Friday, April 22, 2011

Age Spots and Other Badges of Life and Experience by Carolyn J. Rose

Carolyn J. Rose grew up in New York's Catskill Mountains, graduated from the University of Arizona, logged two years in Arkansas with Volunteers in Service to America, and spent 25 years as a television news researcher, writer, producer, and assignment editor in Arkansas, New Mexico, Oregon, and Washington.  She teaches novel-writing in Vancouver, Washington, and founded the Vancouver Writers' Mixers. Her hobbies are reading, gardening, and not cooking.


Age Spots and Other Badges of Life and Experience
by Carolyn J. Rose

“Out, damned spot!”
Lady Macbeth

The age spots on my hands are multiplying, spreading into as-yet-undeveloped territory on my arms. Most are just freckle-sized, but some are larger blotches.  There’s one in the shape of Illinois and one that resembles Iowa. As my skin gets thinner, more transparent, papery, and less plumped up with youth, small veins become visible. Like highways, they connect Illinois and Iowa.

(An aside here—I’ve done a little research and learned these are actually spots caused by exposure to the sun. But, as I age, they’ve increased in number and size. So, for the purposes of this blog/rant, I’m sticking with “age spots.”)
I won’t mention my exact age—no point in scaring the youngsters—but if you listen to Jackson Browne’s “Running On Empty” and do the math, you’ll be able to figure it out. As time goes by, I expect more “states” will appear on my skin. I can already see a string of blotches resembling the Hawaiian Islands curving out from between two knuckles. And there are many tiny spots that could be Delaware or Connecticut.
At the age of four, I spotted the first blotch—a miniscule brown mark on my palm in the pad of flesh at the base of my left index finger. I felt this mark made me somehow more unique, more recognizable. I remember telling my mother that, even if there were a dozen girls who looked just like me, she would always know by that mark.
My mother seemed less than excited by my pronouncement and hardly glanced at the mark. For years, I considered and reconsidered her response in the light of other incidents and interactions. As children do, I asked myself a hundred questions. Was she absolutely certain she would always recognize me? Did she not want to think about the many events or people that could separate mother and child and prompt a frantic search? Was she not worried about losing me? Or would she care little if that happened? Would she simply replace me with another child?
I doubt I ever asked her those questions.  I suspect I was afraid that my deepest fears about myself and my position in the family (a collection of anxieties including: I’m adopted, I’ll be given up for adoption, no one really loves me, no one cares about me/listens to me, etc.) would be confirmed. And now it’s well beyond “too late.” My mother has been gone for 17 years. I know from her diaries that she loved me and even admired me. So I tell myself that she worried about losing me, but believed she would always know me, could find me even in a crowd of a million children without resorting to peering at palms to spot a speck of brown.

Over the years, I acquired a host of other marks—scars, wrinkles, bumps, dents, calcium deposits, and skin tags. As for that tiny mark, it faded away many years ago. But long before it disappeared, I recognized that it was only a tiny part of what makes me unique—experiences, people met and connected with, friendships sustained, books written.

Still, when those brown blotches started spreading, they got my attention.  During my yearly physical, I asked my doctor—a courtly and charming man—if they were a sign of something serious or just age spots.

“Nothing serious.” He smiled. “But calling them age spots sounds so harsh.”
“Well, they’re hardly youth spots,” I retorted. “Should I bleach them? Use some special cream?”
“Not at all” He bent and placed a kiss on my knuckles. “A woman such as yourself should leave them just as they are. Wear them proudly as badges of your life and experiences.”

Yeah. What he said!

Call them mementos. Souvenirs. Even spots.

Just leave off that part about age.


Carola Dunn said...

Carolyn, you're a spring chicken. Long time no see... :-(

Carolyn J. Rose said...

LOL - and this chicken has been around the coop for a looonnngg time.

callingcrow said...

I'll trade you one of my Pennsylvanias for your Illinois. I'm collecting the whole set. :)

Good post!

Earl Staggs said...

Love your attitude, Carolyn. I wouldn't worry about the spots until you get one the size of Texas. I have some spots, too, but I can't tell you where they are. Kaye would blush.

Kaye Wilkinson Barley - Meanderings and Muses said...

Carolyn, Welcome!
This is a hoot and you all are crazy.
I'm going to go find a map and see how many states I can recognize on my spotty arms! No Texas, though (not anywhere!). LOL!!!

Carolyn J. Rose said...

Come on, Earl, tell us the location of those spots - I double-dog dare you.

And I'll be happy to swap Illinois, but I'd really like a Michigan in exchange.

Deadly Duo, Duh Blog said...

I want to take credit for using the official Nettleton-Rose family hand-cam to take the shot for this blog. I can relate to what she's saying though. I have a scar on my wrist from an unsuccessful attempt to vault a barbed wire fence at age 11. (The first indication of many that I'd never fulfill my lifelong dream of dancing the lead in Swan Lake.)Life tends to leave us reminders of where we've been and what we've done.

Brenda Buchanan said...

I've got a barbed wire scar myself on the side of my left knee. During a spirited game of chase when I was about ten I overestimated my capability to leap objects in a single bound. My attempt to hurdle the fence resulted in torn jeans and a lot of blood.

I used to laugh when my mother called the wrinkles at the corners of her eyes "smile lines." Now I realize how apt a description that is.

Brenda B. in Maine

Carolyn J. Rose said...

Brenda, better to have those lines than the ones from frowning. To misquote Admiral Farrague, "Damn the lines, full smile ahead."

jenny milchman said...

"'69...I was 21..."

I like the sound of your doctor. And your mother would've known you anywhere, I'm sure.

I think how close those fearsome scenarios--the need for an identifying freckle, um, youth spot--were to you is the sign of a great mystery/suspense writer.

Katlin said...

I think I see Ohio on my right hand! My skin is getting so transparent, I can also see bones and tendons. Yikes!

Carolyn J. Rose said...

Kaye, thanks for hosting me. I enjoyed it.
And extra thanks to everyone who beamed over and left a comment.

Andi said...

I remember looking at my hands, now some years gone by and wondering WHEN it was exactly that I'd gotten my grandmother's hands. This was the first visible (to me, anyway) sign that I was aging.