Dear Ellie — You and your parents have moved into your “new” 100-year-old house, we hear. You’re living on the second floor while walls get knocked down and floors refinished below you. Aging houses, even those with good bones, require that kind of expensive attention.

When Opa and I were your parents’ age, we made similar decisions. Show us a wreck of a house with what we saw as potential, and we were in love. We moved in, along with with our contractors, and got used to waking up to the whine of chainsaws. It was like living in the middle of a loud, dusty, crowded party that we were paying big bucks for every day.

Here you are in your “new” house.

I’m glad we did it then, but that kind of old-house-renovation ardor fades — maybe, not coincidentally, at the time your own bodies start to require a little more attention and maintenance. Which is probably why your grandfather and I now find ourselves in a fairly new condo that complements bodies that are — how else to say it? — getting fairly old.

(Or fairly oldish! Yeah, that sounds better.)

Anyway, one of my oldish feet started giving me problems recently. Nothing broken, the doctor said after an x-ray; just osteoarthritis and osteopenia. (Frankly, a broken bone would have had a little more glamour to it; in my experience, glamorous words rarely begin with “osteo.”) Try to give your foot some rest, he said.

Undeterred, I hotfooted it around New York on our latest trip there, slamming the sidewalks with abandon, almost seven miles the first day. Talk about dumb. I’m now home with a sore and swollen foot. The indignity, the pain — and mostly, it’s my own fault.

How do you age gracefully? It’s something I spend a lot of time thinking about. How to age well?

I spent most of yesterday with my foot raised. You have a lot of time to think about aging when one foot is hoisted up.

When I moved, it was slowly, deliberately. Who likes a slow, deliberate walker? Nobody, and certainly not me. The world’s in a hot rush, and only losers lag behind. Right?

But, but, but, how to do this well — since I didn’t have any choice and knowing that it wouldn’t be the last time I faced an annoying challenge with my oldish body?

So I tried to persuade myself to appreciate this change of pace. Walking through the grocery store, I tried to look at the world differently, tried to see things I wouldn’t have noticed if I’d been racing through my paces. I watched people’s faces more carefully, trying to make more eye contact with them, wondering who they were and what their lives are like. In less of a hurry, I felt calmer; it made me wonder what my rush had been.

Someday, you’ll read all of this blog, Ellie. Or I hope you will. It’s hard to define what it is: Letters to you so you’ll understand who I was; letters to myself to try to understand myself and the time of life I’m in.

How to live well? It’s what we all try to figure out — you, with your ever-expanding universe, your parents with their crowded lives filled with work, family, friends, and a 100-year-old house, and Opa and me on a path that’s both rich and treacherous. Writing this, I’m sending you flares from the front of the line. This is how I see it; this is how it is.

Love you, my dearest girl, Coco


  1. Barbara Fox · November 15, 2017

    I think I am about your age and have the same, exact thoughts. How to live a glorious and treacherous time of life. Your granddaughter is getting to big. And there is nothing more fun to me that renovating an old home. But not at this age… just appreciating the change of pace. Peace.

  2. Jean rather · November 15, 2017

    Dearest Ruth—I am sorry to read about your loss of “ mobility.” I lost mine some years ago with a total knee replacement. The indignity of a limp where once I skipped, a big push from behind on the subway stairs, it’s all part of learning about “grace under pressure” isn’t it?
    Sending love, Jean

  3. Sharon Lippincott · November 15, 2017

    Once upon a long time ago I did a book talk at the Sewickley library near Pittsburgh about my then recently published how to write your lifestory book. As part of the talk I asked those in the audience why they might want to write about their lives. “I want my grandchildren to know I wasn’t always old!” said a woman who appeared to be at least ninety. Laughter lasted a full minute as we all relished the truth she spoke for all of us.

    I appreciate the way you are documenting the aging process for Ellie and love that you’re sharing with the world at large. Brava! I do hope that foot is better by now. I also wonder how much medical care and life expectancy will have changed by the time Ellie is our age.

  4. Jenna · November 15, 2017

    Ellie is a lucky kid.