I’ve been thinking a lot about growing older because tomorrow’s my birthday; I’ll be sixty-six.
Does anyone ever believe the age they are? When you’re 14, you can’t believe you’re not at least 16. You say to yourself, “I must really be sixteen because I feel like I should be. I’m ready for sixteen!”
When you turn forty, you can’t believe that possibly half your life is behind you. Perhaps you’re just coming out of those years of establishing a career and getting your children off to a good start, and finally– you feel like it’s your time. But how can your time just be starting when you’re at the precipice of middle-age?
And if you’re like me, when you approached sixty, the entry into the ‘early senior years,’ that’s when life-moving-so-fast really hit you. You realized that you didn’t have forever to do those things on your bucket list– life wasn’t that great expanse that once seemed to lie before you.
I’m especially reflective each year as my birthday comes around. With the chilly breezes of March, the white blooms of the pear trees and the flaming yellow of forsythias on these first days of spring, I think back to birthdays years ago. I look at the pictures and remember who I was as a girl– and wonder how much I’ve really changed over the years.
I remember that I loved collecting colored glass with my friend, Donna who sat next to me in Ms. McGill’s first grade class. In those days before aluminum cans, you could find pieces of soft drink bottles that were a rich green. Funny to think that our teacher would actually let a 6 year old collect those pieces and put them in an empty Tampa Nugget Cigar box brought from home. We also treasured colored marbles– that stung your fingers if you tried to shoot them, but were perfect for collecting as art objects. Evidently the love of colored glass remained over the years with both of us; I have stained glass windows that were rescued from the recycle bin and Donna has a collection of Depression glass. I’m still fascinated by color and light.
When I look at this picture of the side yard of my childhood home, there’s an overwhelming feeling of nostalgia for that place I lived in until eighth grade. The original house was built in 1880 by my great grandparents and that hundred-acre farm was filled with special places: a chinaberry tree that was the perfect tree house, sandy roads for riding my bike and walking barefoot in summer, barns and small buildings that were fun to explore with friends. How I loved being outdoors. That has stayed with me over the years– the pull to go outside for an early morning walk, the instinct to walk away my troubles, putting the day to bed on a sunset stroll. I love riding through the country and spotting houses and out buildings that favor my old house– some now covered in kudzu or falling in, sad relics of a past that I remember.
Those early days somehow passed by and were replaced by the years of middle and high school. While the love for color and light, for being outdoors and tramping about our farm didn’t leave me, it grew more faint with the growing concerns of fitting in with friends and dating. Lately with my unexpected return to dating through online sites, I’ve thought about how emotional that time period was when I was a teen and in my early twenties. I continued my friendship with Donna during those years, and we often talked about guys, dating, and school gossip. Funny how that hasn’t changed; we just had a long conversation last night and talked about a lot of those same things! I complained of how the guys online are hard to understand, and she prefaced her words of wisdom with, “Let me just tell you how guys are from my experience of having brothers.” I wish she’d have told me all that back then!
Funny how even at almost sixty-six-years-old, I still find myself getting caught in my personality as that fanciful, daydreaming, romanticist that I was as a teen. I had no real clue about guys, growing up as the middle of three daughters with limited exposure to the male psyche.
Somehow, in spite of all the energy I put in relationships with friends and dating guys in high school and college, I managed to stay goal-directed with graduating from college and becoming a nurse. I credit some of my tenacity with growing up on a farm under the tutelage of my parents. You weren’t allowed to stop until the job was done: whether it was cleaning a kitchen with every dish dirtied, or handing tobacco through the last loaded-down-trailer, or slacking off before all the clothes were ironed. You didn’t give it a ‘lick and a promise’ as Mama would say; you ‘did the job right or you didn’t do it at all.’
I still see that goal-directed Connie, even during times of turmoil. I look back over the last year and how I’ve had to focus to get through all the steps of divorce especially during the disruption of the pandemic. Those lessons of ‘you can’t stop until the job is done’ have stayed with me throughout my life. Good job, Mama and Daddy!
That little girl in that first grade picture was raised in a family that valued faith, family, and friendships. Those three values have carried me through my life– through good times and hard times. Now, as I turn sixty-six, I see those as the essential relationships in my life that will carry me until the end. Now I’m honored to be a grandmother, “Grammy” and can pass on those same values to my grandchildren.
With all this thinking about growing older, I went back to listen to a song that was written by Stevie Nicks of Fleetwood Mac, “Landslide.” The words of the chorus that stay with me are,
“But time makes you bolder
Even children get older
And I’m getting older too.”
It’s sobering and reassuring at once; we all grow older and as we do, we grow bolder. I feel that’s true and that’s the gift of turning over another year.
So for now, I’ll enjoy my week of celebration. One day’s just not enough so I started celebrating on Friday; the older you become the more you should celebrate.
How about You?
How are you still like that little girl, that little boy in your childhood pictures?
How do you like to celebrate your birthday? What might you add to your next celebration to more fully honor the person you’ve become over the years?