“In case you’ve forgotten, you are the child who delighted in finding wild flowers and funny-
looking pebbles and looking up at the stars…..”*
In our over-zealous push to be adults, we do tend to forget the child within, but my
thoughts usually wander backward after a birthday. This year, as most years, has been full
of challenges and good times. We are grateful that we can enjoy what we choose to do and
super-grateful for the friends and family who bring humor, light and liveliness to our
existence. In past summers, we might have been up to our ears in canning and freezing
efforts, but now, we are looking at a minimum of food preservation; a few tomatoes, some
tomato juice, and some frozen peaches. Down-sizing applies to tasks and tastes as much as
to actual possessions.
Perhaps paring down expectations for ourselves can be more difficult than shedding
possessions. I can easily give away porcelain or glass if I assume its beauty will be
appreciated. A couple of weeks ago, when our granddaughter was helping me clean cabinet
tops, I decided to not put back the blue glass canning jars that we removed. But —– when
several people have suggested that we should find someone to vacuum and mop for us, I
have procrastinated. Considering my unfortunate habit of creating piles of this and that,
imagining someone else working around those is a bit daunting. But then, why should I be
keeping all those piles of ideas for more things to do? And, in that same train of thought,
should Kerm be cutting trees and splitting wood? Possibly it helps him stay fit —- or is it
over- taxing his muscles and tendons? It is hard to know when to let something go.
Sitting/idleness full-time, unless physically necessary, is surely not a good thing for body or
mind —- so, one more area for appropriate choices.
Discernment is necessary for many areas of life. I’ve been seeing all the “back-to-school”
ads, and am thankful that I’m not shopping for school supplies anymore although I have a
weakness for crayons, notebooks and colorful pens. The “must have” list has, apparently,
grown. In the 1980s, personal computers weren’t yet common, and our boys didn’t need
them for classes though they did want calculators. What a rapid change in a short a time!
Our granddaughters probably can’t imagine functioning at school (or elsewhere) without
computers of some kind whether it be phones, electronic notebooks or lap-tops. And, as
inept as I am with technology, I have trouble imagining how I’d cope without my computer
for writing, for research and just to check the weather for tomorrow.
I am quite sure that we, as a culture, have turned our wants into needs. Certainly, every
generation of teenagers does this, though I don’t think this is exclusive to them. We’ve all
probably heard the angst-laden plea (and maybe uttered it ourselves) — “But I need this!”
Hopefully, age and experience help us move to a more realistic sense of what we need, but
I’m not so sure about that. On the news a couple of weeks ago, there was discussion about
the new trend for Senators and Congressmen; sneakers instead of more formal shoes. One
“public servant” said that he owned more than one hundred pairs of sneakers. Now I likeshoes —- a lot —- and I probably have four pair of sneakers, my favorite of which is falling apart. But one hundred pair, at $100/pair (and quite likely some are pricier) is $10,000 if my math is right. And I would judge that “need” for 100 pair,(though judging others is
inadvisable) to be excessive and ridiculous. Perspective again?
Because— mea culpa —- as many of you know, Kerm and I are fond of auctions. We enjoy
the bidding process, we like rescuing pieces to new life, and we enjoy the people-watching
although on-line auctions have made that difficult. My vulnerable areas involve beautiful
pink and green Depression glass or Fostoria hobnail pieces, fine porcelain in small flower
patterns or Spode porcelain. If there’s a red velvet chair or a box full of lace, I become putty
in the hands of the auctioneer. Admittedly, this is a much lower scale of spending, but it is
still often elevating wants to needs. I am happy to report that of late, I am pickier, and have
ceased to bid on everything that looks appealing. I passed up a red velvet chair just three
weeks ago! Habits are hard to downsize, but I’m working on it. I will never be a minimalist,
but I know that I’d feel lighter and freer with fewer possessions, after the initial shock,
of course. Two dozen old blue glass jars anyone??
