Noe Valley Voice December-January 2008

Florence's Family Album: Better Late Than Never

Reminiscences by Florence Holub

Editor's Note: The Voice first published this essay, by our longtime correspondent Florence Holub, almost 14 years ago in the February 1995 issue. Since then, Florence and husband Leo Holub have continued their New Year's Eve no-driving policy, as well as their walks up 21st Street to the top of Sanchez Street Hill. And in January, Florence will celebrate her 90th birthday, most likely, she says, with a visit to the new Academy of Sciences.

On Jan. 1, 1995, when we arose early and looked out our window at the sleeping city, I could not help but remark to Leo how wonderful it was to face the day without a weary body or a champagne-induced headache.

We stopped celebrating New Year's Eve 30 years ago, after a harrowing journey across town following an evening with friends in the Westlake area. On that night we had driven back to Noe Valley through pea-soup fog, the kind that allowed only a few feet of
visibility. Leo clenched the steering wheel and I held my breath, as the headlights of other automobiles--probably driven by inebriated revelers--loomed suddenly from the thick mist.

We finally arrived home safely, but vowed never again to venture out on such an accident-prone evening. And we have kept our promise, limiting our New Year's activity to visits with neighbors or watching the celebrations on television.

This New Year's Eve we fell asleep so early that only when the horns and noises of the city at midnight awakened us were we able to sleepily mutter to one another, "Happy New Year."

At the crack of dawn, we awoke alert, steady-handed, and able to attend to the task awaiting us: addressing our Christmas cards! Given the late date, we had to inscribe the blank inner page with a post-Christmas message, "Best Wishes for 1995."

We were midway through the process--and starting to feel pretty good about it--when we received a phone call from an old friend. She said that when she failed to get our Christmas card as usual in December, she had become concerned and was calling to find out if we were okay.

We reassured her that we were alive and well, and that she would soon receive our greeting.

Our card this year is a duotone reproduction of Leo's photograph of a misty eucalyptus grove, with one small solitary figure walking through it. We deposited these "Christmas" cards in the mailbox on Jan. 3.

Later in the month, on Jan. 25, I also had reason to celebrate, for this date marked another hurdle, my 76th birthday!

I expected to be doddering at this stage, but instead I am enjoying
surprisingly good health, as well as an extremely interesting life. Perhaps the latter ensures the former, but I have also found additional measures that contribute to a feeling of well-being, which I will share with you.

On my 50th birthday, when I was beginning to feel every minute of it, some kind friends gave me a book that became my bible. It was a copy of Adele Davis' Let's Eat Right to Keep Fit. I followed her advice, and within a few weeks my vitality began to return. Ever since then, whenever an unwanted physical malady appears, I thumb through the worn pages and take steps to waylay the ailment!

I quickly learned that in addition to
a balanced diet (long in green salads and short on sweets), a daily dose of vitamins helps a lot. Every morning with my granola, I swallow 1,000 milligrams of both E and C, as well as small amounts of A, D, and niacinamide, the morale builder. Also, at my age, calcium should be taken to prevent the bones from becoming porous and breakable. I get my quota by adding a couple of tablespoons of lowfat powdered milk to each cup of morning coffee.

In addition to taking vitamins, I exercise. About 10 years ago when my joints began to get creaky, I consulted a chiropractor who advised me that unless I began attending a regular exercise class, my muscles would begin to atrophy and my mobility would be seriously impaired.

At the same time, by coincidence, a friend urged me to join a class for seniors, conducted by a physical therapist at the Marshall Hale Therapeutic Center. There I learned gentle movements that strengthen the soft tissues supporting our bones. The exercises were so effective that I have felt no need for a chiropractor since.

Although the classes are no longer in session, I follow the exercise routine every morning. Before the first cup of coffee, I get down on the floor for half an hour, making the motions that enable me to climb the hills of Noe Valley.

Once I started taking better care of my body, I determined to give my mind a workout, too. Just by chance, I heard about and took our youngest son, Eric, along with two of his friends, to the children's art classes at the de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park.

While the kids were busy, I discovered the art lectures for adults who were training to be docents for the museum's fine art collection. Long after the boys had outgrown their art classes, I continued with mine, broadening my view of the world by watching the history of civilization unfold in the galleries.

For me, becoming a museum docent was like traveling, but without the inconvenience or expense!

In the '80s, the de Young docents were invited to give tours at the nearby Academy of Sciences. In preparation for showing off the superb nature exhibits, we enrolled in various science courses taught at the museum.

During one lecture in connection with the Academy's "Life Through Time" exhibit, our resident anthropology curator, Dr. Linda Cordell, was talking about evolution and how it was continuing at that very moment. As an example, she mentioned that the children of this generation were not sprouting wisdom teeth like their parents had. Due to the refinement of foods, big grinding molars were no longer needed.

When I related this amazing fact to our grown sons, they said they were not a bit surprised--they had no wisdom teeth either!

Another helpful thing I learned in these courses was how to envision where humans fall on the vast timeline of evolution. Our science instructor told us to picture the Transamerica Pyramid, with the distance from the sidewalk to the top of the building representing 3.7 billion years. Then, place a Ritz cracker at the tip. That little wafer represents the short time that our species has been around!

Suspended from the ceiling in the entry lobby of the Academy of Sciences is an enormous skeleton of a gray whale. When I lead a tour here, I stand beneath it while telling the school children how fossil records show that the whale developed from a four-legged land mammal who went back to sea and used only his front limbs to plow through the water.

The whale's front legs grew powerful, while his rear legs dangled motionless behind him, growing weaker. Over millions of years, those unused legs shriveled to almost nothing.

Pointing up to the two small bones hanging where the legs once were, I remind the kids to "use it or lose it." That advice applies to the big kids too, as well as to little old ladies like myself!