I’ve always been surrounded by old people.
I’m the 6th of 7 children & my mom is 7th of 8 children, so my grandparents were always, well, old.
My siblings (except for my little brother Nate) are all older than me, & started having families when I was young.
(I became an an aunt before I turned 8.)
Many of my aunts & uncles were like second grandparents. Most of my cousins are much older than me.
And, my mother has an affinity for helping people, especially the aged, so I have many memories visiting her elderly friends, helping to clean their houses, yards, & what not.
I talked with my Mom yesterday (she’s in Mexico with my dad, serving an LDS mission) & she talked about some of the struggles that she & my dad are going through because of my dad’s Parkinson’s disease.
He was diagnosed 7 or 8 years ago, but in recent years it seems to have gotten worse, better, then worse. His dad, my Grandpa Anderson, had Parkinson’s (my maternal grandmother also had it incidentally).
Our conversation got me thinking.
From an early age I’ve known old. I remember the shuffle of Grandma Bagley’s slippers & helping her get dressed in the morning because she couldn’t do it on her own. The scent of the bedroom–a mixture of urine, medication & mothballs, because old people sometimes can’t control their bladder at night & it’s hard to get out bed, so you know, need a bed pan.
I watched my mom, my aunts, & caregivers spend the last few years of my Grandma Bagley’s life taking care of her. I saw that you get wrinkly, you may have any number of challenging health problems, & your hearing often isn’t too sharp. (I still remember my Grandpa Bagley shouting, “WHAT?!” whenever my Grandma tried to say something from another room.) As an 8 year old, I was an astute observer of oldness.
And from this, I had a certain perspective instilled in me, which is–you’re not going to be young forever, & when you do “get old,” you want lots of people around who will love & take care of you.
Last night I woke up about 2 am for one of my many nightly bathroom visits (that’s how it is when your bladder’s the size of a pea).
I couldn’t fall back asleep.
I kept sorting through memories of younger childhood years–remembrances of my siblings, my parents, & grandparents,
especially my Grandma Bagley. I loved my grandma.
I thought of that lovely lady. Her gnarled, arthritic fingers, her snow white hair. Her warmth & gentleness. She greeted everyone with a hug.
She believed a true lady would never leave the house without lipstick, always wore a girdle (up until her late 70′s), & she bore & raised 8 children.
I remember as a 6 year old having her hoist me up the wood ladder to reach peaches high in the tree just outside their house, then later canning them in the kitchen with the orange formica countertops & white cupboards. I remember the tin roof sundae ice cream cones she always insisted on giving us. And her sneaky “sock” drawer filled with mini-Snickers bars. Her singing & reading to me.
She belonged to the generation that saved everything (she was married during the depression). She had about a hundred used margarine tubs, & even kept the plastic containers that donuts & cookies came in from the grocery store.
She was a strong, hard-working woman. She very much played the role of loyal housewife to my grandpa who was a sheep herder in his early days (he was born in a cabin with a mud floor & went to school in a one room school house), then a dairyman & farmer.
All of these things swirled around, jumbled, the way memories do in the haze of sleep & night.
The other day, Hyrum, my 8 year old, waited for me to get him something. ”I’m not getting any younger, MOM!” he said.
I chuckled, then I thought, that’s true. He’s not getting any younger, & neither am I. Nor are my parents, siblings, or anyone else for that matter.
I’m irritated by advertisements that show women in their 40′s or 50′s who say: “Aging? Not me!” or something along those lines (usually it’s to sell make-up or anti-aging serum). That’s a load of crap. We’re all aging, no matter how much money we shell out for serums & cosmetic procedures. Unless you’re Dolly Parton, Cher, or Madonna (who, despite all their work done, are benefiting greatly from the miracles of Photoshop, as are all other stars & celebrities, I might add) we’re all getting wrinklier, & more aged.
I guess what the conversation I had with my mom yesterday reminded me is that, really, very few things really matter–family, integrity, how we love & care for others.
That’s what it’s all about.
Bring on the wrinkles, life–my Grandma Bagley had a ton & I thought she was one of the most beautiful women in the world.