By Helen Rippier Wheeler,
Thursday February 20, 2014 - 08:18:00 PM

The Nugget—Berkeley, California’s North and South Senior Centers’ newsletter—refers to February as National Senior Independence Month. I’m all for senior independence. My eighty-eighth birthday was this week.  

Born “on the cusp” of February 19 is said to be propitious. An astrological cusp (from the Latin for spear or point) is the imaginary line that separates a pair of consecutive signs in the zodiac or houses in the horoscope. Some people consider that the cusp includes a small portion of the two signs, or houses. Aquarius/Pisces folks are said to be “selfless and spiritual, often strongly intuitive and receptive to the collective unconscious.” Ho. 

Old age comes on suddenly, and not gradually as is thought, contended my favorite poet, Emily Dickinson (1830-1886.) At 72, Joy Behar disagrees: Actually, aging comes upon you gradually, as does menopause and scurvy, sez she. I look back enviously at age 65, when I was perky and relying on few meds. Somewhere around 75, things began to go downhill. Atrophy is the word—dry eyes, dry skin, dry vagina, dry mouth. Doubtless, you could add others. 

It’s not my imagination that corn on the cob and watermelon, even in season, don’t taste sweet like they used to. And lily of the valley, hyacinth and carnations are no longer incredibly fragrant. Here’s the shocker: My primary care physician, with whom I have been associated since she began to practice medicine, is retiring!  

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, life expectancy now stands at 78.7 years. Am I ahead ten years in the game of life? Annie Delany wrote, “Turning one hundred was the worst birthday of my life. I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy. Turning 101 was not so bad. Once you're past that century mark, it's just not as shocking.” (Annie Elizabeth Delany, Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters' First 100 Years, 1993) 

Look at me when you speak—I need to see your mouth. Don’t yell! And where is the nearest, free class on lip-reading for hearing-impaired senior citizens (workshop, meeting, group, course, gathering…whatever the au courant term!)? There’s a market for books about hearing impairment. The large print edition of Katherine Bouton’s Shouting Won’t Help; Why I – and 50 Million Other Americans—Can’t Hear You is available from the public library.  

Meanwhile, Medicare continues to resist funding hearing aids. Part B covers diagnostic hearing and balance examinations that are ordered by a doctor (does this mean physician?) to access function, but it will not cover routine hearing exams.  

Sponsored by the California Public Utilities Commission, the California Telephone Access Program offers free specialized phones that make it easier to hear, easier to dial, and easier to call. CTAP services centers are located throughout the state. In Berkeley at the Ed Roberts Campus, 3075 Adeline St., Suite 260, Monday-Friday 9 AM-6 PM. Bilingual staff travel presenting the good news. 1-800-806-1191. Email To schedule a free CTAP presentation or event, call 1-800-995-6831 (Voice/TTY) or  


Out Late is a 64-minute production that looks at 5 people who made the decision to come out as a lesbian, gay, or transgender after age 55. Written and directed by Beatrice Alda and Jennifer Brooke, it was released as a motion picture in 2008, and as a DVD in 2011.  

Gloria is a new film from Chile. Not to be confused with Gena Rowlands’ 1980 portrayal of an ex-gun moll and showgirl suddenly forced to protect a child whose parents have been rubbed out by the mob, this Gloria is a late-middle aged, divorced “free-spirited older woman” whose life is full of ambiguity. Paulina Garcia won the top acting prize at the 2013 Berlin Film Festival, where the movie was a surprise hit. It opened in January in New York and Los Angeles, and wider in February. I haven’t seen it yet and am looking forward to the possibility of a DVD in public libraries’ collections.