I have always loved Christmas. There was a time as a child when I believed in Santa Clause and fell asleep in the floor one cold winter's night, while watching out the window for Santa and his sleigh and reindeer to go in front of the moon! I didn't see him though and fell asleep on the cold linoleum. My parent's found me of course and put me in bed! The next morning I woke up early and sneaked out to the living room and found my Ricky Ricardo doll and took it back to bed with me! There were tons of presents, but I didn't open anything....just the doll. Later on, they all woke up and we had the best Christmas ever! My Grandmother spoiled us kids because my Dad was a coal miner and didn't make much money. She worked in Charleston, WV and she'd bring home food and gifts almost every weekend. But for Christmas she went all out! I got a set of real china, a table and chairs, my doll and buggy, a high chair for the doll, and paper dolls and coloring books and crayons! I had so much I didn't know what to play with first. But, in spite of it all, I didn't get that spoiled. I loved my toys, but I shared with my cousin Sandra and my friends.
Then as I grew, I did for others! Especially my Mother. One year after our Dad left us, I felt so bad for her that I bought her a set of beautiful dinnerwear, a set of pots and pans, a sewing chest, a new coffee maker, and so much more I don't remember. She insisted I didn't need to do all that, but I couldn't help in any other way. I wanted her to be happy, not realizing that things can't replace people. The pain she felt was intense. She had always been with Dad and followed him wherever he'd take us. He was in the Navy after the mines shut down and we moved a lot. But when the family followed me back to California from Minnesota, and he had to go back there and finish his tour of duty or request a change in duty, he lost interest in us. Said he felt empty. He then was put on a carrier and sent out for 9 months. When he came back home, he transferred again to Seattle and Mom refused to go. He stayed gone for many years. Christmas was calm and quiet...no arguments for a change. But she had no money and felt bad, so in spite of the things I bought for her and the family, the Christmas was rather flat.
I met my husband when he came to work in our office. We didn't talk at first. But eventually we started talking and he was a very interesting person. He told me things I'd never heard before and it began making good sense to me. I changed the way I dealt with people, not saying a word, just playing out the rope so they could hang themselves and not blame for it! I liked him a lot! We had great times together. We went to the desert and climbed the sand dunes and hills...I fell on my stomach and slid down Diablo on my stomach for a few feet. He had shown me what to do and I did just that. He layed on his stomach at the top of the hill and could reach my hand. He helped me get back up on top and I just started laughing myself silly! I think it was relief!! ha ha But, we hit it off and on July of 1975 he asked me to marry him! Said we could have a baby! Something I'd always wanted. So we did get married on Christmas Eve of 1975 and by November of 1976 we were parents of twin boys! Christmas that year was mostly just showing the babies the pretty tree lights. We made a trip out to our local Saveon drug store and bought a little fake tree. There were a few gifts we bought for each other, but not a lot. The grandparents bought things for the babies and bought a few things for us as well. But Christmas improved over the years and there were all sorts of things...big wheels, play dough, fireman hats and cars and all sorts of stuff. We stepped on them in the dark when we were checking up on who needed a drink of water or someone had to go to the potty.
But time passed, as it does, quickly and before you knew it, the kids were 7 or 8 and we bought what we could. We didn't have a lot even though we both worked. But things improved with time. I'm skipping around a lot because I just want to keep Christmas in front of your eyes as it is Christmas today, in 2014. Both boys were married and had 7 grandkids for us to spoil. Right now our oldest twin is asleep on the sofa and will get up early and go get his kids. He divorced his wife and the kids live with her. There are many presents under the tree and most of them are for the kids. It's fun and I am excited like a youngster even though I turned 68 just yesterday! Maybe I'm reverting back to my childhood! ha ha Whatever!!! I am determined to have fun for the rest of my life! I've been sick a lot, and it took the joy out of life for a long time. But now, well, I have my Christmas Wish, a sound mind, a healthy heart, and a family to love and surprise with gifts and much love! God is good to us and I always make a point of celebrating the truth of Christmas with each new grandchild that comes along. My sons are happy with their children and don't plan to have any more. My daughter takes care of Jack and I and takes care of our son's kids during the week. She is one in a million and I hope she really enjoys her Christmas this year! Life has been good to us. There have been hard times, like there is for everyone, but we are survivors and overcomers and we are happy and content with our lives. Christmas is a celebration of a miracle! A Baby born in a manger that would become the Savior of the whole world! Jesus, we love you so much, and we thank you for saving Jack's live last year. Accept our Birthday greetings to you and be with us here today and bless us with peace, love, and the joy of the Christmas Miracle, YOU! If you need good news, I couldn't offer any better! Jesus is the reson for Christmas and we express our love for our families in the best way we now how....with gifts from the heart and kisses and hugs for everyone. I don't think Jesus feels slighted! He received gifts as well...and was the most well adjusted child ever. But then,...He was special and Jesus, we know without you, we'd all be lost. Thank you for coming to earth to give us a way to paradise! Thank you for dying for us Lord, and help us to never make light of what your life meant to the world! We love you, The Tyler Gang!
Letting go of the familiar is never easy. When we began this journey a year ago, we had no false illusions about whether the average citizen had any interest in the odd reminiscences of a couple of aging grandparents. We thought our children and grandchildren might. We have a counter in the sidebar that shows us when people visit. Not comment. Visit. In nearly every case, the San Diego and surrounding communities that show up there are either me or Bonnie checking in to find that the counter has begun to read our own browser again. Other than us, two weeks between visitors is not unusual; heck, that's optimistic.
I will be 66 in a week. I have books to be written and friends on other websites who actually talk to me. I don't have time to waste on projects that fulfill no needs for me, so I am divesting myself of this one. Bonnie has been saying that she wants her own blog, and that's kind of the deciding event for me. She can have this one. I don't know what she might turn it into, or where she might take it, but I hope she finds her own audience, and they enjoy the trip together. As for me, my late-life interest is in writing exciting fiction. Do I have the chops to do that? Well, the curious can join me at Scribblers' Den to find out. To everyone else, thanks for taking the time; I'm sorry it didn't work out.
Now get out there and live life like you mean it!
