Thursday, November 13, 2014

Old Age Is Not For Sissies....

Do you ever wonder what your life would have been like had things been different or one small occurrence did or didn't happen? This brings me to mind of that Ray Bradbury short story "The Sound of Thunder." It has to do with a place that transports hunters back to the time of dinosaurs. The hunters must stay on a special walk way and follow all the rules with no deviation, the reason being they risk changing the future. One hunter does stray from the path and, well, I won't be a spoiler, but it's a great story.

I'm heading toward my 68th year. That seems so impossible to me. How did this happen? How did the time sweep me so quickly toward old age? I don't feel 67, but I'm not sure how 67 should feel. People tell me that I don't look 67. I look younger. That's comforting, I think. In truth, I generally don't tell people my age like I used to. Now, when I do, some act differently toward me, like I should be using a cane or wearing old lady clothes instead of my jeans and tee shirts. It makes me feel...well...old and I'm not ready to feel old yet.

I think back on my childhood and consider myself lucky. Growing up an Air Force brat, my life was just a bit nomadic until I was around 13 or so. Our family never lived in one place over three years. Packing up and moving was not a big deal to me. The thought of going to a different place and meeting new people was always exciting. My mom, sister, and I took a huge ocean liner all the way to Morocco to be with my dad who had traveled there earlier to find us a place to live near his air base. What a great adventure we had on that ship. We even experienced a major hurricane that was churning up in the Atlantic. It rocked that big ol' boat like it was a fishing cork. We were probably in danger, but didn't know it.

I loved Morocco. We were close to the Mediterranean Sea, and we played on the beach many a day. The one thing I can remember taking away from there even as a young child was that all human beings are alike deep down. They may speak a different language, have different cultures and religions, different skin colors, but they all want safe shelter, food to feed their families, a peaceful existence, and love. I had friends who were Arabic and French, along with the American military kids. We all played together in the little village some 26 miles from the base. We ran around on the unpaved streets, ate bread sold from a guy who brought it in bags on his bicycle. His name was Mohammad (lots of guys were named Mohammad.). We picked fruit from some trees whose limbs hung over a big fenced in place and no one stopped us. We bought fresh vegetables and other foods from open markets and it was wonderful. I loved our maid the Air Force provided for us. Her name was Aisha and she was a young Arab woman whose husband was in the French Foreign Legion.. She taught me French (Arabic was just so difficult) and sang songs to me. Not many American kids go to Morocco. I was a lucky one.

I've lived in or visited most states in this country. One of my favorite states we lived in when I was a kid was Kansas. I'm not sure why I loved it so much. We lived in Central Kansas with prairie landscapes, flat lands with a few little hills we called knolls. I experienced tornadoes, blizzards, floods, unbelievable cold, and the hottest constant winds in summer. I loved it. I loved climbing up a knoll and looking out at the ripe fields of wheat waving in the wind like a brilliant ocean of gold. I loved going to Lindsborg and hear the people speak in their Scandinavian accents or language. I loved the quaint shops and wonderful pastries. I loved going to Lake Kanopolis, a man-made lake developed over 50 years ago now. I know that Lindsborg still exists, but I wonder if it still has that quaintness about it? Lake Kanopolis is a state park now.

When my father retired from the Air Force as a Major at 37 (he went on to work for the Post Office), we settled back in his home state of Tennessee. I was miserable. I missed the air bases, kids who I had things in common with,  the B-47s and B-52s bombers land or take off from the runways on the bases. The kids I went to school with in Tennessee had grown up together. They knew most of their friends all their lives. For the first time in my life, I felt different. I felt like I was out of place. Oh, people liked me okay, but they mainly wanted to listen to me talk. I had a Midwestern accent which really was no accent at all. Being singled out this way was disconcerting. Being made to feel special because I talked differently and had moved around all over the place was not the way I wanted to feel special. I don't think I ever fit in with the 8th graders at Smithwood Elementary School.

