May ---- the month we can take spring seriously, though frosts and even light snow have come in May. Does anyone make May baskets anymore? Those little home-made paper baskets filled with whatever flowers might be in bloom, and left on someone’s doorknob as a surprise? And what about May poles where children wind long, colorful ribbons round and round as they dance? However you celebrate the month of May, it is a wonderful time of burgeoning plant life, blossoming trees and longer days. Sun-up comes earlier and pops my eyes open sooner than the rest of me would prefer to function. In one of Madeleine L’Engle’s* stories, she shares a legend that in the jungles of South America, the monkeys, every morning, usher in the dawn with a cacophony of chattering and applause. They feel responsible to help the sun rise. Here, in mid-New York State, the birds take on that task --- especially the woodpeckers, with their raucous, “Woody the Woodpecker” calls.
As a child, spring was when I had the most fun exploring our acres of pond, woods and pasture. Our driveway morphed into a lane that went past the cow barn and then it narrowed down, bordered on one side by an old orchard of blooming apple trees and on the other by fields of alfalfa. Eventually the path split; the right fork crossed a tiny vernal stream and wandered up to a hill pasture --- a glacial drumlin actually --- where the view was wide and the wind blew one’s troubles away. The left fork went into a meadow, with tall hickory trees on one side, and a large stone pile on the other, where elderberries ripened deeply purple and snakes found cozy habitation. Continued walking would bring me to a small body of water surrounded by cattails, buttonbush, black birch, osier dogwood, and dotted with muskrat houses. Between this pond and our wooded acres, mounds of sweet violets grew (among cow pats, I must admit), and a bit further on, a small stream was golden with marsh marigolds and the slope under the trees, white with trilliums. I miss those acres, though I very much enjoy where we now live. I sometimes take a little mental vacation back to the drumlins north and west of Canandaigua Lake, where I learned much about myself and the world around me.
Mother’s Day is coming soon. For most of my generation, regrettably, our mothers have passed on, but we not only remember them well and miss them exceedingly, but find ourselves letting them live again through us, at least to some extent. Both my mother and my mother-in-law taught us that family was very important. Because of this, we are closely connected to our family members. We have a strong sense of kinship, a need to carry on the stories, and continue being gifts to each other. We don’t necessarily all think alike; we probably run the gamut in politics, theology, child-rearing and life-choices. But we enjoy each other, we respect each other and we love each other. I always feel enclosed in an aura of happiness when I’ve spent time with family, because the affirmation, support, laughter and tales in common, remind me that I never need worry about not belonging in this place and time.
Having worked for over twenty years in the Office for the Aging, it is also engraved on my mind that May is Older American’s Month. We are reminded that there’s strength in numbers and wisdom to be shared by people who have lived well over half a century. In some cultures, elders are given seats of honor in community councils. This is not so much so in our country; adulation goes to youth, money, glitz and fame. Most retail advertising and goods are focused on the young. We of the very large group of pre- and post-Baby Boomers, though, remain active and ready to spend on quality goods. Perhaps we should remind retailers of this reality more often.
Elders, it would be hoped, have acquired experience and ideas that might be helpful to the world at large (though some people only get old; they don’t learn). While it would be nice if those in charge occasionally inquired what we think, in truth, it is rare that those who others consider old actually give age much thought. There are several adages that express how quickly a life spins on: “Too soon old; too late smart!” is one from our Pennsylvania Dutch days and the other, more recent slogan: “I didn’t think getting old would take so a short a time.” But if we simply enjoy living, dwelling on age doesn’t occur to us. That is why the realization sneaks up with a “BOO” from behind! We may be going along very well and suddenly we awake one morning and look into the mirror, recoiling in shock; who is that person whose skin has taken on a crepe-texture, whose hair is dusted with silver and whose joints are stiff after a night’s sleep? We are jolted to alertness by this suddenly too old vision of ourselves. That forces some contemplating!!
What no one realizes, until they experience this transformation, is that most days, the self that peers out of the laugh crinkles around the eyes, and the cataracts within, seems to still have smooth skin and muscular arms ---- the same arms that lifted toddlers and threw bales of hay effortlessly. It still seems reasonable that our bodies are able to run and jump---until we try to kick up our heels with the Charleston or Jitterbug. We may have a few memory lapses in our daily sojourn, but we remember scores of things that never entered our minds at age thirty. Our inner selves are firmly convinced that “old” is just a minor impediment that occurred when we weren’t paying attention. Probably eating better, exercising more and maintaining a positive attitude will turn the tables. And for most of us “old” is defined as ten or twenty years ahead of wherever we currently are. (To support this, there is a 101-year old woman doing the 400-yard dash and shot-put in the 2017 Senior Games.)
Mostly this attitude is good. Sitting in a rocking chair and moaning about what we can’t do is neither productive nor cheerful. Scores of famous people were and are, still contributing to this world’s good, well into their 80s and 90s; statesmen, gardeners, artists, actors, professors and musicians. So, in this Older American’s Month, we need to go and do likewise. Fortunately, in the merry, flowering month of May, anything seems possible!
“The good mind chooses what is positive, what is advancing --- embraces the affirmative.” Ralph Waldo Emerson**
*Madeleine L’Engle ----- 1918-2007; American writer and story-teller. Quote from Dragons In The Waters.
** Ralph Waldo Emerson ----1803-1882; American essayist, lecturer and poet who led the Transcendentalist movement of the mid-1800s.
Carol may be reached at email@example.com.