As I held one of my twin sons the morning after they were born, I had only hopes and happiness for my young son. I looked at his eye lashes and the beautiful green eyes looked back at me. Such sweet innocence. I uncovered the tiny feet and counted toes, ecstatic that he was in possession of all his fingers, toes, and everything else. His heart had started to slow down because he was being born in the breech position as was his brother. They had to rush us in to the delivery room and get him out before anything else could happen to him. As you hold your first child, you are in love with the beauty and sweetness laying beside you in your arms. You never know what the future holds...but one thing I know, it is never what you expected!
As children, my sons were adventurous and funny. One time, in their walkers, they disappeared into the bedroom chattering away in a language only they knew, and we were sitting down to dinner. It was very quiet and Jack started to go find them. I told him to not look a gift horse in the mouth and eat his dinner while he could! He did. Then he called for the boys...still quiet... They appeared a few seconds later and they were looking like Zebras! They were striped in black and to our amazement upon following up on what they had been doing, we found the old typewriter sitting in the floor in front of our closet with the ribbon pulled out and twisted up where they had wrapped it around themselves and were playing with it! Jack was going to radio school at the time and he had to leave for his class! He was laughing as he left, and I told him I wasn't going to let him back in if he left me to clean them both up!!! Ha Ha I had to strip them down and bathe both of them because they were turning red where their skin was exposed to the ink in the ribbon! Once I got them clean, and lotioned down with baby lotion, they returned to their normal color thank God! They were always into something and they kept us so busy. When they were 7 months old, I found I was pregnant again, and this time we had a beautiful little baby girl.
Our baby girl was so sweet and calm. She didn't cry a lot, unlike her noisy brothers, and she was content to just be held close and loved. She'd lay quietly in her crib when I'd be cleaning up the house, and she was so sweet and delicate. She was a healthy baby, and we have a picture somewhere of her brothers hugging her from each side... she was completely blind with their arms in front of her face!
Life was hectic to say the least. After the 3 months I got to spend with them, I had to go back to work, and then the fun really started! We had to get them dressed in the morning besides getting ourselves decent and get them into their car seats and feed them as we were rushing around trying to get other things done. I had to make sure the oatmeal was out of my hair, and I had my glasses on, and my pant's zipped...Jack always seemed to have it together. Where he got the calm to do that, would be something I discovered much later in our relationship. I learned from him, something so fantastic, that it doesn't even come close to being described. But I digress. Once the kids were dressed and fed, and we had our lunches made and ready to go, we took them to their sitter and were off to the races once more. At night, we'd pick them up, take us all home, and put our TV dinners in the over while we fed them and got them cleaned up and ready for bath time or pajama time. Our lives were hectic as I stated before...but it was fun too!
I loved every minute of it! It was taxing, tiring, but rewarding too when they would lay their little head's down under your chin and cuddle. So very precious. We had no idea of the turmoil we'd run into later. It is never expected. Never planned for. Alex turned out to have asthma and we had to move to a drier and warmer climate so we moved out to Spring Valley. We found a nice little apartment and moved us in. Alex seemed to get better and still had a cough, but not the difficulties he had had at the old place. Brian was fine, no ill effects from their difficult birth, and Sidra was still our sweet and happy little girl. They were rough, the boys were that is, and Sidra would crawl around after them but they were too fast for her. When she started learning to walk, she'd stand up teetering on her little wobbly legs, and they'd rush past her playing and down she'd go. It was so cute Jack made a cartoon of it. She loved her brothers, but they were bigger and not inclined to play with girls. When she was smaller, they liked to brush her hair and they'd always tell me when she was awake if I didn't hear her. They'd come and bring a bottle and tell me "Baby hungry mommy...baby hungry!" But as they grew, she was left behind in a cloud of dust. Our sweet little girl was the apple of her daddy's eye and she always wanted him to hold her if she was sick. She'd lay on his tummy on the floor while he was watching TV and they grew so close. She was in love with Daddy and it was so sweet to observe. I loved them all so very much.
As we moved from place to place, we eventually found a house in what we thought was a good neighborhood. It was a quiet little place with lots of children for them to play with. They grew quickly the first summer we moved into the house. They changed 3 sizes as a matter of fact. But as they grew, the neighborhood got tougher and meaner. There were gangs and all sorts of things that we never expected. Our precious babies, were babies no more and they were drastically influenced by the people around us. We should have moved. I don't know why we didn't. We eventually had to send one of our sons to Arizona to live with my sister because he was being targeted by some roughians who wanted to shoot him! I was still working and could not be at home with them. They were delivered to the sitters until they were 12 and entering middleschool. Then we had decided they were old enough to be alone after school and we got home about an hour or hour and a half after they were home. Sidra was 10 and she was ok too with being alone until we got home. So different from the little innocent babies we took home with us from the hospital. We loved our children very much and we had to be strict with them. But the damage that was done in their formative years was devastating. So different from the things I had dreamed of. You never know what lies ahead...the future is promised to no one.
But before that came about, we tried to teach them about life and the things that would make them strong. I think that when it came down to it, somewhere in the realms of their soul's, they knew that what they were into was not right. We had to employ "tough-love" to get their attention. How did it all go wrong?... I think we could have avoided a lot of it by moving to a different area. I at least take some partial credit for the things they got into. I had my own personal problems and life to sort out as well, but I never stopped loving them or being concerned for their well-being. Our one son did well in my Sisters care. But her husband and he did not get along after a while and he had to come back home.
I had to keep working, and the toll it took on me was a big one. The stress at work and home was enough for me...I couldn't handle much more. Then one day at work, I was asked to carry a computer up 2 flights of stairs, and they weren't little computers at the time. I began having neck pain and a tightness in my chest and an excruciating pain in my back. It took 3 days to finally get the help I needed as the pain would come and go and come back again. The third day, my son Alex called 911 and they took me to emergency where they discovered it was indeed a heart attack. They put me in the ICU and gave me meds to dissolve the blood clot. That led to an angiogram where they discovered 7 blockages in my heart and one of them had covered 70% of the room In my artery for the blood to pass through and that's where the blood clot got stuck. I was put on heart medications, high blood pressure med's, and aspirin and a non-fat, low-Cholesterol diet. I survived all that and the strength I got to face it all and overcome it, was the love my family had for me. I think the heart attack changed my life and theirs as well. It was a sobering experience for them to go through.
