Great. Now I can’t whistle.
There are very few things I can’t do now that I could do when I was twenty. I am a very slow runner now, but I was at twenty. I’m a better tennis player now than forty years ago. I’m slightly wiser, perhaps kinder, and I know how to navigate airports in foreign countries, stand up for myself most of the time, and put on a much better dinner party.
When I was twenty, I couldn’t read any faster than I do at nearly seventy. I’m a more experienced and seasoned driver and can figure out challenges like how to make a dishwasher run better at this stage of my life than in the early ‘grownup’ years. I didn’t care how to fix my dishwasher fifty years ago, but had I been so inclined, I wouldn’t have tried to do it myself. Of course, there was no You Tube in those days, but even if there had been, I wouldn’t pursued the solution.
I think there’s a perception that when you get older you can’t do much of anything, but the more I consider that myth, the less I believe it. Granted, I was never an athlete, and I’m sure those who could run track in high school may not be able to meet their times now that they’re ‘old’. But other than not being able to look young like I did when I was twenty, I’m actually a better model of myself than a half- century ago.
This all occurred to me the other day when I realized I can’t whistle anymore.
I hadn’t had an occasion to whistle for decades. One of the reasons I envied my best friend Laurie in high school was she could put two fingers in her mouth and do that whistle that calls dogs, or whales, or submarines from distant oceans. She tried to teach me but I could never get the technique. However, I could always whistle in the regular way, by, as Lauren Bacall once famously instructed, “You just put your lips together and blow”.
I suppose women, even in these enlightened (?) times, never made whistling part of their Oh, I’m strolling along, I might as well whistle as I do process. I think I learned as a kid, probably practiced far too much, then gave it up because it didn’t garner me the kind of attention I craved at the time. (That’s another thing – I’m much happier getting less attention than other people now than I was twenty years ago. Not to say I wouldn’t love being the center of everything, but I’ve come to terms with the disconnect between my wishes and insecurities and the rest of the world’s complete disinterest.)
But the other day I was driving my grandson home and we were listening, not to Patti Smith’s “Just Kids” as I did on my way to pick him up, but Pandora’s Raffi station. And as I like to engage the sweet fellow in the back seat whenever I can so he doesn’t fall asleep and it then becomes my fault when he keeps his parents up half the night because of a late nap, I began whistling along with one of the songs I have now heard seventy thousand times, what with my children, then their children.
Unbeknownst to the recipient of my entertainment in the rear of the car, when I put my lips together and blew, nothing happened. Strange.
I wet my lips. Nothing. Maybe some air but no sound. How odd. I have the same two lips I had when I was twenty. Yes, there are little age lines framing them, but the actual shape hasn’t changed. Or, has it?
Doesn’t matter. No matter how I tried, I couldn’t make the whistle sound. The song ended, the kid in the back seat still awake thanks to Raffi, not Nana’s sterling whistle, and I found something, that for whatever reason (floppy lips?) I can’t do better, or do at all, than when I was twenty, thirty or forty.
I’m not sad I can’t whistle, but perplexed. Yet, in the big picture, which is what people my age talk about a lot, losing that particular skill because of age (or, maybe, not practicing for fifty years) isn’t a soul grabber.
Sure, maybe I can’t express my lust in that specific way when I want to, but you know by now I was never that kind of girl. I guess I’ll just emulate Lauren Bacall and give instructions instead. And believe me, I’m much better at giving directives about nearly everything now than I was when I was young.