Over the Hill

Taking a victory lap in old age

Phil Dirkx
Phil Dirkx jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

The image immediately caught my attention. It shows a man and woman looking over the edge of a treeless bluff. The path ahead of them goes steeply down the bluff and out of frame.

The man is mostly bald and leans on a walker. The woman holds his arm. They both look down. In the background, we see just sky and ocean.

I immediately identified with that couple. I don’t use a walker, but my wife Mamie gets around in a wheelchair. My hair is sparse, and I’m 85. Mamie just turned 84 last week. We’re both looking over the edge.

The illustration, by Jeff Durham of Bay Area News Group, was in The Tribune on Tuesday to illustrate a column by Linda Lewis Griffith (“How to keep calm when you’re caring for a loved one”).

This image appealed to me for two reasons. For one thing, it contained a symbolic big hill. The name of this column also contains a symbolic big hill. It’s called “Over the Hill” because it often tells about people and events north of the Cuesta Grade from San Luis Obispo.

“Over the Hill” was also a symbol for my age. When I started this column in 1993, I may have been one of The Tribune’s oldest reporters.

Through the years, a few readers have also liked the name “Over the Hill.” One man gave me a license plate holder that reads, “OVER THE HILL & GAINING SPEED.” I still have it on my Ford Aerostar, which is also over the hill.

Someone else gave me a T-shirt that reads, “OVER THE HILL, WHAT HILL? WHERE? WHEN? I DON’T REMEMBER ANY HILL.”

So the big hill pictured in Tuesday’s Tribune is obviously a symbol for life. The man and woman are now over the hill, looking down the other side. I’m glad they’re still together. And Griffith gave practical advice on how couples can stay together in the face of stresses and strains, especially when one partner is disabled.

She wrote, “Accept your situation. This is your new normal. Your elderly loved one probably isn’t going to improve.”

She gave other practical advice on how to relax and continue enjoying each other’s company.

She urged us to recall our happier moments. I agree. We’ve all accumulated lots of good memories while climbing up over the hill. Just bring them out and dust them off. I like to remember the second Christmas Mamie and I celebrated. Our first child was on the way. We had moved into an affordable apartment. The salary on my new job could cover our bills.

So, when we make it over the hill to the far edge and look down, we should celebrate. Anything we do after that is a victory lap. Or, we can just sit down and wait for our partners, and then slide down the hill together.

Phil Dirkx’s column is special to The Tribune. He has lived in Paso Robles for more than five decades, and his column appears here every week. Reach Dirkx at 238-2372 or phild2008@sbcglobal.net.