But today, things are different still! The boys grew out of their life-style, began being serious about doing something with their lives, met girls, got married and have given us 7 grandchildren. They are both good Dad's and their kids love them. I was able to retire and stay at home at the age of 48, and Jack has kept working until he got so sick earlier this year. He recovered thank God, and has since returned to work. But by all rights he should be home where he could write his books and enjoy life. He is the toughest person I know. He has been my saving grace after all these years. We have been together 39 years this coming Christmas Eve. I have learned to value many things, and I have gotten past so many devastating times in my life...but my family has been there all the way. That's why I am still here. Their love, and all the other experiences have made us stronger than we ever thought possible and I am thankful and happy to say that things have changed a lot and life has become rewarding for us. You never know what the future holds. Be prepared, that in your wildest dreams, the things that can happen are not in your control. Life is difficult for all of us...but the things we learn are what make us who we are...strong or weak...the choice is ours. Our wonderful daughter is with us, and takes care of me and her Dad now. She handles the finances, and does the things we cannot do any more. We love all our kids, and in the end, that's what matters. That's what holds us together. The Tyler Gang........
No one who knows the first thing about me can separate me from my love of books. An only child (for my first nine years) who was taught early to rely on myself, it's hardly surprising that most of my childhood friends were of the print variety. For that reason, I thought I'd share some of the most memorable ones, the ones that had a lot to do with who I became, here. There is also the fact that modern kids don't want to read anything that isn't composed of two or three incomplete sentences on a screen, so maybe one will stumble across this and see what he's missing.
Grandma had me reading by the age of three. . . During three; before four. She must have read to me a lot to have produced that effect, but what I remember is reading the Sunday Funnies upside down as she read to me with them on her lap. I was way too young to get the humor, and to this day, I rarely laugh when I read humorous material, but it counted. It was the ability to read, and I was on my way. I have spoken harshly of the Grandmas in these posts, and I stand by my opinions, but that's one thing I can place on their side of the balance sheet: They understood the value of literacy, and made sure I had it before I ever walked out the door to head for school.
I remember having quite a shelf of Little Golden Books, a line of children's books from the 1940s and 50s. They weren't challenging, but were "comfort reads," and I would read them over and over as a small child, escaping into a world where everything came out all right on the last page.
I had two high-quality books from Great-grandma's Victorian childhood that were just fabulous. Uncle Wiggily's Travels was one of a series about an anthropomorphized rabbit teaching morality lessons to his niece and nephew, and the first edition of Aesop's Fables with its intricate lithographs was a dream come true for a child; I have to love those Victorians!
When I checked into Sunset View Elementary School in San Diego to start the third grade, they had
converted a small unused office into a library for the students. There I discovered the All About Books. These were science books for schoolkids that explained everything from dinosaurs to space travel in
terms that preteens could easily grasp, and these ignited an interest in how things work that is with me to this day.
Growing up in the 1950s, all of us kids were steeped in and surrounded by stories, first hand accounts by our own family members and those of friends, who had defeated Germany and Japan. War was glorified in that period, and it seemed with good reason; it took Viet Nam to beat that out of us, but the literature of the day was heavy with stories of everyday heroes, the shop clerks and farm boys who had put down their schoolbooks and marched off to fight and defeat the professional military forces of two of the most brutal tyrannies the world has ever seen. The Last Parallel was the war diary of Martin Russ, a marine corporal in the Korean War. It was a book of spooky creeping through no-man's-land, sitting in your bunker listening to rustling sounds in the darkness to the front, wondering if it's a human wave attack forming up, and the raucous liberty calls behind the lines that broke up the tension. I had, and still have, a tremendous admiration for The Corps, but the book that was instrumental in bringing me into the navy was United States Destroyer Operations in World War II by Theodore Roscoe. A stilted, institutional title devoid of romance, yet in his soaring prose, Roscoe caught the romance of the sea, and of heroic battle against impossible odds, and did as much as any other factor to make me a sailor. I found this book, and its companion volume, Submarine Operations, in a used bookstore years after my service. I bought them both, and have read them cover-to-cover at least twice each.
Once every couple of weeks, Grandma would put up an expedition to "The Goody," by which she meant our local Goodwill and Salvation Army stores. I put in my share of time in the toy bins to be sure, but they had something else there that I found more interesting: A mile-long set of bookshelves boasting people's discards from every field of interest. It was on one of these expeditions that I encountered a gem called The Seagoing Tank. Published in 1924 by Roy J. Snell, this was the fourth installment in The Radio Phone Boys series. The Radio Phone Boys were a group of friends who were interested in the relatively new technology of ham radio, and in this particular installment, they joined an inventor to drive across the floor of the Pacific Ocean in what could loosely be described as a watertight RV. We know today (and suspected then) that the science was ludicrous, and they got the details of the ocean floor all wrong, but that wasn't the point. I hung on every word like I was there living it myself, and encountering this book was what sent me running for Rudyard Kipling, Robert Louis Stevenson, and anyone else who could tell a rollicking good adventure story. It is hardly surprising that this remains the kind of story that I write today. Today's authors are through writing them. I'm not through liking them, though, and so I write them myself. If the reception they have received from everyone who has read them is any indication, there is still a market for the good old stuff.
Since then, I have found science fiction, fantasy, mystery, horror, and the trend I have identified is that my reading takes me further and further into escapism, and further and further from an increasingly ugly world. I have always said that I feel deeply sorry for everyone who does not read fiction of some kind; they only get to live one life. Every time I turn on the news, that feeling becomes stronger. So for those of you who have yet to discover the fabulous worlds that live just behind your eyes, find a good book, one that looks like it will hold your interest because of its characters, situations, backdrop, or whatever, and take a journey inside. I promise you'll be amazed at what you find there. Those of you who read, you already know what I'm talking about. Happy adventuring!
Now get out there and live life like you mean it!
