‘Tougher’

I don’t remember the product – probably Excedrin – but I remember the commercial:

A thirty-something woman dressed in her best Eighties office clothes strides along the street and tells the camera (and those of us who were watching): “Life got tougher.”

And she catalogs all the ways life in 1982 (I think) was so much harder than it had been, oh, maybe ten years earlier. And then tries to sell us something to ease the resulting headache.

Back in its day, I used a reference to that commercial as a lead paragraph for an editorial at the Monticello Times, writing about how we cope with the harsh realities of life and how we sometimes don’t. And it came to mind the other day. My mom was in the hospital for a few days this week with pneumonia. She’s recovering, and she’s been transferred to a short-stay care facility for some physical therapy with the hopes of rebuilding her strength and balance so she can return to her apartment in her assisted living center.

I think she’s going to be okay. But my week has been a little stressful: getting her to the hospital and then to the short-stay facility; talking to doctors, nurses, physical therapists, social workers and case managers at both facilities; making decisions about her preferred location on the fly; keeping my sister informed about it all; taking care of some things for church; and keeping our house running as smoothly as possible. It’s been wearying. And during one of these days as I was driving from one place to another, I thought about that 1982 commercial.

And I thought, “Lady, if you thought life was tough thirty-four years ago when you were in your thirties, just wait.”

Then I thought for a bit more as I drove, and I realized that had that fictional woman in the commercial actually been living a big city, power-suit life, going home to a husband and kids in the suburbs, she’d now be – like me – in her early sixties. She’d probably be thinking about retirement and Medicare, worrying about her adult children and maybe indulging her grandchildren, and very possibly caring in one way or another for an elderly parent or two.

So, yeah, life got tougher.

But you know, maybe it’s always been this tough, and we Baby Boomers – the vast majority of whom, if we’re honest, had it pretty good and were pretty sheltered for our first twenty or so years – just didn’t know. That would explain the surprise and frustration proclaimed in that 1982 commercial, a proclamation that echoed what we were feeling out there in consumer-land, for the ways in which things are sold to us is a good a mirror of who we are.

You want tough? Consider my folks’ early years: Wall Street crashed and triggered the Great Depression during the year my dad turned eleven and my mom turned nine. Dad went into the army in the late 1930s, about the time my mom was teaching elementary school in a one-room schoolhouse with a woodstove for heat and no running water. Then came World War II. And then things got better, but it still took a lot of hard work.

So yeah, in 1982, life probably got tougher for us as we were dealing with the realities of the adult world that maybe surprised us as a generation. But you know, I have a sense that life has always been tough and we learn that as we mature and grow older; and we need to remember that there are times that are not as tough as others.

So all of that is what I’ve been pondering as I make my way from one task to another this week, aware through the worry, the frustration and the fatigue that maybe life got tougher for me, yeah, but I’m coping, as most of us find a way to do.

And here are Long John Baldry & The Hoochie Coochie Men with “Times Are Getting Tougher Than Tough” from 1964.

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