Woodside Story: No need to panic

Being old(ish) on Martha’s Vineyard isn’t as bad as you might think.


We think we prepare for being old — or, to use a more shuddery word, elderly — but we don’t, do we? We back away, don’t we?

And then suddenly we have to face the facts: We’re old. I’m old. Everyone has a different entrée into this shadowy part of life, this Being Old Situation. Mine arrived in September 2022, when I was accepted for an available apartment in Woodside Village, otherwise known as senior housing, and finally saddled with the icky nomenclature of Island Elderly Housing. None of the residents cares to call it that: It’s a title clung to by the administrative staff, all of whom, presumably, still function as younger folks, the under 65-sters, who themselves must think “Eek!” when they see us limping, or forgetting basic words, or stricken with strokes and taken to the hospital for refurbishment or plug-pulling.

I personally resist oldness by continuing to pay attention to grooming, not that it necessarily helps that much once you’re (sigh) in your 70s. But every morning I still pick out a fun outfit. I’ve got all these dresses in my closet, and pretty sweaters. I’ve noticed that these days very few people make any effort to doll themselves up. Recently at an elite restaurant in Edgartown, I was aware that diners showed up in torn jeans and wrinkled hoodies. This means that I, silly old lady that I am, suit up better for a trip to the grocery store to pick up eggs and apples than other folks spiff themselves — or don’t, as the matter may be — for dinner out to order lobster costing $69 for one meal, and that doesn’t include wine and dessert.

And what does the price of a lobster dinner on Martha’s Vineyard have to do with anything? It doesn’t. It positively does not. This is the kind of free association that attends an elderly writer’s crack at forming sentences.

Yeah, so that’s what old age on a deep soul level means to most oldsters: I reckon we’re all of us waiting for our minds to crack open as our last thoughts tumble into the La Brea Tar Pits, and I mention that particular wretched place in Los Angeles because California kids are always taken there on a ghastly paleontology outing to gaze into the black, inky, sticky abyss where even the most ferocious dinosaurs were gobbled up eons ago, so don’t you dare fall in or drop anything. (I myself once lost a cherished barrette — pale turquoise with silver squiggles — into the gluey tar, and even after I went crying to one of the guards, I knew I could forget about ever getting it back.)

The biggest panic to being old is forgetting words, am I right, my dear codgers? Everyday words elude us, sometimes only, mercifully, briefly, but other times in ways that make us want to step on a flight of stairs, bent over and shaking our heads, until that missing word slides back into our brain. Recently I’ve jotted down in my phone retrieved words once they’ve recurred to me — and what heaven that is! Here are my three recent entries:

  1. Uzis. Yeah, the Israeli assault weapon. This has nothing to do with war tidings, only the fact that a recent tale to friends about a trip to the Holy Land back in 1971 and a two-month idyll on a kibbutz triggered a memory about how, if you needed a late night jaunt to the latrines, you encountered young men whom you knew from the day picking apples or peeling potatoes in the kitchen — and here they were late at night in Northern Galilee darkness, guarding the farm in combat fatigues, with Uzis slung over their shoulders. Obviously, with me forgetting the name of the site-specific submachine gun, the story blew up in my face, pun intended.
  2. Tippy. No, not ‘trippy,’ the old hippy buzzword for something cool, but the name of my new neighbor’s cat. The neighbor, who doesn’t want her name invoked, is a new best friend, but to suddenly blank on her kitty’s sobriquet struck me as a betrayal of sisterhood. Was it Titty? But no, that would be a bratty name for a beloved pet. I let a whole night go by without a recall, so I finally threw myself on my neighbor’s mercy and asked her to refresh me. Whew! Wrote it down.

Never will forget it.

  1. Alcatraz. I know, pretty Looney Tunes, isn’t it? Why did I need to retrieve the name of San Francisco’s legendary — now a national landmark — prison? Well, I remember taking my son Charlie, at his request, on a visit in the mid-’90s. A recent story in the news about that other famous “joint,” San Quentin, reminded me of that long-ago pilgrimage, if I may call it that, and before I even trotted this out as a tale for good buddies over slow-cooker soup in my Woodside kitchen, I needed the name, and I needed it NOW! Besides, I couldn’t stand the way my brain kept squelching up “Auschwitz” instead! Yikes!

So dig it! I’ll be checking in periodically from the Elderly Front to comment on what your Island oldsters are doing. And guess what? It’s not all bad! Recent studies have shown that elders among us have a certain calm attitude, almost as if, with everything else about us falling apart, we develop an unexpected mental health. I’ll be passing along stories about elders doing well, so, to sing a lyric from “West Side Story” and scootch it over to “Woodside Story,” “When you’re (an old) Jet you’re a Jet all the way, from your first cup of joe to your last (whatever comes next) day!”



  1. Thank you Holly! Wonderfully entertaining as usual, but with a palpable sense of nostalgia and pathos mixed in. I’ll look forward to the next installment of Woodside Story!

  2. This was such a good read, and so true. For weeks I couldn’t remember the word “ginko”. All I could come up with was “Guiness”, even though I knew that wasn’t it. It was right on the tip of my tongue, too. Every time I’d be out walking and see a ginko leaf on the ground, and could not for the life of me remember the name of the tree and its leaves, I’d remind myself to Google “fan-shaped leaf” when I got home. But when I got home, I’d already forgotten all about it. This went on and on. I’d only think of it each time I saw a ginko leaf. Finally, one day I remembered when I got home and looked it up. Oh, the satisfaction. Thanks, Holly. Looking forward to more!

    • Jackie,

      I am very happy that you could escape the awful realities of the world to enjoy this simple pleasure in life. Keep the faith that someday, hopefully sooner rather than later, we will get back to a time where you (and I) have many more of these life’s pleasures and less of todays realities.

  3. I so enjoyed this read! I am suddenly up there and feel everyone must embrace the elder years! Many didn’t make it! Keep moving, reading, eat well, and stay connected, I’ve found many start distancing themselves, so unhealthy. So here we all go into another chapter of this beautiful life!

  4. Oh Holly you never disappoint. All so true. With me it is names of people. Some I even know well and I also write them down but it is the next well known person that I run into and go bank. I fudge it but it is embarrassing. We all look forward to your stories.

  5. Thank you, my dear island buddies! Glad to be making some sense even as I’m walking around in a bit of a fog!!
    Much love, Holly

  6. Holly! You have made me want to join the Woodside clan.
    Thanks for the mid day smiles and all too familiar tales.
    I look forward to more of your always entertaining writing! Stop by at the Anchors in Edgartown sometime. Preferably on a Tuesday or Friday when you could enjoy a good lunch and find some “elders” doing interesting things.

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