Today I am going to talk about that big, ugly thing that we learn at our parents' knee, that serves to divide us from the moment we lay eyes on one another, and that is used to divide us by politicians, law enforcement, fanatics, and just generally underhanded individuals who find us easier to manipulate if we can be kept at each others' throats... Race. Why would I want to have this discussion, you may ask? Because the attitudes we hold in this arena are a key component of who you are, and my purpose here is to tell the kids and grandkids who the old man is... This cannot be avoided, so here we go:
BACKGROUND: First of all, race, in the sense that it is used in modern society, is a misnomer. We are all members of the Human race, with far more things that unite us than divide us. When someone says his race is Native American, what he means is that his ethnicity is Native American. Using the term "race" to separate humans into Africans, Orientals, and so forth is a relatively recent construct dating back to the Colonial Era when, through a series of coincidental accidents of geography and disease (see Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond), Europeans got a leg up on the competition and set out to explore the world. Needing a system to describe the inferiority of all the varied and differing cultures they came up against, and a justification for destroying and enslaving many of them, they invented the modern concept of Race, and the seeds of many of our current problems were planted.
WHO AM I? Ethnically, I am a northern European, with genes harkening back to the British Isles and Scandinavia. Many generations ago, my ancestors came to the New World and settled in the American south, which almost certainly means there was an African-American or two in the family tree somewhere. My skin is slightly darker than the pure European, and I tan more quickly and evenly during periods of high sunshine. There is possibly a bit of Native American as well, but I do not hail from a family who spoke of such abomination.
HOW WAS I RAISED? Ethnically, as someone blessed and fortunate to be a member of the "best" race. Four generations back, my family consisted of slave-owners, and I was taught all about how inferior blacks, African-Americans, were, not because it was their fault, they just were. Any other less-than-white race was considered a failed attempt to be white. Grandma was virulent about it, tossing terms like "spooks, spades," and of course, the n-word about as casually as you might talk about rats and roaches. Great-grandma, who was the closest to the slavers as I got to meet, just viewed being not-white as a handicap, and "not their fault." An incident from my childhood will be instructive: Variety shows were common during my youth, and a frequent guest on these shows was Sammy Davis Jr., an African-American of superlative talent in the fields of singing, dancing, and acting. He had very black skin, and when he smiled, his teeth naturally made a brilliant contrast. As a small child, I once remarked on this, and Great-Grandma just casually said, "That's the only white thing they have, so naturally they take care of them." Astounding.
HOW WAS I AFFECTED BY THIS? I was incredibly fortunate to have grown up in an all-white enclave. I say fortunate because, not being exposed to very dark-skinned people at a young age, this was all more or less academic to me. Had I had African-American classmates at that age when a child just says what's on his mind, I shudder to think of all the trouble I might have gotten myself into, and the attitudes I might carry to this day because of it. Being in southern California, there were Mexicans, but as the Grandmas had nothing to say on that subject, I had no attitudes to be cured of, in fact, my first neighborhood friend was a Mexican-European whose Mexican mother was the very picture of nurturing, caring grace. I didn't learn first-hand about African-Americans until I served in the navy, and what I learned was that they were complex individuals most remarkably like myself. Of course, I didn't get along with some of them, but I didn't get along with people of many races, white included, and the reasons had nothing to do with their ethnicity. The legacy the Grandmas left me with is that I know all the words, and one will pop out once in a while, fortunately so far, very much in private, and usually in regard to some non-functioning inanimate object as opposed to another human being. I never acquired the idea that I'm better than anyone else, and that may be attributable to the Grandmas as well, who never missed a chance to say something charming such as, "You can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear," "You can tell a Tyler, but you can't tell him much," and "You can take the boy out of the country, but you can't take the country out of the boy (especially weird, as I've never lived a single day outside a major city)."
SO, WHAT CAUSES PREJUDICE? In my case, the Grandmas worked diligently to instill it. I thank God every time the subject comes up that it didn't take, but I think the main factor is in-home training. We are all inclined to be Chauvinistic; I live in a better city than you do, the sports team I support is better than yours, I dress nicer than you. I think it is human nature to compare one's self to others, and put any perceived difference down to the other's inferiority. Add parental training to that, and outside factors such as media coverage (look at the rhetoric in the way the current immigration stalemate is being covered for an example) and the attitudes of others that you meet who have had their own training, and the wonder is that we've gotten as far as we have.
WHAT NEEDS TO BE DONE TO FIX IT? The great minds of the human race, from Martin Luther King to the Kennedys, have worked on this for over half a century. Does anyone think some random blogger has the answer? Personally, I think it's hopeless in our present situation. What first has to happen is for parents to stop passing their racial bigotry down to the next generation, and that is very difficult. See, parents don't sit their children down for a talk, and tell them all about the problems being caused by all these other, inferior races. They show them, by attitude and example, a hundred times a day. How is anyone going to fix that? People aren't even aware that they're doing it. The media could tone down the rhetoric, but what gets higher ratings, a reasoned, balanced report of the facts, or film coverage of two angry mobs facing off with chants and signs? Yeah, doesn't look like that's going away any time soon... So it's an individual issue. To fix this, every single one of us would have to adopt the attitude that we aren't going to act like bigots. Just for today, I'm not going to use any racial slurs, I'm not going to assume that someone is stupid or evil because their skin is a different shade from mine, I'm not going to act like an @$$hole, just for today. And then I'm going to do it again tomorrow. As someone raised and taught to be a racist, that strategy has gotten me through 65 years of living. Sure, I make mistakes, I have slip-ups, but I also have good friends in every ethnic group on the planet, and the benefits far outweigh the shortages. Of course, it's easy to make assumptions based on skin color, eye shape, and the implications of someone's accent, and I don't see most people giving up those shortcuts, even if they would broaden their horizons exponentially. Sure would be nice, though...
HOW HAVE ATTITUDES TOWARD MY RACE CHANGED IN MY LIFETIME? I have seen a world-wide backlash against whites as all the peoples everywhere who have been exploited by us stand up and assert themselves. I can't say this is unjustified. People tend to want to get even. I can say that I have so far been spared from any personal application of this, and I think that may be because I have never gone out of my way to be nasty or abusive to anyone else because of who they are. I'm knocking on my wooden desk here, but hopefully this will be the norm for whatever is left of my life.
