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Wednesday, October 5, 2016

On the Subject of Age

Taking a digression from the "How to Get it All Done..." theme for the moment.

The changes that autumn brings, and yes the analysis and introspection that the presentation mentioned above brought about, as well as a thought prompt shared by a friend who is taking the "30 Days of Harvest" ecourse got me to thinking. My friend, who is only now approaching her second Saturn return -- but who I have always viewed as a contemporary -- was taking aback by today's prompt: When did you first realize you were no longer young?

I have been feeling the weight of my years, more of late than usual and on one of my away missions while letting my brain wander during the drive I got to figuring out at what age in MY life was my mother the same age I am now. And my grandmother as well. I wanted to look back on how I remember their lives, to look through the lens of time at what I knew them to be doing, then and there, and yes (though I don't often do this) compare.

I am  68. My mom was born in 1910, so she was my age in 1978, the year my second daughter, Amy, was born. By that time my dad had recently died of prostrate cancer and she was about to move from Omaha, where they lived briefly during the end of his life so he could be closer to his kin, but where she really had no one she was connected closely with, to Appleton, WI to be closer to us. 

She moved into a "high rise" apartment complex for seniors, a couple of blocks away. I honestly don't know WHAT she did with her days, but keeping up a small apartment, cooking for one really wasn't much to do. I know she spent a lot of time watching TV (it had been a bone of contention between us for years -- since I was a teen and on a rare occasion when I WANTED to talk to mom, was told to "wait" until the program was over), that she did not like to socialize with her neighbors ("a bunch of  old folks who only want to talk about their ailments!") and that a couple of times a week she would walk the couple of blocks to our place and spend time with the girls. I don't recall her sewing much (the one hobby of hers that sticks in my brain) during that time, but she did make things for the kids after we moved out west, so perhaps it is my mind that is faulty. But in any case, there was little in the way of "heavy lifting" in the metaphorical or physical sense, in her life. No animals or plants to care for, other than an occasional house plant. None of the typical stuff that I take for granted in a typical week. I would suspect that her most strenuous activity was her walks to our place -- two blocks -- on the occasions when she had empty liquor bottles to bring! She steadfastly refused to put them down the trash chute at her place, even well wrapped in paper bags and newspaper, concerned that her neighbors might see! LOL

Grandma Katie was born in 1888 to the best of my recollection. That would have made her 68 in 1956, when I was 8. She died, I believe in 1964 or 65... I was in high school and not a senior yet. That would have made her 76 or so at the time of her death. And I honestly, as a 8 year old, who only visited her and Grandpa for a bit each summer, don't remember much. She quilted, and sewed... taught me how to use her treadle sewing machine a few years later. Grandpa was the one who gardened, but I remember her wringer washer and carrying the laundry out to the line in a bushel basket. She cooked from scratch, did a bit of hexeri work, but seems from my current view through time to have mostly been a homemaker.

So, maybe I shouldn't be so hard on myself. And let myself know that it's really ok when I hurt rolling out of bed in the morning after a day harvesting -- or planting -- or mowing -- or canning -- or chasing livestock of one variety or another. Or even the day after that. Or after that.

Because (and I am not feeling sorry for myself or fishing for atta-boys or compliments or sympathy) if I had been born in an earlier time (and not MUCH earlier, for that matter) I would be dead by now. For those of you who don't know, I was born with a major hole in my heart -- between two chambers that allowed the blood, which normally does a standard routine of rounds from the body to the heart, lungs, heart and then back to the body full of necessary oxygen, to totally skip the whole "lungs" thing. Not all of it, mind you. No one would last long that way. But enough that when my body needed extra O2 it just wasn't there. Like when I was a baby and got upset and cried... not enough oxygen and I would, so I am told, loose my normal pinkish color and turn a bit bluish. You may have heard the term "blue baby." I was one.

My mom was not told initially... but being an RN, she figured out there was a problem right quick. And saw our family doc, who told her to try to keep me calm. It must have worked, though I don't remember. When I was 2, we went to Chicago Children's Hospital for a heart work up. I have some strange, disconnected memories that must belong to that visit. There was only one, and that was when they found the problem. And also when they told my mom to "manage me" in such as way as to keep me from being too physical, to keep me calm, and to revisit the issue when I was in my mid 20s. In the early 1950s (my exam would have likely been in 1950 or 51) open heart surgery was not even an option. In 1955, the first open heart surgeries using a primitive heart lung machine were performed, so this was several years after my workup. The doc who saw me must have been aware of the earlier research as he was concerned, he told my mom, that the severity of my leak could likely make me a prime candidate for early experiments, but he was convinced that, with her medical knowledge, she could successfully manage me through my childhood and youth.

It worked, but like many "medical procedures" did have side effects. While I was not allowed to take PE in school (something I am honestly not unhappy about) I was not made to be, or to feel like an invalid. So I learned to pace myself and endurance and walking became my things. As a teen, participating in the school science club camp outs, I know our sponsoring teacher kept a close eye on me (dad was also a teacher, you know!). He was an older gent, thought regularly carrying a 50 lb pack, and while many of my classmates made like rabbits in the tortoise and the hare story at the beginning of our hikes, our teacher and I kept a slower, but steady pace and usually made it to our goal together and ahead of the rest, who were spent and resting. As a result of this type of exercise, I never found any issues of turning blue as I grew. Hearts are muscles, you know, and like other muscles, grow upon exercise. So if you call me "big hearted" I will take it literally. Mine is, so I am told, the size of an NFL linebacker!

So between being raised without physical competition (this must have been really hard for my dad, who was also a coach!) -- though I had by nature a very competitive personality, and as a young child, the use of food -- namely home made chocolate-peanutbutte fudge -- to keep me calm, I made it to my mid 20s. And had open heart surgery. And lived to tell the tale.

So, had I been born -- as me, to my parents -- in pioneer days, or earlier, I would have died. No doubt about it. If not earlier (can you really imagine pioneer life without stress??) then when I got pregnant or attempted to birth a baby. I have no doubt of this. So in a sense the last 43 years, more or less, have been a gift. As are my 5 daughters and the myriad of experiences I have had.

And on top of all that, I can haul hay and grain, turn the earth, plant, weed, grow and harvest, put by, and later enjoy the fruits and vegetables of my labor. I can run the electric saw around in circles and paint, cut cardboard and package wonderful painted blessings and prayers. I can walk goats and chase poultry (even if I do have to out smart them to catch them for wing clipping!) and spin and weave. And keep at it, even when every muscle in my body hurts, if need be. And sit in a hot bath with Epsom salts sipping my wine, if need be as well. And now and then haul my butt to Dover-Foxcroft to be worked on by my massage therapist. Not often enough, but it gets me by.

So maybe 68 isn't old. My dad might have a different idea. I know some "old Mainers" who would likely disagree -- and others who would not. But old doesn't have to mean you stop. Probably will mean you better get used to change, though. Beats the heck outa the alternative.