On the Aging Clarinetist

My best friend and duo partner, Diane, and I have been traveling together to rehearse and perform for many of our almost forty years of friendship. Right now we are in the mountains of western North Carolina, enjoying a lovely cabin as we celebrate the end of Diane’s third battle with cancer, rehearse for our upcoming performances, and get (hopefully) a lot of work done for our professional organization- even as we fight very unreliable wifi. It’s always a gift to be together, but we have begun to laugh about the changes in our bodies over the years, brought on by age and -for Diane- awful chemotherapy treatments.

We always try to approach things with humor, so here are some things we’ve noticed about the aging clarinetist…that would be us. As my mom often said, “Gettin old ain’t for sissies!” Boy, as I approach sixty next year was she ever right.

Wow…we’re we ever that young? Diane is on the right.

In our younger days while traveling or visiting each other, we walked for miles, shopped all day, drank moonshine (okay, that was only once a long time ago in North Carolina), ate whatever we wanted, and stayed up into the wee hours talking, laughing, and dreaming. Nothing could stop us as we busted our tails to build our careers and grow as musicians and artists.

Our Amicitia Duo. In Latin, Amicitia means friendship.

Now, let’s contrast that with this trip many years later. When we were at my home before heading to North Carolina, we sat at my desk working on one of the a handbooks for our organization. I had difficulty seeing because I was just far enough from the computer. My sister Linda warned me that my eyes would start to go once I hit my forties. She wasn’t kidding around. I’ve also suffered some pretty serious hearing loss from years of playing in loud orchestras and bands for so many years, as no one really knew that we should be proactively protecting our hearing while in those situations back then. Waaay back then. This results in me saying a lot of, What? Pardon? and I’m so sorry- can you say that again? My mom’s joke about that was saying, Ehh? Ya’ say ya’ caught twenty? You have to put your hand up to your ear as you say it for more authenticity, just so that you know. I have no real idea what that means, but it was super funny the way she’d say it like a deaf old country granny and then giggle. God, I miss her.

Heavy D!

Back to the working at the desk part; we both stood up (or tried to) after sitting for a couple of hours. Diane was bent over, exclaiming over her swollen knee and her hands and feet that are numb and tingly from chemo-induced neuropathy. I was moaning about my back and knee. We broke up laughing at what we are becoming as the years pass by. You might as well laugh as cry, right? This now happens most anytime one of us attempts to stand up after sitting a bit. We have gray hair, we each have scars from stem to stern from surgeries- or as we like to call them, ‘Badges of Life’. We don’t sleep well (but go to bed earlier and earlier each year), our joints ache, and my back goes out on a whim. The strongest thing we drink now is diet root beer. Our memory gets a bit murky at times and we also do something we swore we’d never do; we talk about our aches and pains and doctor appointments. We have become our parents.

Visiting my soul place, Knottyhead Falls on the upper Nantahala River.

It’s not only our physical bodies; our packing lists have changed, too. In the old days, we’d pack our exercise clothes, vitamins, some fun clothes, all in preparation for an active trip together filled with non-stop fun. Now? Here is a sample list we compiled of all of the necessary travel items we apparently require in our fifties:

Cabin gals

Ahem…In addition to what we used to carry along, we now have a whole new assortment of fun ‘party equipment’; heating pads, full pill boxes packed to the brim with medicines and supplements. We take extra fiber, we have ice bags and knee braces for sore knees and joints. We have CBD creams, BioFreeze, stool softeners, lotions, potions, creams and more. We need our own pillows to be comfortable and socks with grippies to keep us from falling. Comfort is more important than fashion- especially where shoes are concerned. It takes a village for aging clarinetists to travel in comfort. When the hell did this travesty happen?

Cabin dawg

Yes, we need more help to get by these days, but we’ve earned our place as Silver Sisters. We have lived lives filled with love and laughter, but also heartbreaking losses and challenges. I know every wrinkle on my face has come from more laughter than tears. We lean on each other as we need, support the other when one of us is going through dark times. And while we may have to bring extra ‘supplies’ along these days, I can guarantee you that we laughed just as hard or more than we did when we were young; in fact, the laughter is even better now because so much gratitude is wrapped up in it.

We know how precious these times are, that tomorrow is never guaranteed. How much more rich is our laughter, our conversation, how much more poignant our tears are now, thanks to years of sharing our lives in friendship, growing to really know, love, and understand the gift of that relationship. To tell the truth, yeah, it’s great to be young and beautiful, but I’ll take older, wiser, and more seasoned any day- wrinkles be damned. Just pass me that retinol cream, first, okay?

Beautiful mountains.
My soul place.


2 thoughts on “On the Aging Clarinetist

  1. Denise, you and Diane are just beautiful!! I completely understand and could relate to so many things!! I am turning 60 in November and I am trying to embrace it rather than dread it!! Love your writing and sharing!!! Hope to see you one of these days……enjoy the summer!😊

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