Sassy at seventy: Rediscovering life’s thrills after losing my husband

Jul 30, 2023
My head is spinning and again I remember my much younger self breezing back through Melbourne Airport on return from New Zealand – no Immigration, no Customs, no passport. No hassle, no headache. Source: Getty

Have you noticed that print is getting smaller these days? Especially print on tins of paint or silicone or oil or anything that requires you to studiously read the directions so you don’t end up needing more trips to your favourite hardware store.

I’m currently trying to waterproof a suitcase and several pairs of shoes for an upcoming holiday that, naturally, is in the highest rainfall month of the country I’m visiting. A fact I should have sussed out before I booked. But the money’s been paid and the warm clothing purchased. Yes, I know it will be summer in Canada and Alaska but that’s the equivalent of winter in my neck of the woods, and a bad winter at that.

I’ve devoured every travel article, searched out obscure and once-in-a-lifetime scenarios, stalked all my friends who’ve ever stepped foot in my destinations, interrogated my travel agent, and checked the weather websites every day, but still don’t feel prepared for my “bucket list” adventure.

This was the big holiday my husband and I had put the deposit on just before he was diagnosed with cancer. And then Covid-19 hit. And then he died. And holidays, like a lot of things, became a forgotten dream. 

Earlier this year I remarked to my friend Sylvia about a Canada-Alaska holiday I’d been reading about. “I’ve always wanted to go there,” she said. Before she could regret her offhand remark, I’d dragged her into a travel agent and plied her with brochures. 

Faced with two naïve never-to-see-seventy-again travellers, the agent rose to the challenge. We came away with an itinerary, a list of expenses, and a desire to tick off every exciting side trip on offer. Both being cursed with Duck’s Disease (according to my superior height-enhanced brother) we opted for the balcony cabin so we don’t have to battle the crowds on deck to get a glimpse of the glaciers as we sail into the bays of the North-West Passage. 

According to another friend, it’s a no-no to take food in your pockets when you traipse into Alaskan towns, as bears are known to sniff out visitors who are unaware of their preference for food that comes delivered. Now, as someone who requires snacks on hand in case gluten-free isn’t part of Alaskan diets, I figure I’ll just wear the fur hat I bought at the Melbourne Markets in the late 1960s and hope a bear will think she’s given birth to a rather weird-looking cub and nurture rather than eat me.

Packing well is a skill I’ve never achieved. I put everything I think I’ll need on the bed, look at my suitcase, and realise that my maths teacher was right – 45 into one just won’t go. So it’s back to Google and checks out just how dressed up cruise ships expect their passengers to be. Whew! I can throw out the evening dress and heels – apparently, Alaskans prefer us to look at their glaciers, and the only dance halls are those that used to be patronised by burly bearded gold miners and ladies trying to get them to spend that gold. Mmmm… Both occupations sound like hard work.

Clothing sorted, I start piling up my medications and vitamins, and decide I’ll need another suitcase just for those. There’s such a lot I wonder if the suitcase will need its own passport. Memories return of hitchhiking around New Zealand as a nineteen-year-old with just a backpack and a sleeping bag. I quickly push them aside. I was taller then, my knees worked well, and my bones were stronger. Goodness, if I continue thinking like that I’ll start singing “Those were the days…”

As the time gets closer the preparations tighten. Apply for visas. What? The Canadian government wants to know everything about me? Do I look like a terrorist? Is writing for Starts at 60 subversives? Don’t they know Australia is part of the Commonwealth? 

So much to learn. Should you tip in Canada like you should in America? How much money will I need? What can I take through Customs? My head is spinning and again I remember my much younger self breezing back through Melbourne Airport on return from New Zealand – no Immigration, no Customs, no passport. No hassle, no headache. Those definitely were the days!

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