream). But as prices in that area of the country skyrocketed, reasonably priced properties became scarce. That reality, combined with my reluctance to actually move 3,000 miles away from my two boys (who were grown but still a vital part of my life), had us shifting our focus a little closer to ‘home’.
Our next choice was the eastern shores of Lake Huron. My parents had retired to a small town there in 1981 and my boys and I had a lot of fond memories of time spent in the area. Our main focus was an area slightly north of where my parents had lived, near a community that has been called ‘Canada’s prettiest town’. I had vacationed there in 2007 and found the town charming and the people disarmingly friendly. Research showed there were properties available that met our criteria, in a price range we were comfortable with. However, the weather can be dicey (particularly in the winter when the winds whip in off Georgian Bay) and there was the genuine threat of wind turbines being built on the cliffs above the lake (something I wanted to avoid at all costs; two wind farm developments have since been approved in the area, despite protests from nearby residents about the negative impact on humans and farm animals).
So we turned our attention to properties further south – closer to Lake Erie than Lake Ontario (where we currently live). Attractive homes on generous plots of land at reasonable prices were plentiful and the weather, we knew, would be very similar to what we were used to. I kept an eye on realtor.ca (the Canadian multiple listing service site) and printed out examples of ‘perfect places’ for future reference. Unfortunately, some of the areas we were considering were also being targeted for wind farm developments, and more people seemed to be moving out of the area than into it, so we knew we would have to be very careful. But it seemed entirely do-able.
Then things changed again. In February 2015, my eldest son and his wife blessed me with my first grandchild. I couldn’t have been more thrilled. However, the reality of travelling even further than I already do to visit (I spend one day a week with my precious granddaughter; it’s a 75 minute drive each way) was daunting. So our focus shifted again – to an area a little closer to the grandbaby and her parents, but still not too far distant from son number two and his wife.
And this time, it was for real. My husband had decided he’d had enough of the rat race (I’d retired in 2010) and he moved his retirement date up a full year – to September 1 of this year. It was time to get serious about finding our perfect retirement home.
I spent quite a bit of time over the next several months looking online at properties in our ‘target zone’. Prices were a little higher than in the other areas we’d considered, and there were fewer places available (especially on several acres of land, which was a must; we wanted to distance ourselves from annoying neighbours). We debated selling first, renting something for a year, buying land and building my dream house (I have a well thumbed catalogue from Viceroy Homes – the two pages I’d ‘bookmarked’ for consideration were mid-sized houses with soaring windows and loft bedrooms that would provide clear views over our ‘country estate’) and his dream ‘shop’ (something large enough to accommodate our daily drivers as well as work-in-progress cars and all the paraphernalia that goes with his ‘hobby’). But neither of us was particularly keen on turning our lives upside down for a year or more to see that plan through. We wanted to buy something already built and move-in ready.
So, in March of this year, we decided to connect with a realtor who specialized in properties in the area and get some professional help. We made arrangements to meet for coffee on Saturday, April 2 at a restaurant in Paris (Ontario; a lovely little town central to the zone where we hoped to buy) to give her our ‘property profile’.
In order to prepare for that meeting, on the Friday I decided to expand my search criteria slightly to see if I could find something (anywhere in southern Ontario) that was approximately what we were looking for (as an example to accompany the detailed list I’d already typed up related to property size, setting, home type, number of bedrooms, etc.) I certainly didn’t expect to find a ‘perfect’ match. And I absolutely never imagined finding it a mere five minutes outside the area we’d been perusing for months. But I did.
I don’t believe in ‘coincidence’. I have faith, instead, in fate (or karma or kismet or serendipity or whatever you want to call it when miracles happen that simply cannot be explained any other way). Months ago, when my husband and I had been discussing when to start the house-hunting process, a little voice in my head said “April 1st”. I had no idea at the time what that meant, but I filed it away. As I sat in front of my computer, staring at the house of my dreams sitting next to the shop of my husband’s dreams nestled in the midst of a forest, those words came back to me in a flash. It was April 1st. I had found what I thought was an impossible dream. Months before we had anticipated being ‘lucky enough’ to even come close. And with almost no effort. Could it actually be true?
When I showed my husband the listing that evening, he asked me if it was an April Fool’s joke. “No,” I said, “It’s real.” We agreed to contact the realtor we were scheduled to meet the next day and ask if she could get us a viewing (the listing agent just happened to work for the same real estate firm she did, only out of another office). She booked us in for the Saturday at 12:30. We met her there. We fell in love immediately with the property, the house, the shop. Smartly, she suggested we go back the next day for another, less ‘emotionally-driven’ look. We did. We still loved every inch of the place. Pride of ownership was evident throughout (the seller had upgraded flooring, mechanicals, the kitchen and so much more prior to listing the property; family circumstances were forcing him to sell – he had tears in his eyes when he talked about having to move).
