Aging Ain’t for Sissies by
(353 Stories)

Prompted By Aging

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Brandeis graduation photo, 1974

On my 70th birthday my brother welcomed me to my eighth decade! While he was accurate, that declaration gave me pause.

The summer after my senior year in high school I was in a local show, written, directed and produced by friends (including two who went on to conceive MyRetrospect decades later). There was some loose theme, but we sang Broadway show tunes. I sang a song from “Zorba” – Life is what you do, while you’re waiting to die. Life is how the time goes by! It was dramatic and quite suited me. We danced the Miserlou to prove that we were very much alive, we had our lives ahead of us.

I began taking serious care of my skin in my 30s, yet in late April, I had something removed from my cheek, which was biopsied (and was fine). Before I was 30, I used a reflector and sat in the sun, soaked with baby oil, trying to get color on my pale skin. My mother warned me I’d regret it. Sometimes she got it right.

I joined my fancy gym, Equinox in Chestnut Hill, 10 years ago. I take a class (Pilates, Barre, Barefoot Sculpt, which substitutes for my beloved Core Synergy taught by the irreplaceable Josie Gardiner which I now stream on my computer at home) three times a week and do my own workout on other days. Before turning 60, I was determined to get into, and stay in shape. Recently, a woman from one of those classes came into the locker room, out of breath. She was in a chatty mood, bemoaning how she felt and how old she was. We are both 70, but she had stopped coming to the gym for a while. She mused, “Don’t you wish you were still 30?” I thought for a moment, “I wish I had my 30 year old body with my 70 years of wisdom.” It is not a new or profound thought, but it rings true.

I won’t do the “organ recital”. I am not in ill-health (having just had my annual physical which confirmed this), but have had my share of things go wrong. The last time I saw my wonderful physical therapists (a husband and wife team) on Martha’s Vineyard (that time for tendonitis of the left elbow – another gym injury), I joked with Larry that they’ve worked on just about every part of my body. He didn’t believe me until I listed the body parts, starting with both shoulders (frozen shoulder), working my way down to the my big right toe. He shook his head in disbelief and laughed. He had to agree.

I try to put up a good fight, but Mother Nature always wins. I thought it would be fun to show my passport photos through the decades, as a marker for the aging process. I got my first one for my trip to visit my brother in Israel in 1972.







Passport photos aren’t known for being flattering. You can’t smile in such a way that you show teeth. And you have all the official stamps and bars across your face (the last one is before I sent it in for renewal; the current passport has two versions of the photo, one in black and white so it is less easy to counterfeit). You also see hairstyles through the decades here, weight fluctuations, etc. But the aging process is inexorable. I began wearing hearing aids two years ago. They sort of work, but my husband rarely looks at me when speaking and tends to mutter rather than enunciating, then gets aggravated when I can’t make out what he’s said. And noisy restaurants (aren’t they all these days?) are the worst. I just smile and nod my head a lot.

I know I don’t have the mental acuity that I once had. I search for words, I used to remember EVERYTHING, now things come to me later. It is very frustrating. My husband and I joke that we have one good brain between us (and indeed, since he is the math/tech whiz, and I am the emotional, artistic one, we compliment each other in our areas of expertise).

I’m seeing lots of articles from legitimate sources about how women after the age of 65 lose muscle tone and tendons become less flexible. GREAT! I’m doing all this work in the gym to try to counter that, but can I? I know I do not look like I did three years ago at the beginning of lockdown, though I exercised six days a week, taking classes from my favorite teachers over Zoom (with weights and bands, and even treadmill work). I feel like Sisyphus, trying to roll that rock up a hill forever, losing a little more ground each year. Yet, I persevere, losing a bit more flexibility with the passing of time. But hopefully gaining some wisdom.

70th birthday

Profile photo of Betsy Pfau Betsy Pfau
Retired from software sales long ago, two grown children. Theater major in college. Singer still, arts lover, involved in art museums locally (Greater Boston area). Originally from Detroit area.

Characterizations: been there, moving, well written


  1. pattyv says:

    Betsy, you managed to say it all about this annoying thing called ‘aging’. I totally agree with you about keeping the wisdom going back to 30. From so many I know, you seem to still be in pretty good shape, and from your photos you look great. “Life is what you feel ‘till you can’t feel at all”

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      I love that last quote, Patty. I do try to keep in pretty good shape, but I know I’m not in the shape I was 5 years ago. I see it and feel it. But hey, what can you do but keep trying?

  2. All your work has paid off Betsy, you look great whatever decade you’re in, and love the passport pics – yours look much better than most! You belie the humorist who said it’s time to go home when you start to look like your passport photo!

    Unlike you I’m not good at exercise, in fact I’ve written about the Elliptical that collects dust in our apartment! But am hoping my passion for pickleball will help keep this older (NYU ‘64) gal in shape!

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Thanks, Dana. I don’t mind the way I look in my passport photos, even the current one, except that jaw line is starting to sag. Since I won’t use fillers or Botox, I must learn to love it. Nothing else matters. I do love my exercise classes, so that helps, as long as I can keep up (my orthopedic problems will slow me down when I have surgery early next year). It takes longer to heal and much longer to bounce back. I understand that pickle ball is good exercise, just be careful not to do in a knee or ankle!

  3. Laurie Levy says:

    Betsy, I almost used the same titles for my piece. While I think you look great, even in your aging passport photos, we have fought many of the same battles. I also have hearing aids and a husband who thinks I can hear through walls or when his back is turned to me. And don’t get me started about restaurants. During the pandemic, we got used to ordering in dinner with friends. It was really nice. A recent trip to a restaurant reminded me how hard it is to hear over all of the noise.

  4. Khati Hendry says:

    There was a time when I thought that if I really made the effort, I would get stronger and more fit than I used to be. Now I don’t think that—just stronger and more fit than I would be if I made no effort at all. Just being engaged and caring becomes ever more important. I can’t imagine you ever giving up.

  5. Jim Willis says:

    There’s so much to ponder in your aging essay, Betsy, and I find myself in synch with your reflections. The thing about taking care of the body has become very important to me, because I’ve seen what can happen to 60- and 70-somethings when we don’t. I also like your parade of passport photos. In my case, these mug shots are tied with my drivers license pix for bringing out the worst physical features of me.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Having read your story, I know that you, too are doing the same as I am (though through counting steps – also a good thing). I agree that the important thing is to keep moving, try to stay flexible and stay engaged with a community (though I didn’t write about it). In my case, it’s the Rose Art Museum at Brandeis University. I have a meeting this afternoon to begin the process of picking the work of an emerging artist to bring into our collection, singing with our community chorus, and, of course, writing for Retro.

  6. Dave Ventre says:

    There is a saying that “we don’t stop playing because we get old; we get old because we stop playing.” I am counting on childishness to keep me kicking until I collapse like the Wonderful One Hoss Shay.

    Seriously, though, recent research on aging and exercise is an incentive toward movement as opposed to my normal to-hell-with-it-all inertia!

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