Growing Old in Baja
L to R – Tootsie, Daphne, Jack, Rufus, and Oliver
A few months ago I met a friend in San Diego I hadn’t seen for a couple of years. “You’re still a pistol!” He e-mailed after our soiree. At eighty? Good to hear…”a little frail and you seem shorter,” he continued.
“The doctor said I was 5’5”, I used to be 5’8” or pretended I was.”
My mother grew old in a cottage by the sea. “I am not going to move to some damn retirement home with a bunch of old people,” she’d said. I admired her for that. She was born in Sri Lanka on a Coconut Plantation, the 13th of nighteen brothers and sisters. She married my father, the philosopher and they immigrated to the United States. I settled in Baja and as it turns out am growing old here.
Growing old in Baja is okay. Growing old is not, but if you have to pick a community to grow old in — this is a fine place. A charming Mexican village filled with children, teenagers, old-timers and babies, living next to Indians, cowboys their wives and extended families.The weather is dreamy. In the near thirty years I’ve lived here there have been no earthquakes, hurricanes, snow, hail or ice storms, much I faced growing up in New Jersey. We have no major mishaps except maybe the lack of rain, but when it does come I a get a chance to dance and sing. Just hearing the pitter, patter of raindrops on my roof get my feet moving and my heart thumping.
The beach is often empty especially during the week. Horses are tied along the board walk waiting for a rider. Venders sell coconuts overflowing with shrimp and mangoes and freshly squeezed limes with a sprinkle of chili on top, a refreshing treat for a lazy afternoon.
Walking along the shore I dream — memories flood my mind like foam from the little waves licking my ankles. To prevent myself from falling I curl my toes in the sand and grab hold, pulling myself upright, stretching my back, I stand tall. If I do fall, which I have on occasion, primarily after showing off trying to kick a soccer ball like I used to when I was young, the sand becomes a welcoming carpet. Rolling around I giggle at what a sight I must be, my white hair flying like Einstein. It’s my damn waist that’s bigger than I like… but what can I expect? I can’t be perfect at my age, can I? However, being an old show girl, I try my damnedest, which takes time and energy.
I keep getting my brother Noel mixed up with my son Michael. Noel and Michael. Michael and Noel… they blend into each other and become one. They looked alike. Both had a receding hairline and blue, blue eyes the color of the sea on a sunny day. Noel was twenty-six when he was killed, he flew jets off the carrier USS Midway. His Fury Jet FJ-4 crashed into the East China Sea near Okinawa some sixty years ago. His bones have turned into sand by now.
Michael died when he was thirty-nine. Some of his ashes are on the mantle in my living room in an antique silver tea container, but most are inside a small blue tomb in a red Chinese jewelry box on my back patio surrounded by shrubs and flowers. A bush of Floral de la Trumpet blooms fragrant yellow blossoms all year long and clumps of pampas grass with their long creamy plumes swing gently in the breeze. Angels painted pastels lie around the wooden cross on top of Michael’s sepulcher overlooking the sea. Mum and Dad’s ashes are scattered off the Southern California coast somewhere in the Pacific.
Michael was six when Noel died. He was supposed to stick around to take care of me in my old age. As he lay dying he taught me about love. In spite of that terrible tragedy, life’s been good to me. Today I have a kind and gentle young Indian lad with a loving heart and warm hands. He assures me he’ll keep my animals safe after I’m gone. He and his eight-year-old son, Isay, cook and share meals, do dishes and walk with me along the beach. They assist me on my small ranch gathering eggs, raking the corral, repairing fences, trying their best to keep things tidy.
Daddy’s laughter remained until a white light from heaven came bursting through his window and carried him off. He asked someone standing beside his bed to pull down the shade so he wouldn’t be blinded by the light. Was that God? I’ve always imagined it was. Then I read somewhere that when air is cut off from your brain everything turns white. But I like believing it was God.
When that beam of light finally dances through my window and steals me away — darkness will come. I’ve had plenty of laughs and fought hard to always love my fellow man. I have a few regrets, but who doesn’t? It’s been a long and eventful journey finding this hideaway by the sea, and realizing that growing old in Baja is a lovely happening.