We couldn’t have built a more perfect house (or shop) on a more perfect property for the price he was asking. The house is a cedar chalet style with soaring windows and a loft bedroom; the shop is fully insulated with its own woodstove, three garage doors, and room for eight vehicles; the property is a heavily forested 4½ acres several miles from the nearest ‘big city’, but close enough to several smaller ones – and a couple of lovely little towns – to not feel totally isolated. It’s a 50 minute drive north to son number one’s home, and only 60 minutes east to son number two’s. Perfect doesn’t even begin to describe it.
We put in an offer that afternoon; it was accepted the next day. We take possession the end of July. We can hardly believe it. Everything we have ever wanted, hoped for, dreamed of, has come true. “Someday” has become “today”.
Of course, that’s just the beginning of our journey towards actual retirement. Now comes the hard part (packing up and prepping this house – where we’ve lived for 16 years – for sale; living ‘minimally’ while it’s on the market; adjusting our schedules to accommodate viewings; making hard decisions about what to keep and what to take and what to do with the rest) – but that’s another post altogether!
In the meantime, I’m ever so glad now (and forever more) that I’m on … the other side of 55.
In response to the challenge posed by Cindy at Mama’s Empty Nest, I’m posting my answers (three for each question) to this meme:
Three names I answer to:
Three places I’ve called home:
- Oakville, Ontario
- Burlington, Ontario
- TBA (honestly, I’ve only lived in two places, although I had three different ‘homes’ in Oakville and two in Burlington … does that count?!?!?)
Three places I’ve worked:
- Sheridan College, Oakville, Ontario
- Halton Board of Education Adult Ed Department, Burlington, Ontario
- Mohawk College, Hamilton, Ontario
Three things I love to watch:
- My granddaughter
- Waves washing onto the shore
Three things I love to eat:
- Dark chocolate
- Potato chips (kettle cooked)
- Shortbread cookies (homemade)
Three things I’m looking forward to:
- My granddaughter’s first Christmas
- My husband’s retirement (only eight months to go!)
- The third act of my life
Three fond Christmas memories:
- 1960- the year Santa brought me the ‘articulated’ ballerina doll I’d asked for (I still have her)
- Staying up late when my boys were little to set up the one ‘big’ gift they’d asked Santa for under the tree
- Christmas 2000 – a new home, a new husband, a new life just begun
Three bloggers I follow who might like to play along too:
Merry Christmas Everyone!
Life just keeps getting better here on … the other side of 55.
When I was young, it wasn’t unusual for people to say to me, “Oh, you’re Kay and Laurie’s daughter”. We were the only family in town with our unique last name, and the fifties were a period when everyone pretty much knew everyone else!
In school, as I moved from one grade to another and one school to another, teachers would occasionally identify me as the sister of one or the other of my siblings (I had two older sisters and an older brother who’d gone to the same schools and had many of the same teachers).
Many years later, with two children of my own, I became, “Michael’s mom” and “Derek’s mother”, labels I embraced enthusiastically.
More recently, I was introduced as “the mother of the groom” at my youngest son’s wedding – an ‘identifier’ that thrilled me no end.
All of these ‘labels’ were connected to who I was related to – and therefore identified with – at the time. They had (in my mind, anyway) nothing to do with how I saw myself, or how others perceived me. I was simply a daughter, a sister, a mother.
In February of this year, I proudly took on another label – “grandmother” (or “Grammy” for short). I delight in the role and everything it encompasses; I couldn’t be happier. Except …
On October 30th, my son’s company hosted a Halloween party for the employees’ children. Pretty much everyone who works there is under forty and many have had children in the last few years. Since I was going to be taking care of my granddaughter later that evening (while her parents went to another party), I accompanied my daughter-in-law and granddaughter to the party in the afternoon.
When we joined my son and his colleagues in the boardroom, I didn’t feel at all out of place (having been a College teacher for years, I’m comfortable around people of all ages), although I suppose somewhere in the back of my mind it must have registered that I was the oldest person in the room.
I was enjoying being an observer of a ritual I hadn’t participated in for a good many years (a costume party for little ones!) when a young man dressed as Luke Skywalker came over and said, “You must be Maddie’s grandmother.” My first reaction (honestly) was to reply, “No, I’m Michael’s mother.” But, of course, he was right – I AM “Maddie’s grandmother” – I’d just never actually been ‘labelled’ that way by someone outside my own family. It took me by surprise. For despite the fact that I KNOW I’m a grandmother, I don’t really see myself that way.