WHAT MESSAGE ABOUT RACE WOULD I LIKE TO LEAVE YOU WITH? Race is a farce, a sham, a tool of those who would divide us to their own advantage. The color of your skin, the kind of foods you eat, the clothes you choose to wear, have nothing to do with kind of person you are. They make you neither superior nor inferior to me or anyone else. Reverend King really had the call on this when dreamed of the day when a man (and women too!) would be judged by the content of his character, not the color of his skin. Of course, we aren't supposed to judge each other at all, but we all do it, and aren't likely to stop anytime soon, so just make sure that you base that judgment on things that matter; skin color is not one of them.
Now get out there and live life like you mean it!
I'm supposed to be working the nostalgia buttons here, writing about things as they were back in the Precambrian Era, you know, when I was a kid. But I'm going to touch briefly on the modern era, and look back on things from the here and now. I hope you'll forgive me.
In the fall of last year, I turned 65. A "Senior Citizen." That's an odd spelling for a term that is pronounced "Old Goat," isn't it? But, hey, it's English, so all rules are off. But the point here is to address what it feels like to be a Senior, give an overview of the march of life that I have seen. What a road it's been...
When I was born, in 1948, for the record, the great war against global tyranny had just been concluded. The bad guys, Germany, Japan, and for a while, Italy, had been resoundingly defeated, pounded into the earth never to rise again, and we immediately found them replaced by an even more sinister global tyranny, the Soviet Union. Thanks to our mutual possession of nuclear arms, neither of us dared move overtly against the other, so the years of my youth were spent against a backdrop of uneasy, distrustful peace called the Cold War. Every Monday at noon, air raid sirens would be tested in neighborhoods across America, and we were expected to practice whatever we had settled on as a strategy to defend ourselves from nuclear ruination. As wee tiny school children, we were taught to "assume the position" under our flimsy plywood desks, hands carefully protecting the backs of our little necks, so that the ripple of atomic bombs detonating over our local military bases wouldn't snuff out our fragile little lives. In the affluent neighborhood where I grew up, many families dug fallout shelters into their back yards. I understand these became great store rooms later, sort of underground garden sheds with radiation filters in the ventilators. Meanwhile, our surrogates fought each other to exhaustion in conventional warfare in Korea, Viet Nam, China, Cuba, Angola, Cambodia, Malaya, and probably dozens of other places I've never heard of. It went on long enough for me to grow up and take part in it, and it is a tribute to the resilience of children that we still played. We met in back yards across America, tried on every future career from Astronaut to Zookeeper, and if we were playing when the sirens went off, we just shouted over them. Maybe we quietly understood that if the world was going to end tomorrow, we'd better have our fun today.
But what about the other stuff, the march of everyday life that goes on constantly around us? When I was a young child, people rode on propeller-driven airliners that cruised serenely at 300 mph, taking a full day to cross the United States. Long-haul variants had Pullman-style beds above the seats so you could get a good night's sleep while your flight was in the air. It was a major event, and people dressed in their finery for the occasion. My great-grandmother flew back to North Carolina to visit the part of the family that never moved when I was six years old. It took her twelve hours, including fueling stops, and when she got there she couldn't just pick up the phone and tell us she had arrived safely. No, that was a process.
Like everyone, we had a telephone in the house. It was wired into the wall, and rang with a bell that could have served as the wakeup call on Judgment Day. A service technician came to install it, and that was a production. You showed him where you wanted it, usually in a hallway at my house, and he connected wires from the nearest pole to your house, installed a connection box, and attached your toaster-size instrument to it. Funny, the phone company always referred to it as an instrument, but the sound it made was far from musical. Anyway, once this thing was installed, you were given your number. These used to be colorful, almost romantic. The number at the house where I turned four was Atwater 1-5943. Children always had to memorize their phone numbers, because if they got lost, the kindly strangers who found them would have to call their parents to get directions to bring them home; those were happier times...
Anyway, once you had this monster sitting on a telephone stand, a purpose-built piece of furniture that held the giant phone on top, and had a shelf for your two phone books underneath, the things you could do with it were amazingly limited. You could call any place in town that you could obtain a number for, and that was the purpose of your two phone books. The Yellow Pages held the numbers of businesses arranged by category, i.e., all the car mechanics were together, the florists, and whatever you wanted. The white pages were an alphabetical listing of everybody on the grid. That in itself seemed pretty miraculous. Instead of hitching up Dobbin and driving the buckboard across town to inquire as to whether Joe's Diner served Peking Duck, you picked up the phone and asked him. But great-grandma had a more daunting chore facing her when she wanted to let us know that she had landed safe in Ashville. She had to call an Operator, an employee of the Telephone Company, usually a female with a pleasant voice, an aptitude for electrical engineering, and the patience of Job. She took the number you wanted to call in the other city, and began to lay a trail of connections from city to city across America until she got into your destination city, and the operator there could directly dial the number you wanted, and connect you through thousands of miles of physical wire so you could talk. And this wasn't cheap. You could spend the price of a good winter coat hooking up for a five minute call, hence the golden age of postcards.
Nowadays, as everyone well knows, I can take a 2-ounce "instrument" barely larger than a credit card out of my shirt pocket and dial up a Bedouin tribesman riding on a camel outside Timbuktu using a number I obtain from the Internet. Oh, and the Internet; don't get me started! Oh, well, too late. Computers were things I was aware of during my childhood. They were housed in refrigerated warehouses, and basically solved huge math problems. They were the 700-ton calculators that made the Space Program possible. Now I am sitting here in my living room typing on a laptop that contains more computing power than existed in America in 1955. It doesn't need to be plugged in to power or an Internet wire, and the potential exists for three-quarters of the population of the world to read these words within seconds of the time I push the Post button. The potential also exists for three-quarters of the population of the world to hack into my bank account or my medical records, and use that information to my detriment. Oh, but not to worry. I have a password to keep them all out!
