© Another Day in the Country
It was a perfectly innocent question. An inquiry. My daughter was interested, curious, wondering. She’d be leaving for California in a few days. Let’s look toward the future, plan our next outing, write on the calendar some doable date to make this parting-of-the- ways seem trivial.
“Do you have any plans for your 75th birthday?” she asked. “Anything special?” I looked at her inquiringly.
“My 75th?” I did a dismissive shrug. “I’ve a little time to think about it,” laughing. “In fact, it hasn’t even crossed my mind.” I was ready for the next topic of conversation.
“It’s this year, isn’t it?” she persisted. “You were born in 1937, right? This is 2012, right? Do the math, Mom.”
I sat at the table doing the math. Really? In August, I was going to be 75. All this time — meaning all this time since my last birthday, if I thought about it at all, which I really didn’t all that much — I had in my head that this birthday, in August 2012, was going to be my 74th birthday and here I discover that I just up and lost a year somewhere and I’m about to (about to being a euphemism because it is a whole 8 months away) turn 75, a pretty important number, in my book, for some reason.
Admittedly, you just read a pretty long sentence. Are you still with me?
Am I being avoidant, dodging the issue that I’m older? Or, at least older than I thought. Seriously, older than I feel. Honestly, older than I could have imagined in my long-ago youth. Comparatively speaking, I’m almost done, get your affairs in order, at 75. And I thought I had at least another year to hit that landmark.
It’s funny how a calendar year can seem so far away. It’s an arbitrary length of time and it seeps through your fingers so fast. What’s a year one way or another? It’s relative. Time has everything to do with quality, everything to do with health, everything to do with happiness and your purpose in life. Blah, blah, blah, I was avoiding the question.
“We’ve got to do something fun,” I said flippantly. “We should go to Europe. On your 75th one should do something outrageous.” As if living to this outrageous age wasn’t enough.
“Good idea,” Jana said. “You know my fencing club is planning a trip to Italy and France this year. We should go.”
I agreed. I smiled and nodded. I looked like I was listening, joining in; but the whole time my brain was whirling, “How the heck had I lost a year? How had 75 snuck up on me like this?”
A guy we know sent something to my sister — one of those generic thoughts-for-the-day that you can email or text to someone to let them know you are thinking of a group of people, loosely called friends, and you want to reach out in a friendly way, without spending too much time, so you do this blanket transmission. The gist of the email was about appreciating time and telling the story of someone who put marbles in a jar (stay with me here, this isn’t the story that we were told at your wedding reception), one marble for each year that you reasonably project you will live — like 75, for instance. And then, each year on your birthday you take one marble out of the jar. Well, now! Let’s all pause and imagine what it’s like to take out the last marble. What now? Every year is like a bonus. A free-be. Frosting on the cake.
Another 10 years sounds great, although I’d settle for more, if they were good years. Aunt Naomi used to always tell me that she’d settle for 85 years, “but then every year, no matter the circumstances,” she said, “you think, ‘oh, I’d like another one’, even if you thought you wouldn’t (being hampered one way or another).”
Dad had 87 years. Mom had 90. One grandpa died at 94, or around there, not sure of who I was or where he was, my other grandpa was in his early 80s still working construction. Grandma Schubert, pretty much worn out, died at 74, actually my age, her heart gave out, at home, just putting some dishes away. Grandma Ehrhardt died in her late 80s, bedridden in a care facility. That’s my genetic heritage, the odds.
In my mind, I’ve been imagining putting 10 marbles into a jar and trying this stunt, removing the first marble on my 75th birthday. I think I’ve got a pretty good chance at living to 85, which seems to some of you readers, I’m sure, like a ripe old age. To me, it’s a 10 year shelf life, and 10 years can go by pretty fast. I know, because while the year 2000 might seem just like yesterday, I’ve just spent the last 10-plus years with you, sharing life, sharing stories about living another day in the country.