I wouldn’t have thought I was biased enough to think that grandmothers are all old, grey-haired and wrinkled (like my own grandmothers were), but that’s exactly what went through my mind in that moment.
I’ve never been hung up on the idea of “anti-aging” products and I don’t really have a fear of getting older. After all, it’s inevitable. And while I admit to colouring my hair (I’ve been ‘going grey’ since I was in my teens) and upgrading my moisturizer to something with collagen and elastin in it (to help minimize those inevitable wrinkles), I recognize the inescapable reality of the years passing me by.
However, when I glance in a mirror, I expect to see the smiling face of the woman from my wedding photos (circa 2003) – not someone’s grandmother – looking back at me. And if (as the adage goes) I didn’t know how old I was and someone asked me my age, I’d probably say, “Forty” – because that’s how old I feel (some say we’ll always be a reflection of every age we’ve ever been, because of the memories we carry – I like that idea).
But, of course, I’m not forty (or eight or fifteen or twenty-one or thirty three) – I AM someone’s grandmother, and I’m definitely on … the other side of 55.
I was standing in line at the coffee shop one day last week, listening-but-not-really-listening as the young(ish) man in front of me placed his order while I patiently waited my turn. The scenario went something like this:
“I’ll have a large decaf, one cream, one sugar,” he said.
The server poured his coffee and passed it to him; before she could ring it up, he said, “Oh, and a sugar doughnut too.”
The server put the doughnut in a bag and handed it over. As she punched in the amounts on the cash register, he pointed to the display case and said, “And give me six of those oatmeal cookies. And a couple extra napkins.”
The server put the cookies in a separate bag and added some napkins. “Anything else?” she asked.
“Yeah, a bottle of water. It’s hot out there.”
She put the water beside his coffee, rang it in, and told him the total. He gave her a twenty dollar bill and waited for his change, but said nothing further.
“Next,” the server called when he’d turned and gone.
I approached the counter. “A small coffee, one cream and a sweetener on the side please.”
The server looked up at me with a surprised expression on her face. “You’re the first person today who’s used the magic word,” she told me. “I’d almost forgotten what it sounds like.”
The magic word. That’s what my mother used to call ‘please’. If you asked for something and didn’t tack on a ‘please’, she’d say, “What’s the magic word?” It was a given in our house that if you wanted something you always – ALWAYS – said ‘please’ (and ‘thank you’ afterwards – the two always went hand-in-hand). I used the same approach with my own boys. I wanted them to grow up well-mannered, respectful, and grateful for whatever they were given. ‘Please’ and ‘thank you’ were an integral part of their upbringing (and I still have some of the very polite letters they wrote to their grandmother when they were little to prove that it worked … for a while, anyway).
As I thanked the lady behind the counter, paid for my coffee, and left, I thought back to the previous customer’s ‘conversation’ with the server. He’d asked for five things and hadn’t uttered the word ‘please’ even once! And from what she’d said, he wasn’t the only one who’d forgotten ‘the magic word’ that morning. Perplexed (since ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ are such a regular part of my vocabulary), I decided to do a little research to see if this was an isolated incident, a generational one (heaven knows, the ‘younger’ generations seem to have an exaggerated sense of entitlement), or a much bigger problem (i.e., an overall decline in civility caused [perhaps] by our technology-driven society, our lack of patience and respect for others, or some sort of intolerance for the age-old tenets of common courtesy).
Over the next week, I ‘eavesdropped’ on conversations wherever I went – coffee shops, restaurants, offices, retail stores, grocery stores, the pharmacy. I asked friends and former colleagues (mostly community college teachers who have students of all ages in their classrooms) to keep an ear out for the ‘magic word’ and report back to me on how often (and under what circumstances) it was used. What I discovered both astounded and saddened me. It seems the ‘magic word’ has all but disappeared from general conversation and is used only rarely (and then almost exclusively by those over the age of about 60) when asking for something, seeking a favour, or just generally interacting with others in a give-and-take situation.
I heard lots of requests prefaced with phrases like “Can I have …” and “Could you give/get me …” and “I want …” and “If you wouldn’t mind …” and “I was hoping you’d …”, but very few of them included the word ‘please’. It was as if the people asking felt that being ‘polite’ wasn’t necessary, given the obvious importance (to them) of whatever it was they were seeking. Even in situations where someone was clearly asking for a favour (i.e., where good old common sense would dictate that a polite appeal would be far more likely to have the desired effect), it was missing (for example, in this email sent from a college student to his professor [and – no – I’m not making this up]: “Can you double check my midterm mark? I’m pretty sure you made a mistake. I know I did better than the grade you posted. I need a good mark in this class if I’m going to graduate. Get back to me ASAP. OK?”)