But do you know what these things have really eliminated the need for? Education, or effort of any kind. Watch this. I am going to step away for a moment, and type "string theory" into my Google search engine. Hang on... Okay, I'm back. It just took Google 0.36 seconds to deliver 8,650,000 articles on string theory to my desktop. What the hell else do I need to know besides how to read? Every piece of knowledge that anyone ever dreamed of is right here in the magic box. Oh, and it makes shopping a breeze! Let's say I want to buy a bed liner for my 1999 Ford Ranger. Be right back... Hmmm. 665,000 results, which is the computer's way of telling me, "I found what you're looking for. It's on Earth." Many years ago I read Frank Herbert's sci-fi classic, Dune. Described therein was a fictional event called the Butlerian Jihad, which was a revolution that did away with computers. I recall thinking at the time, "why would anyone do that?" Now, well, all I can say is maybe Frank Herbert was ahead of his time...
Everything has moved on in this fashion, and it's constantly accelerating. Advances in medical science are probably why I'm sitting here typing this today. I am on medications to control blood pressure, migraine, ulcers, diabetes, cholesterol, and water retention. How long ago would these things have combined to kill me without those advances? But these days, the biggest problem my doctor faces is making sure the drug interactions don't kill me. So far, so good. But what I originally set out to do was to explain to my teen and pre-teen grandchildren what it feels like to be a Senior Citizen. I'll give it a shot.
Physically, there are limitations. I have a trick knee and a perpetual lower back strain that limit my mobility to a fraction of what it used to be. The bursitis (at least I hope that's what it is; I'll be seeing you soon, Doc!) in my left shoulder keeps me from raising that arm above my head without pulling it up there with the other hand. I have limitations on the things I can eat if I don't want to give myself some bad problems. We all know what happened last winter. I caught a simple flu that turned into pneumonia and almost killed me.
But mentally, I feel like the same person I was when I was ten. I get up eager with anticipation to see what the day will bring, and if I don't get around as smoothly as I used to, well, that's the natural order of things. I have lived each phase of life to the fullest. Well, maybe that's not true. I've never jumped out of an airplane, or ridden a bike with no brakes down a mountain (Oh, wait, I have done that, just not on purpose), but I have made sure that I've enjoyed every day, and that seems to be what's important. When I was 29, I was told, "You're going to be 30 next week. How are you going to cope?" It turned out to be easy. On the contrary, 30 was my license to skip any challenge I wanted. When my hooligan friends would dare me to stand in the road at a blind corner and try to dodge a speeding car, all I had to say was, "What, at my age?" It was the same story at 40. At 50, it was, "You've been around for half a century. You must be worn out!" At 60, I was informed that I was officially OLD! That's your opinion, punk. Maybe 70 will be the milestone that upsets me, but I don't see it.
So gather 'round, kids, and I'll tell you the secret as I've learned it: Enjoy the age you are. Milk it for everything it offers, then smoothly transition to the next one. If you can pull this off, you won't waste your older years regretting the things you never made time to do. There's a saying that I love that goes, "No one's last words were 'If only I'd spent more time at the office!'" The society that we have to function in requires that we have money to pay for the necessities. It's nice to have some extra to pay for the fun things, and have a cushion for the inevitable problems that will arise, but the trap is if you come to love it too much. I see so many people who feel like they have to work every minute they're awake because they're afraid there's a dollar out here somewhere that they don't have yet. These are the people who will spend their old age being bitter and nasty, because there will come a time when they realize that they've missed the whole point of the journey, and they can never get it back. That mountain of stuff you've collected, those bags of money, don't go with you when you check out of life's hotel. You are a tourist here in life. You came in with nothing, and you're going out with nothing, except maybe memories of the fun you had while you were here. So make sure you enjoy it. Lay up those memories of fun-filled days and years, and you won't die angry over what you've missed.
And reading this, I realize that I've just given young people the most valuable gift I can impart... If they'll only listen. Oh, well, I've done my bit. Now get out there and live life like you mean it!
Back in my youth I lived in a small coal mining town and had the run of the place. Folks there all knew each other and I knew no strangers. I walked where I wanted, played with cousins and friends, and always made it home in time for lunch and dinner! For the first 3 years I was the only child and I learned to love it! My Mom always had time for me, my Dad loved me dearly, and my Grandmother was always there to fix skinned knees and remove splinters. I didn't lack for attention at all. Then my little brother was born when I was 3 and I ceased to exist. That was a shock for me, because having been the only child, I was spoiled rotten! I would steal my brothers bottles, steal his pacifier and still being little, I'd hide somewhere and use the pacifier myself! I knew I was too old to do that, but it was my only consolation. My little brother was very sickly. He had a crooked spine which meant that when he learned to walk, he had to have special shoes that had steel toes in them. When he got a little older, he would kick me in the shins with them and leave horrible bruises on my legs. I still have scars. Once he threw my Mary Heartline Majorette doll at me and hit me in the forehead. I had a nose bleed for four hours and couldn't lye down because I'd choke on the blood. When he wasn't kicking me, he was throwing silverware at me at the dinner table! He pinched me, pulled my hair, bit me and punched me. It was all ignored and laughed at because he was "sickly". Bah humbug I say!
I was a good child. I did well in school, had friends, knew how to count to 100 before I even went to school, and we didn't have kindergarten back home, so when I was 4 I was in 1st grade. My teacher was Mrs. Rutledge. She was a buxom woman with red hair, and one day we were having a fire drill. She told us to all be quiet and that we would all line up and go outside when we heard the fire alarm. The little girl in front of me was excited and began stomping her feet. The teacher walked up to me and slapped me hard in the face! She thought I'd been the one stomping. Well, lest you think that all I remember are the bad times and the times of abuse and being ignored, I also have stories of great Christmases, Grandma's wonderful cooking, and the difference time makes. You grow up, you learn things about yourself and your family that sort of makes it all make more sense. We began moving when I was 8, and we moved every year or so until I was 18. I had to learn how to adapt, and I did. I made new friends easily, but school grew increasingly difficult because of all the state laws and rules and the school curriculum changed so radically. I got lost. By the time I was a Senior here in California, I had learned all they were teaching me yet again, and I decided to have fun instead of worry about grades! At the end of the year, I had decided I wanted to be a Court Reporter. I passed all the exams to go to college, and then my Dad came home from overseas and told us we were moving yet again. I was 17 1/2 and even though I begged my Dad to let me live with my best friend and her family and go to college, he wouldn't have it. No way was he going to let me stay. And now that I'm older I see the rationale in that. I wouldn't let my 17 year old daughter be that far from me either. We were moving to Minnesota. I hated the place because we had just spent 3 years in Kodiak Alaska and I couldn't go out side in the winter because I"d fall just looking at the snow! I didn't know a place like California existed and once I"d had a taste of the wonderful warm weather, and the palm trees, and the school and friends and so on and so on, I could not imagine living anywhere else! I cried through 3 states and gave myself a splitting headache!
