What is lost

Yesterday I bumped into Elinor and Adam at the Farmer’s Market in Corte Madera.  Adam is a writer who’s just sold a screenplay and is working on another film.  I offered congratulations and they inquired after my family.  Elinor has listened to many of my toddler updates and though they’re not nearly grandparent age, they are enormously patient while I regale them with Caedan Ray’s latest exploits.  They know I live 400 miles away from the little girl and they empathize.

Adam, always a thoughtful and well-spoken advocate for his beliefs, introduced the topic often taught by Margaret Mead, about the value of generations living close together the way we once did, and how much the youngers can learn from the elders.  We three stood there on a beautiful autumn day and sighed about how we’ve never had that experience and how wonderful it must be.

Today, friend Steve from Portland, Maine, emailed a coda to yesterday’s conversation.

“Not a cheery household today.  Susie left earlier to go to Massachusetts for the funeral of a friend and just before she left we got word that my uncle, my father’s twin, died this morning.  For most of my childhood we lived in a huge farmhouse in West Bowdoin.  It was an extended family–great grandmother, grandmother and grandfather, my parents, Uncle Ellie and us kids all living together.  Uncle Ellie was an English teacher and ski instructor.  He taught us to ski as toddlers on the hill behind the house.  When I was a teenager he lent me his yellow Studebaker Lark convertible to go on dates in.  He was a great guy and we’re going to miss him.” 

It’s a mixture of emotions.  Sadness for Susie’s loss.  It’s always startling to lose a peer at any age.  Sympathy for Steve and his family at the loss of a dear relative.  And I also felt a pang of envy about Steve’s childhood.  His is the only story I’ve heard recently about such an upbringing.  Then, finally, there’s hope in both conversations.  Adam and Steve, considerably younger than I, are talking about the value of multi-generational surroundings.  If this kind of talk continues and spreads, is there a chance that one day our society can take a few steps backward and embrace this idea again?  That might be a huge step forward.

Ó By Anita Garner

Other People’s Kids

“All unattended children will be given espresso and a free puppy.”

   …Sign in a Mill Valley shop window

I like the owner’s sense of humor and I sympathize. It’s a tiny store with narrow aisles and plenty of kids roaming among the knick-knacks.   In the past, I’ve avoided some stores entirely until the kids went home.

It’s not the kids’ fault.  They’re doing what comes naturally and that includes testing all the rules and wandering away from their parents.  They bump into things.  They pick up breakables.  And if their parents look away for one minute, they’ll even leave the store with the goods.  That’s how kids behave.

I was always the person annoyed by screaming babies on airplanes.  I knew they couldn’t help it, but since I’d already raised mine, I figured I deserved a break, so, whenever possible, I moved to a quieter place on the plane. 

I like kids, but I was never anybody’s Universal Mama.  I didn’t try to befriend every child I met and didn’t rush to hold every new baby.  I loved raising my daughter, enjoyed it more than anything else I’ve done, but after she took her adult steps into the world, I was content settling back into my own life.

A few years ago I was sitting in the boarding area at San Francisco airport with a baby screaming nearby and parents who didn’t seem able to comfort her.  Without warning, something inside me shifted.  My first thought wasn’t the usual I hope they don’t sit near me.  It was why aren’t those parents taking better care of that poor little baby?

This small town I live in is full of children.  Every other person in the checkout line seems to be attached to a stroller.  One day I found myself making direct eye contact with a spiky-haired toddler with a messy face.  I don’t know what manner of sticky cookie had attacked him while his mommy shopped, but he grinned at me through the gook and I grinned right back and felt a pang when he left the market.

Suddenly all babies looked cute.  Even the homely ones.  When I mentioned this odd development to my friend, Sueann, she smiled and nodded.  She asked, “Are you just now starting to follow strollers?  John and I have been doing that for years.”  She said it has something to do with getting to be grandparent age.  Nope, I said, it couldn’t be that because there’s not a hint of a grandchild in my future.  In fact, the odds are definitely against that happening.  “Doesn’t matter,” she said.

One day you’re minding your own business, steering clear of screaming kids,  and all of a sudden every small creature seems precious.  Maybe the universe is preparing a whole bunch of us for on-call nurturing duty because a new batch of vulnerable beings is arriving every day.  And nature has been known to turn unusual species into willing caretakers, so that babies and puppies and kittens will all find care when they need it.

