Whether March comes roaring in like a lion or skips along blithely, like a lamb, any rural community is able to discern the coming of spring by the aroma. And I’m not talking daffodils here.
Unless it is too wet to get onto the fields, farmers will soon be spreading their winter accumulation of animal waste and the air will be liberally and pungently scented. It reminds me of the occasion our son, who at that time worked as crop manager for a very large dairy farm (1000 cows), called to tell us about his day. They had implemented a fairly new idea of piping the manure underground to eliminate the aforementioned odor problem for their neighbors. Unfortunately, the yoyo temperatures had created a leak in the system and suddenly, there was a geyser of brown shooting toward the sky. Since the farm had a creek running through it, this could have been a major pollution issue. He said that for a moment he dithered; shall I let it run out --- or should I call DEC….Hmm! Fortunately, his good sense took over and after turning the system off, he called the appropriate agency. I think we can probably be grateful that the farms around our community don’t number their animals in the thousands. And while the atmosphere, on the occasions of spreading, doesn’t smell like Chanel #5, it does remind us of the connection we all have to the land and the creatures inhabiting it; who benefit humanity in so many ways.
I’ve been re-reading some books (initially read in my 50s) written specifically for women in the second half of life. This time a disheartening problem leaped out at me; one I’ve also seen in most current magazines. There is a tendency to ignore any issues for women (or men) past their mid-sixties. Several speak of how to deal with retirement, that difficult time when you drop off the edge of the world as far as your professional associations go. But after suggesting how to proceed from there, conversation lags. Is it a cultural given that people in their seventies or eighties are no longer concerned with changing and growing? How very silly!! We may be grandpas or grandmas, but that’s not all we are. Gray hair, arthritic joints and etched skin seldom have much to do with the energies, hopes and intentions of the person inside. We may not be able to accomplish as much as fast, but we are still able to think, grow, change and share. And ---- we really hate to be patronized!! That’s quite a different feeling than experiencing respect and courtesy.
Just this past week, we were out for lunch at a restaurant which shall remain nameless --- for now. There weren’t all that many people seated, and most of them had food. Several people came in after we did. It was at least 15 minutes before anyone inquired about what drinks we would like. When the waitress finally came, since I had an appointment, we also gave her food orders. Then it was at least a half hour, perhaps longer, before anyone brought us either drinks or food. Meanwhile all those who came in after we did, had been served. It was as though we were invisible. Naturally, we spoke to the manager before we left --- trying not to blame anyone in particular, but noting that the restaurant needed staff training. We shall see what happens in the future. It is a place where we occasionally meet former college friends. They really don’t want to annoy all four of us!
Then a couple of months ago, we had another experience. Kerm helped me step up onto the sidewalk from the street and we were standing there holding hands. A younger woman walked by, stopped and smiled. She said “I think that’s so sweet!” At first I was clueless-------and then I was annoyed. She wouldn’t even have noticed us if we’d been twenty and holding hands. Did she think it was sweet because of our gray hair? I felt as though she had patted us on the heads and said: “Nice old people!” Of course, I half-smiled and walked on. She didn’t mean to be unkind and I was too ready for lunch to do an oration on the street. I wanted to read her a litany of the vivid, intelligent, capable people I know who are also “old”.
Now that I’ve vented, I do want to mention three individuals out of the millions of elders who have never stopped being marvelous, growing people. A gentleman here in our community has celebrated his 97th birthday. He’s home-bound just now due to some recent medical problems, but he hopes this won’t be for long. He was formerly and for many years, a railroad conductor. In his retirement, he has been someone who visits the sick, keeps track of people, sends cards, has a good sense of humor and is a devout and kindly gentleman. I would suggest that any young man forget his football idol and look to this man as an example of successful living.
I am also recalling a delightful lady; a volunteer and client at the agency where I was working. She loved to dance and did so right up until she became ill in her late eighties. At one event, she came dressed as Minnie Mouse and looked amazing. Before she died from the cancer that came so suddenly, she ordered out and had a pizza party with her family right there in her hospital room. At her funeral, everything was proper and sedate until her casket was carried out. Suddenly, the organist put the hymn he was playing, into a rag time tempo, and she was “danced” out as she had always lived. She is one of my shining examples for both living and dying.
Another friend, in her 80s, is peppy and participatory, and she wears the most attractive, sparkly tops I’ve seen. She keeps track of her family members, goes out to lunch often and is fun to be with. It may seem unlikely to someone under forty (as I must assume most editors are), but there are a lot more hills to climb after that magic retirement age, and many more things to do. I like the T-shirt I saw recently: “It took me 87 years to look this good!” Now that’s an attitude I like!
A society that makes use of the knowing and wisdom that resides in people who have lived and experienced many years, is likely to be a good and thriving place. Aging surely doesn’t guarantee wisdom, but overcoming many life challenges should be good for something. It’s a short-sighted culture that disregards such a large portion of its population. “If we are to achieve a richer culture, rich in contrasting values, we must recognize the whole gamut of human potentialities and so weave a less arbitrary social fabric, one in which such diverse human gifts will find a fitting place.” Margaret Mead*
We are three weeks into Lent, and we are headed toward spring in spite of our fluffy, white covering right now. It is a time to be grateful for life itself as it emerges in small ways, with tiny green shoots, with bird song and with a change in the air all around us. The joy of spring is well-expressed in a verse from The Song of Solomon: “For lo, the winter is past……the time of singing birds has come……and the voice of the turtle is heard in the land.”**
*Margaret Mead --- American Anthropologist; 1901-1978.
** Song of Solomon, The Bible
Carol may be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.