Growing older has its merits. You’ve made enough mistakes that you are wiser and more thoughtful. You’re comfortable with yourself. You take others’ opinions and feelings into consideration, but you know what you believe and consider that when you make decisions. You’ve survived catastrophes and tragedies enough that you understand time and love soften pain. Despite physical infirmities and the fact that when you reference commercials, movie stars, and music of your youth, youngsters don’t have a clue what you’re talking about. Getting a monthly AARP magazine is a blessing.
That said, gray hair and wrinkles have downsides. One is becoming the oldest generation. The recent deaths of favorite uncles remind me that my husband and I are joining the ranks of elders. That’s hard to take when I think about how much I relied on these individuals for guidance, clarity, humor, and acceptance when I faced challenges or when I needed to know something about my family’s heritage.
An uncle by marriage survived the bombing of Pearl Harbor and served in the Pacific throughout World War II. He came home to be husband, father, and career teacher. Despite battle traumas Uncle Jay certainly faced, my brother and I knew only a kindly man who loved his wife, daughter, and a silly little dachshund. He kept an immaculate yard to de-stress from his classroom. To this day, when I think of him, I see Jay with hose in hand spraying down his already clean patio, watering his trees, or helping the love of his life with household chores.
My dad’s second brother Bob also came to maturity serving in the Pacific. He, too, loved his yard and garden and spent hours growing beautiful roses and luscious vegetables. I recall sitting with him in his front yard watching flocks of mallards fly in to feast on corn he set out for them every day. We didn’t talk much, but the pleasure he felt at these simple activities was evident. He found his peace in nature.
My dad’s oldest brother Seedy was a rough and tumble guy who’d grown to adulthood during The Depression and early Kansas oil boom years. When I consider him, I think of hard hats and rig clothes. My aunt kept reminders of his luck on a kitchen shelf. He and a drilling crew survived a fiery blow out, and the carbonized eyeglasses and tin headgear reminded me that life is tenuous.
This gruff uncle entranced his nieces and nephews by putting his thumb to his lips and blowing on it to make the brim of his hat rise. As a little girl, I tried and tried to make the same thing happen with my little straw cowgirl hat with no luck. I’d missed the part where he leaned back against the wall to create leverage.
Uncle Seedy always found coins in my cousins’ and my ears. Every time we visited, he mined a bank full of quarters and dimes out of these orifices. My joy in this activity continued when I took my little girls to visit him. Not surprisingly, they shared the family trait of sprouting money in their little ears. My aunt later told me a great-uncle had performed this trick with my dad and his siblings. Uncle Seedy loved passing on the magic.
Losing these men means missing their presence and their sense of homegrown fun at family gatherings as well as their wisdom and stories. After they passed, I longed to hear their insights about events that occurred before my time. They enriched my understanding not only of my universe, but also that of my parents.
It’s hard to think about stepping into their shoes. I don’t feel worthy or knowledgeable enough to carry their torches. I still can’t make my hat brim rise when I blow on my thumb or find money in children’s ears.
Along with the benefits of aging come burdens.