Some days ago, we attended the annual picnic for retired 4-H professionals. This is always
an anticipated experience, just because in hearing the shared stories, we inspire each other
to keep on keeping on. These twenty-five or so people, ranging in age from mid-sixties o
late eighties, have never stopped trying to make a better world. They spent their working
lives creating programs for young people, and now, in retirement, continue to volunteer for
whatever community need they see, that fits their skills. This could be anything from
introducing the pleasures of camping to a younger crowd to counseling kids who have
landed in jail to making sleeping bags for the homeless. As they recounted stories of their
time with 4-H and their current days, it was obvious that all are living fully and richly. They
continue to be alert, interested, compassionate and a whole lot of fun. 4-H has a pledge:
“….My head to clearer thinking, my heart to greater loyalty, hands to larger service and my
health to better living for my club, my community and my country.” These people live this
As I look back at my stories, I am mostly satisfied and super-grateful. I know that many
people reach elder years with regrets —- even bitterness about some life events. But I
look back from 81 years, and find mostly fine memories. There are some things I might
change, but our larger choices have been good ones for us. I might have wished for more
patience, different responses to people, more time spent just enjoying those who are
important to me, paying closer attention to my intuition about people, less worrying about
how things will turn out. But mostly I am content with the twists and turns that life has
taken and would make most of the same choices again.
Part of my satisfaction probably comes from how and with whom I grew up. I was the
youngest of five and since there are twelve years between me and the next sibling up, I was
basically an “only child” for most of my growing-up years. But even though my siblings
were mostly out of the house, they had plenty of impact on how I thought and what I did.
My eldest brother, Frank, managed the farm, and his older children were close to my age, so
we played with paper dolls, made acorn furniture, built snow forts, and grew together. My
middle brother, Donal, was the most relaxed of our rather intense family, and he made me
laugh. He also taught me to shoot, and later, often stopped by my office for a chat. My
youngest brother, Ken, took me on a couple of trips, and taught me to walk on the inside of
the sidewalk, how to order in a restaurant, among other useful hints for proper behavior. It
was he who made sure, in our later adult years, that we all got together despite some
mobility difficulties. My sister, Betty bought me special dresses and shoes, and seldom
offered advice. Her husband, Raymond, checked out my dates with a discerning eye. My
sisters-in-law helped me sew, shared clothing and encouraged me in many ways. My
growing up life was not filled with wealth, nor was it perfect, but there was always caring,
all that I actually needed, plus satisfying of a few wants here and there.
Whether they knew it or not, my siblings and their spouses gave me perspectives on life
that are still part of me. They kept a casual eye on what I was doing, and were examples of
working hard to achieve one’s goals, and feeling responsibility to others. A down-side to
being the youngest, is that I’ve seen them grow older and pass on. While I’d certainly
rather they were still with us, they showed me how to do this aging bit with dignity and a
sense of fun as long as possible.
I’ve mentioned before about the value I think each person brings to this world, regardless
of their state of being. I believe that we are either still learning, ourselves, or being the
lesson for someone else. I would hope that Kerm and I have the sort of relationship with
the younger members of our families that gives them a feeling that they are always
welcome and will always be encouraged to be who they are.
Meanwhile, late August is the gateway to my favorite time of year — now through early
November. My spirit picks up energy, I feel better and I’ll be (in my head) skipping along
toward school buses, falling leaves and bidding our hummingbirds farewell until spring.
Maybe I’ll even be down-sizing my tasks right into a lawn chair where I can drink in the
garden sights and aromas. Bliss Carmen** says it well: “There is something in the autumn
that is native to my blood…….” I hope you are enjoying these final weeks of summer and
storing away good memories each day.
Carol writes from her home in Spencer. She may be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
*From “Sweat Pants & Coffee” by Nance Hoffman
**Bliss Carmen —A Canadian poet born in New Brunswick, Canada but lived most of his life
in the U.S. He was the great-grandson of Loyalists who fled to ova Scotia after the American