But I learned a lot in Minnesota. I grew up I guess you'd say. At 18 1/2 I told my parents I was leaving and I boarded a plane, American Airlines, and flew home. I stayed with my friend and her family and we did go to college. But I became ill and my Dad went back overseas, and for a long while I was unable to do the things I wanted to do. I fought through the illness, although it would reappear in the future. I found work, and worked hard at everything I tried. I was learning about real independence, and it wasn't by being out from under my Dad's thumb. True independence is when you can think for yourself, do the things you feel are right in your heart, and take care of those around you to the best of your ability. My Dad left us sitting high and dry when he got back from overseas. He moved again to Seattle, but this time my Mom refused to go with him. She didn't want to take my sister out of school yet again and make her readapt to new schools, friends, and housing. I was getting older and moved out with a girlfriend to Imperial Beach. My Mom threw a fit. Called me the first night and told me that someday I'd wish I had a home to come to. She was very angry because I had gone in the house when she was gone and took my clothes and things and left. She knew I wanted to leave, and she had plans to help me pack my things, but she didn't tell me that. Things hadn't changed much for me. Housework was always more important than sitting down with your offspring and talking with them about their future and things of that nature. It was sick. I stayed gone for a while and then my friend decided she didn't want a room mate after all and invited me to leave. I went back home. I had not enough to make car payments and have my own place too. I had little choice.
Things didn't change much. Home was still a sick environment, my illness came back on me again, and I was out of work for 6 months. I fought through it again and returned to work. I'd been on my own mentally for 10 years. I paid my bills, helped my Mom out, and gave them money for rent every payday. But under the Doctor's care, I took his wise advice, and when I got my bills paid off, I was able to leave for good and have my own place. I loved the freedom so much I laid in the middle of the living room floor for hours listening to the music I liked, and feeling the warmth of the sun through the big windows in the living room. I was at peace for the first time in many years.
I met someone at work not long afterwards. He was very nice, very compassionate, and a good friend. One evening, a Friday evening, I went home, had dinner, and watched a little TV. Then I got the idea to call him and see if I could come visit. He said yes, gave me directions to get to his place, and I was on my way. When I got there he was doing dishes. I knocked on the door and he answered. We listened to music for hours and talked sitting cross legged on the floor. On the way out to my car that evening, he touched my shoulder and said, "Sometimes all you need is a friend!" I was touched. We went out after that and he showed me around San Diego till 6:00 in the morning! We had great fun and he kept me laughing the whole evening! He didn't know I knew how to laugh, he said. One date lead to another, and we spent more time together than apart. Eventually I moved in with him and we had more money for things we wanted. One day after having lunch together, he said that we should get married and I could have a baby! I was stunned! We did. We were married on my 29th birthday. He was 27. By the time he was 28, and just before I turned 30, we had twin sons! When they were 17 months old I gave birth to our daughter as well! Life was good. We had our hands full, had hard times, bankruptcy was in our future, and our son developed asthma. We moved. We moved several times as a matter of fact. We both had to work 8 hour days to make ends meet. Raising kids and working too was difficult, but we did it! We worked hard to be good parents, and tried to enjoy a little freedom. There was ballet lessons, drum lessons, soft ball, wrestling, and what happiness we could bring to our children's lives.
In essence what I'm trying to say is I had a very busy and chaotic life and we really had our hands full. Now I am Grandma to 7 wonderful grandchildren. I'm 67 years old now....and I'm tired!!! I decided today to carve out a niche for myself. I am going to relax, recreate, live life fully and to the best of my ability. I am fortunate to have a husband that encourages that. He doesn't mind if the tables are dusty, and the floor is less than spotless. He's bought me so much art and craft kits over the years, and I never made use of them because I was "too busy" with housework and work. Well I've been retired since I was 48 and I have no further excuses to make! I am going to finally take the time to stop and smell the roses before the roses are on my coffin. I'm so tired, so very tired in body. My hips hurt because I have arthritis. I have bad knees and it's hard to climb the stairs. I almost lost Jack the first part of this year. He was so ill he was in the ICU for 35 days and in a rehab facility for 2 and a half more weeks. I found out how quickly you can be removed from the scene. I don't want to miss any more time relaxing and doing the things that are fun from now on. If I want to go out, I'll go out. If I want to paint, I'll paint. If I want to sleep all day, well, I have a very comfortable bed, and if that's what I need, that's what I'm gonna do. I've been busy for so long, and for all the reasons you might expect. I always thought I had to be busy to account for the fact I'm here at all, and I have tried to keep up with things. Now I see that it just isn't in me to be Betty Crocker, and if we have burritos for dinner somedays, well we'll have burritos! My body is tired, my soul is tired, my mind is tired. I need rest, recreation, outings, movies, dinner out once in a while, and I'm also tired of dieting. I feel like I've been on a diet all my life. I know I've always been overweight. If that's what I am, then that's what I am. I am in good company. One half of America is obese! I'm not the odd ball. The skinny ones are!!!! For a change I'm with the in crowd! ha ha ha
Making time for oneself is essential. He never forced me into anything. He's been just the opposite! He always wants me to relax and recreate...I just couldn't work it in. I"d work till I was exhausted and then stare at the TV uncomprehending because I'd be too tired to concentrate on it. Just mindless sitting. Something happened for me today. I don't know if it was the arthritis, or my bad knees, or my aching back. I just don't feel it anymore. I am going to do what he's always wanted me to do. I am finding time for self. It's important. It's an essential. I've had a good life, a rich life, a busy life. I've done much, seen much, and now it's time to rest and recreate the rest of my days. Do I hear a "here here"? With out further ado, I big you good evening and remember to live life like you mean it! I copied that from my husband. Live for the moment! It's the only present we have. No past, no future. Just this one glorious minute to be captured and lived to the hilt! Welcome home self! You are a winner after all and not a loser! Take your life in your hands and really live it!