At the same time (and in the same or slightly different scenarios), I rarely heard the phrase ‘thank you’ uttered either. When I asked a small group of 30-somethings (who were sitting at a table next to me in a restaurant; I approached them saying I was conducting research) why they hadn’t said ‘thank you’ when their meals were delivered to their table, or when someone passed them something during dinner, I was shocked to be told that “Saying thank you is old fashioned”. When I then asked if they said ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ to friends or parents when asking for and/or being given favours, gifts or money, etc., one girl said (and the others tended to agree), “If someone that’s close to you gives you something – like a birthday present or at Christmas, or even for a wedding or whatever – you shouldn’t have to say ‘thank you’. They should just know you appreciate it.” (When I finally managed to recover from the shock of this statement, I said, “That’s not the point. It’s just good manners to express it.” Most of them looked at me like I was suggesting they self-flagellate in front of the gift-giver!)
There are thousands of blog posts and articles online about the disappearance of these two words (and other demonstrations of politeness) from our language, our social interactions and our general behaviour. Some blame technology, others stress, still others a reduction in basic civility all around. I suspect some parents simply don’t stress ‘polite behaviour’ anymore (is this another thing they think should be taught in schools, but isn’t?!?!?) It worries me that I see it everywhere I go (and, hard as this is for me to admit, have even noticed that my own boys often ‘forget’ to include ‘please’ when asking for something, or to say ‘thank you’ for gifts, favours bestowed, etc.) I suspect this is a trend brought about by the more ‘casual’ communication protocols most people now depend on, but I’m disappointed (and distressed) that it’s so pervasive (and I suspect it’s only going to get worse). And if we lose our civility, what will separate us from all the other ‘animals’ out there? It’s a sad state of affairs!
I, however, am going to persevere. I will continue to use ‘the magic word’ (‘please’), and its counterpart (‘thank you’) in my interactions with the people around me. I will set a good example and show my gratitude for what others provide for me – because I am, after all, on … the other side of 55.
NOTE: Please feel free to comment on this post. Thank you for reading it! (See, that wasn’t so hard, was it!?!?!?)
Last week, my husband ordered brakes for his truck (he does his own repairs). Since the specific brand he wanted isn’t available in Canada, he ordered them from a company in New York state. Their warehouse is located on Long Island, an 8½ hour drive (approximately) from where we live (in southern Ontario).
The total weight of the parts he ordered was a little over 55 pounds; the delivery charge was $70. Considering the rather short distance involved, I would have expected the package to be sent directly from New York to Ontario (with perhaps a short detour through a FedEx hub on the eastern seaboard), and that it would take maybe a day or two to arrive (allowing for customs clearance and a transfer from one type of truck to another for local delivery). Instead, here’s where it went:
- The order was picked up by FedEx in Bethpage, New York on the afternoon of Tuesday, May 26th. From there it travelled three- quarters of the way across the U.S.A. (approximately 2,500 miles westward) to Phoenix, Arizona (where it apparently sat for two days because of an issue of some sort with the customs paperwork).
- Once cleared, the box headed back east 535 miles to Santa Rosa, New Mexico, and then another 680 miles to Mt. Vernon, Missouri (arriving just after 8:00 pm on Friday, May 29th, when it was awarded a much-needed rest over the weekend).
- On Monday, June 1st, the package continued its eastward cross-country journey, landing in Perrysburg, Ohio (a distance of 700 miles from Mt. Vernon) at 7:20 in the evening; it was there that the paperwork necessary for the border crossing into Ontario was completed.
- On June 2nd, hubby’s brakes travelled across the border into Canada and along the highway that runs adjacent to the shores of Lakes Erie and Ontario (practically past our front door) nearly 300 miles (still going east) to the FedEx depot in Mississauga (near Toronto).
- That evening, the box was put on another truck and sent westward once again 35 miles to Stoney Creek (passing back through our fair city), to the area distribution centre.
- Finally, this morning (Wednesday, June 3rd), the box was dropped off at my front door at 9:30 a.m. (the shortest part of the journey was this last 10 mile trip).
So, all in all, instead of a quick hop, skip and jump across the border from New York to southern Ontario (a driving distance of approximately 480 miles), a box of brake rotors and pads travelled nearly ten times that distance (a total of 4760 ‘road miles’) and was ‘in transit’ for over a week. Can anyone explain the logic or efficiency in that to me? Surely my bewilderment over this unnecessarily long journey isn’t just because I’m on … the other side of 55.