Ó By Anita Garner

Almost a book

A funny thing happened on our way to writing a book.  We stopped and changed direction.  Last fall when Dave and I decided to write The Aging of Aquarius together, we said let’s write about anything that’s on our minds, then send the essays/chapters to each other and email our comments back and forth. I figured that somewhere in there we’d write about how we both came from rock and roll radio to our new elder status, surviving the Summer of Love along the way. 

After we’d written for a year, we were about ready to call it done and then we realized we’d said very little about radio. Turns out we both feel our peers have covered radio pretty thoroughly in books and websites and neither of us feels compelled to go over it again. Radio weaves through our lives, but it’s just one of the threads in our story quilt.   

We’ve both made a living doing some unusual things, but we’re also part of something universal that’s way bigger than us.  We’re caught up in the enormous migration from an historic then to an even more startling now. Another weekend just passed, featuring another batch of stories in the news about the tide of boomers about to swamp our current operating systems in America. The numbers of us arriving at the same place in life within the same few years are overwhelming.  

I’d rather hear a story than a number any day. Not everybody has kids and grandkids they want to talk about, but everyone who gets to be 50 and then some, has an opinion or a dream or a wish or a regret or a serendipity to tell about.  

We decided to post here often while we’re finishing our book, hoping to get acquainted and see how you feel about aging.  I’ll be pleased if, amidst the compiling of the pre-boomer and mid-boomer and post-boomer statistics that’ll be pored over for decades to come, maybe a few quite personal stories from our book might cause someone to stop and think about the individuals who rode this giant wave.  

Ó By Anita Garner

Aging gracefully?

I liked old people even before I became one. Younger friends say hush, you’re not old.  Well I’m certainly older than I was, and I’m not that upset about it anymore.

Becoming a grandmother (”Hammy” to our toddler, Caedan Ray) isn’t what made me realize I’m aging. It started when my last parent passed. That’s when I first heard a whisper about my own mortality, a reminder that I haven’t been able to ignore.  Every day I think or say to myself – better get moving.

Occasionally I forget, and when I wake up and parts of me don’t work as well as they used to, (knees, I’m talking to you) at first I’m ticked off, but by the end of the day, I ask myself, what did you expect? Things aren’t brand new anymore.

I learned nothing from my upbringing about aging gracefully. My mother’s only advice about the passing years was to encourage the use of more moisturizer so boys will like you. She considered all men boyfriends and in her teens she married a man who, through some combination of mercy and grace, turned into a grownup husband who behaved like her sweetheart all the days of their lives. Daddy raised his wife along with us kids, and she clung tenaciously to the role of teenager, even in the face of some gritty realities.

As a southern preacher, he didn’t consider old a condition that needed fixing.  He believed in keeping one’s old people at home alongside the halt and the lame and the merely odd. Most houses in my childhood had a back bedroom occupied by someone who fit at least one of those categories. Our California Gramma, the one we spent the most time with, smoked and drank and danced and cussed and sang and bet the horses ’til the end. There wasn’t any talk of age at her house either. And Paw Paw, the southern grandparent who lived into his 90’s, didn’t pass along that gene to his son, because Daddy left us way too soon.

If we’re lucky, we’ll all keep getting older. When I got my first mailer from AARP, I jumped right into their arms. It felt like a kind of freedom. That was probably the year I began telling people my real age, even before they asked. There I was coasting along in the vague category of “somewhere past her mid-forties” and as long as my grown daughter, Cathleen, maintained her looks (and she does) then nobody knew for sure how old I was. Then came that AARP card and full disclosure set in.

AARP will catch up with my buddy across the page soon enough. I’m a few years ahead of him and I’ll be waiting right here to vouch for all the services AARP has to offer, the interesting publications and the discounts. I’m seriously grateful for the research they do and their fights to help our aging population learn how to make all of this work out as well as it possibly can.

I asked my mother once, on a particularly significant birthday, did she feel any different? She said what we’ve all heard a million times, that she still felt 18 inside. I’ve had several significant birthdays of my own since I asked her that, and now I know what she meant. On the inside, it doesn’t feel much different. And she was also right about the moisturizer. Much more of it is required. I don’t know if the boys like me any better, but I’m certain that Avon does. 

Ó By Anita Garner