Young at heart, if not at hip

On the challenges of aging gracefully

November 20, 2011|By Linda DeMers Hummel

In my family it is known as "The Jongebloed Hip," which - amazingly - is even less glamorous than its title. It is the genetic misstep that caused my grandfather and his twin brother to spend their last 30 years veering slightly left of center and wincing on their way up from or down to any chair in a room. When my mother could no longer deny that she was in grave pain with every step, her doctor gasped at her X-rays and sent her posthaste for a replacement.

"Don't worry," my mother always told me. "You have Dad's genes, and his hip is fine."

Since I look so much like my father did, I see how easily she could have been fooled. But it appears that I'm now joining her club, or at least inquiring about membership dues. I lilt sometimes. I flinch, just a little. The Hip.

I focus on the good news. I don't make my living as a tight end for the Ravens or as a shortstop for the Orioles. I haven't completely figured out what Zumba is yet, so I'm not missing it. I live alone, so no one has to listen to me occasionally grunt when I stand up. And modern medicine is really up to speed on hips, so if my number is ever called, I'll be on the tennis court the next day.

So it's with all positive messages floating around in my head that I meet my dear friend for dinner. We're about 60 now. We don't reminisce much, and I like that about us. We don't talk about our aches and pains much, either, and for that I metaphorically pat us on the back. We've always prided ourselves on our ability to age gracefully and felt a little superior to our peers who expend so much energy fighting it. We're openly critical of baby boomers who surrender to Botox, while we go on ad nauseam about laugh lines and how fabulous they are. We're suspicious of those who devote hours to the gym instead of embracing their curves, the way we say we do. Over the last decade or so, my friend and I have made it a point to hit ourselves over our heads with just how comfortable we are in our own skin.

Except now I'm not. It's The Hip. Maybe I thought if I didn't sweat the small stuff, - the vain, superficial trivialities - I'd be spared some ball-and-socket issues. Maybe I'm just a card-carrying boomer after all, who doesn't want to face the facts.

Tonight I say it. "I think I have the hip after all."

"Your mother's hip?"

I nod. "And my grandfather's, and my Uncle Herman's, and probably a dozen more relatives I never knew who teetered and tottered their way into oblivion." Then I smile - the intentional grin that is meant to say, "But, hey, no big deal." But it is, and that surprises me.

I can always predict when The Hip will remind me it needs attention. After sitting, I need to take a little time to get things moving again, choreography of sorts that I'm getting fairly good at. We pay the bill, and I slide from the booth, slightly bracing for that first second when my weight will be firmly over my hips. And that's the moment when Mrs. Clark comes to me.

I was in college when I met Mrs. Clark, who lived in one of the town's last magnificent mansions. She was in her 90s then and had hired me to watch her husband, who was confined to bed and not the least bit happy about it. She had a luncheon to attend and paid me $5 to make sure he stayed put. As I was ushered into the vestibule (the only word for it) by her maid (again, the only word), Mrs. Clark had begun her slow descent down the curved mahogany staircase. Radiant, she smiled at me as I waited below and said, "I'll be there in a bit, my dear. As you can see, I move with all the grace of a lame camel."

I picture that meeting now, and I wonder when Mrs. Clark felt her first twinge. Was she surprised, like me, that she wasn't going to stay young forever? I hope in 30 years I'll be just like her. Lunching. Lurching. Smiling. Leading with my better foot. And knowing that if I take extra care in those first few steps, everything will even out.

Linda DeMers Hummel is a writer in Timonium. Her email is

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