Discovering aging
FROM MY HEART - Barbara Gonzalez-Ventura (The Philippine Star) - September 1, 2019 - 12:00am

So chair dancing was for me. It improved my grace and it gave me more stamina. After a year of chair dancing I graduated to stand-up dance classes.

Now that she is gone, I remember my mother always. I remember her wonderful scent. She always wore perfume. I know she had Friendship’s Garden. It came in a lovely big box with matching dusting powder. That was another of my mother’s habits. She used dusting powder after a bath. Dusting powder is a talc you “dusted” or applied with a powder puff on your body after a bath. Usually it matched the scent of a perfume or bath soap. When I was small Cashmere Bouquet was a fragrant bath soap. It had matching dusting powder. For infants you had baby powder. For adults you had dusting powder. Today, you are just told that using talc, the main ingredient in baby powder and dusting powder, is dangerous to your health.

I used to love to bury my little face into my mother’s soft cuddly arms. I was a little girl. I didn’t know the terror of having flabby arms, which were the bane of my mother’s life. She hated her flabby arms. Every morning she exercised them. I hate to say this but all the exercise she did had little effect on her flabby arms. Guess who inherited my mother’s arms? Her only child, of course. That’s me. I hate my flabby arms probably more than she hated hers.

My relationship with exercise is exactly sporadic. But about two years before I met my husband I discovered Sunshine Place, where one went to teach writing, to paint, and to exercise. There I discovered chair dancing, which fit me perfectly.

Chair dancing is exercise for either people who hate the gym or for people who are old enough to be unable to distinguish precisely what they are doing. I belong to the first category. I don’t like gyms. But I like to dance except that since I don’t exercise usually I don’t have enough resistance to dance well standing up. When I was young, yes, I could boogie half the night in high heels. Certainly not when — omigod — I hit 70.

So chair dancing was for me. Strangely enough it helped a lot. It improved my grace — or so I think — and it gave me more stamina. After a year of chair dancing I graduated to stand-up dance classes. They did me well. I was fit and sturdy and shapely and enjoying them until I got married. Then spending time with my husband seemed like the best idea ever.

But reality checked! Suddenly my body was soft and fluffy again. One morning I woke up and decided I would chair dance again maybe for two months then dance upright again just to see what of my old body I could get back. So off I went to Sunshine Place again.

On my first day at chair dancing I saw my friend Angie. She was attending class but her eyesight, she said, had gotten worse and she didn’t really see me. But she recognized my voice. Most of my other classmates were new and were in wheelchairs. They didn’t talk to each other. I don’t think they were even aware of each other. I hardly recognized one of my clients who now happened to be my classmate in chair dancing. He didn’t recognize anyone. Nor was he aware he was in a class. He sat in his chair and slept. I was told he had serious Alzheimer’s. My heart bled for him.

There was a lady in another wheelchair who sat in front of me. She looked familiar. I think she is one of my aunts. I swear she looks like one of my aunts. After class I approached her caregiver and asked her: “Is she . . . ?” The caregiver said yes.

I went to her and introduced myself. “I’m Tweetums, Tita. . .”

“Tweetums,” she repeated, “I know you. Who is your mother?” I told her. Then she asked me again. “What is your name?” “Tweetums,” I said, knowing this time that my Tita had dementia. Alzheimer’s, dementia, these are the ailments of aging. All of us are one day going to be afflicted by one of these, whether we like it or not.

While I was recovering from my shock, her caregiver showed me a photograph of her with another uncle and cousins taken in front of some paintings. “She paints,” the caregiver said. I understood. I was grateful for that.

Three years ago I became a member of Sunshine Place. In concept it is a place for seniors but not too many seniors were aware of it. Or more accurately the seniors who were aware of it were in their 60s and 70s. Now they are in their 80s and 90s. We may be depressed that they are not entirely present but they are alive and are trying to do something.

And me? I am happy to be still exercising even if I am sitting down watching my flabby arms flap hideously as I exercise. From now on. . . forever. . . I will wear long sleeves.

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