I turned 65 last fall. I have heard some people call the years from 40 - 65 "Middle Aged," which is true, I guess, if you're going to live until you're 130. But it's a useful bracket, nonetheless, and one I'm going to explore from time to time. By the time you're 40, you have been an adult long enough to know where you're going and how you plan to get there; at 65, you'd better have reached that neighborhood, so I'm going to share some of the things I've gotten out of the journey, and hope that if my grandchildren ever read this, it will give them some insight into the old grouch, and maybe they'll benefit from my mistakes... Of course, with that crowd, that's probably a forlorn hope, but here we go, anyway.
When I was 40, it was 1989, and my daughter was 11 with all the world laid out ahead of her. My sons were 12, and I was pretty much convinced they were going to die at the hands of the street gang that had taken over the neighborhood. Bonnie was... Never mind how old Bonnie was, but she was having a hell of a time with her heart disease, and being harassed at work by the this-is-a-man's-world dinosaurs in the male-dominated industry her career path had brought her to. She was a year from her heart attack, and there was no end in sight to our barely-getting-by existence. Up until I had met her in 1975, I had basically been a happy-go-lucky jerk whose life consisted of having all the fun I could grab. So, what had changed by 40?
Well, I had kids. That's the biggest life-changer there is. You either suck it up, become and adult, and deal with everything they need, or you disappear, and know for the rest of your life that that face you see in the mirror is what a miserable, self-centered a$$hole looks like. I'm still here. I couldn't live in incredible little studio apartments any more, and I couldn't spend money frivolously like I used to, but what were the specific lessons?
I learned that life doesn't move at my whim. Life is sort of like the gears in a transmission, intricate, complicated, and all moving in synchronicity to a end that you can't foresee. You can either get yourself in synch with the flow, or they will grind you up and spit your broken carcass into the drip pan.
I learned that, with the exception of firefighters and an occasional individual who you remember because it's such a rare quality, people are basically lazy and selfish, even those in positions of authority, and those whose job it is to be helpful. They will get out of any work they can dump on someone else, and you are at the top of that list. From President Kennedy's, "Ask what you can do for your country," to Lt. Kermit Tyler's response of, "Yeah? Well don't worry about it!" when informed that a huge fleet of planes was approaching Pearl Harbor; from teachers to cops to the guy at the DMV window, if you need something done, you'd better be able to do it yourself.
I learned that money doesn't grow on trees, and if you come up short, nobody knows you. We filed bankruptcy in 1981. Bonnie's other medical condition had flared up and her treatment had been costly. We had three very young children, our car had gone belly up after two years of ownership, and, like everyone knows, there were other bills to be paid. We tried to set up something with Bonnie's doctor, but his response to our efforts, and in full knowledge of Bonnie's fragile medical condition, was to send a collection agency after us. Did he care? To the extent that he didn't get 90% of his money, he probably did.
I learned, as you might imagine from that one representative story, that the only thing people love is money. As long as you're on top, everyone is your friend; the first time there's a little hiccup in your prosperity, you're on your own. I'm not saying I've never been helped, and sometimes that help has come from surprising quarters, but for the most part, your friends are your friends for as long as you don't need anything.
I learned, again as a consequence of this, to have a sense of humor about life. As Stephen King said in Danse Macabre, "Time is not a river, as Einstein theorized—it's a big f***ing buffalo herd that runs us down and eventually mashes us into the ground, dead and bleeding, with a hearing-aid plugged into one ear and a colostomy bag instead of a .44 clapped on one leg." This is reality, and you'd better have a good sense of humor about it, or you'll wind up one of those bitter, angry old farts who snarls at everyone, becomes outraged at the concept of children having fun, and dies alone and despised. Mean people really do suck.
I learned to be patient, for life doesn't move at your pace. "Everything comes to he who waits," goes the old saying, and I would append, "...as long as he who waits works like hell while he's waiting." Sew the seeds of the crop you want, tend the soil, and results will come. They may not be exactly the results that you want, but that's part of the fun, isn't it?
I learned to thrive in the chaos, turn on a dime, and make the surprises work for me. It's the only way to be, for events don't line up to enhance your preconceived notions of the way things ought to be. They happen to you, and like the star of a kung fu movie dodging arrows and blocking kicks and punches as he moves through the crowd toward the final boss, you have to dodge, deflect, and absorb what comes your way until you win or you lose. Well, we always lose. Like Jim Morrison said, "No one here gets out alive." What matters is what you accomplish along the way, and how you are remembered by those who knew you.
So, am I cynical? To a large extent, yes. Life hands you road apples every day, and it's a question of how many times you can be kicked in the ass before you figure out that this isn't fantasyland, and neither the world nor society owe you a damned thing. But it's also a question of how you respond to it. Despite everything I've said here, I still like people. I welcome the opportunity to get to know new folks, both in person and on-line, which is why I continue to post here despite the fact that our grandchildren don't read it, and our children rarely do. Friends? Forget it. Occasionally a stranger passes through and we thrill to see a new city listed on the counter. Did they read it? The counter doesn't tell us, but we hope so, and we hope they enjoyed it. Maybe someday, someone will even take the time to say hi to us; hope springs eternal...
For better or worse, I am the owner of a 19th Century soul. When I say to you, "I am your friend," what I mean is that I will step in front of a bullet for you. Sadly, that meaning has passed out of our culture. I realize that no one feels the same way about friendships any more, and yet I continue to seek them out, and I strongly recommend that you do, too. Because the journey is long and often unpleasant, but all that matters in the end is how much fun you had along the way, and friends are a big part of that. So trust, love, laugh and enjoy; just be ready to turn on dime, and always take care of yourself. Sometimes you're all you have...
Now get out there and live life like you mean it!
This is for the grandkids, the family, close friends, and anyone else who can keep a civil tongue in their heads! It amounts to an interactive book of memoirs, but only if you interact... so get to it!
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California has been my home since 1965. I wouldn't want to be anywhere else. I'm home to stay!
What is there to say about a ten-year old turning 65, besides, what the hell happened?!??