High school was different. Our family moved to another neighborhood, and it was like starting new again. I made friends and had a successful time at Holston High. I even was one of the senior speakers at graduation. Everyone told me I was the only one they heard that evening. In truth, I have always been a little person with a big huskey voice. It has served me well throughout my life. And since my mother has been hard of hearing all my life, she has helped me hone my speaking skills because I had to speak clearly and distinctly so she could understand me.

My college years were when I grew up and "found" myself. I went to a small Baptist college and had a ball. I did not much follow the Baptist faith and I was a drama major, so I looked at the world a little differently. One professor told me I walked to the beat of a different drummer. That was a compliment, I do believe. In college, I made life long friendships. I worked on my skills as an actress and loved being in plays from comedies to high drama. Winning the Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress awards were high lights of my college career. Quite frankly, I wasn't a very good student...except in what I really liked such as literature, acting classes, interpretive movement classes,  writing, English. My college professor in Short Stories told me I should be a writer. That meant so much...and I am a writer...on a small scale. And I am very active in my local little theater where I live thanks to Papa Welton, my drama professor. He always encouraged me to move forward and do what I loved.

Someone nominated me for Miss Carson-Newman back in my college days which could have led all the way to Miss America. I guess I was flattered, but I never thought I was ever beauty pageant material. I couldn't sing very well. Playing a musical instrument was not my forte'. I loved to dance, but I was not formally trained. The only talent I had was doing some kind of dramatic reading which seemed really silly to me. Besides, I was and still am 5'2" tall and not anywhere near drop dead gorgeous. How many Miss Americas have been that short...and not drop dead gorgeous. I was skinny, too. So I said, "No thank you" in the nicest way I could. I think it kind of hurt the guys feelings, but I just couldn't. Shoot, now that I think of it, I could have paved the way and been the first short, skinny, NOT drop dead gorgeous Miss America. Never would have happened. No way.

So here I am. After college graduation, I did not go to New York City or Hollywood like I dreamed of doing. I came to a small Northwest Georgia town to teach 8th grade English...and I don't regret one moment of my decision. Teaching became my career with a side career as a writer. I fell in love with a marvelously wonderful man who has made me laugh and brought me joy. I have become the mother of four beautiful and successful children, the mother in law to a son and daughter, and the grandmother to a grandson and granddaughter...And I am awaiting the arrival of a new family member, a granddaughter in January. I have made deep and lasting friendships here. This is my home. This is the place I love. My feet are firmly planted in this Georgia red clay.

Has my life turned out the way I had hoped? Yes, I think it has. How many can say they've known love...true life long love? How many can say that they have held four new born babies close to their hearts and felt overwhelming joy. How many can say they watched their grandchildren take their first breaths? How many can say that they made a positive difference in people's lives? How many can say that they earned the right to retire? I have and am busier now than I ever have been.The difference is that I'm doing things I want to do, not have to do.

I'm looking forward to the next third of my life. I'm cruising into old age with an upbeat attitude. I plan to dance more...sing more...most definitely laugh more...write more...act more...but most of all...I plan to love more than I've ever loved.

After all, as my late great mother in law...Evelyn Hatcher Brooks Causby used to say..."Old age is not for sissies."


Starting Over, Accepting Changes - Maybe said...

Like most people, I do not like this aging process, but am grateful for the chance to experience it.

When I look back, I choose to only look at all the positive things that have happened to me rather than the rough spots. However, it is the difficult times that have taught me the most and have helped me grow to the person I am proud to say I am. Your life as a child, moving from place to place and enjoying every minute of it, is inspiring. It is not easy to be the new kid, but I am sure that taught you to be open to all new experiences. How fortunate you have been.

Coleen Brooks said...

Thanks so much for your comment. My childhood wasn't always idyllic, but it was definitely interesting.

Amber Lanier Nagle said...

I hope to live many, many more years, and I hope you do, too.