????Life at the Center: When I’m 64 ????Vol. 77, December 2019
My grandmothers always seemed old to me. In 1967 when the Beatles brought out the song “When I’m Sixty-Four”, my grandmothers’ average age was about 64, and I was 11 or 12. Could I imagine ever being that old myself? I doubt it. Well, here I am approaching my sixty-fourth birthday in a few days, and I STILL don’t think of myself as being much like my “old” grandmothers!
I’m probably going through some of the same physical changes they did at this age. I’m amused to see little ‘wings’ flapping a bit under my arms. My belts need to be a little longer than before. My nose is longer and my face is becoming more topographically “interesting”, shall we say. These inevitable battle scars of life seem fairly insignificant compared with the joy I get dancing, spending time with family and working with wonderful people at Still & Moving, both local and from around the world. Thankfully, both my grandmothers blessed me with the genes for a sturdy constitution, and each of them modeled strength of character.
Here’s a mental snapshot of the two: My mother’s mother, Granny was demure with a broad, smooth face and dark brown eyes, always wore dresses when I was a child. My Grandma Coleman on my dad’s side was a little pistol with rackling blue eyes, casually clad at home in her housecoat, shorts or slacks. Neither of them, at age 64, would have dreamed of strolling about in the dance/yoga clothes that I wear.
My grandmothers endured both World War I and II and the Great Depression. They lived at the time when proper ladies wore girdles. I don’t really know what they thought about or exactly what they believed in. They really cared about their children and grandchildren – that I do know. To me, they were just my Granny, the calm, retired school teacher (I remember her rolling rivelly noodles between her hands, and her neighbor’s horse that we got to ride in the field behind her vegetable garden), and my Grandma Coleman, who joked around a lot (she made mayonnaise salad for Grandpa and had a penny slot-machine at her basement that sometimes gave us jackpots!)
I’ve enjoyed so many opportunities that my grandmothers never had…who knows what they might have been like if we’d shared more similar life experiences? And I believe that – through my parents – these women set me up for the life of remarkable opportunity.
My mom’s mom, Granny, had an easier life than Grandma Coleman, financially, being the granddaughter of a respected businessman working with local farmers. Yet worldly opportunities did not abound in the town of 700-800 people where Granny lived, taught in a one-room school after 6 weeks of Normal School training, married and raised 5 children. She then returned to the elementary classroom during WWII and taught for another 25 years.
Granny was married to Pop, and they did their best with the accepted parenting practices of the time. Every Friday when Pop came home from out-of-town work, Granny told him their two sons’ misdeeds of the week. He would take the boys, and occasionally my mischievous Aunt Jane, out to the woodshed for a licking. (I like to imagine that Pop and the kids sometimes staged some loud noises and crying to give the appearance that justice had been served.) I’m sure neither parent savored this routine; they just considered it as their duty to raise their children properly. Unlike Cliff and I, they never took their children on family trips – their car would not have held that many kids, in any case. The boys went off to fight WWII. Unlike many small town parents, Granny and Pop encouraged their girls to get an education.
Granny and Pop lived in a two-story brick house across the street from her parents’ home. By the time I knew them, they enjoyed a more relaxed life together. When my brother, cousins and I came to visit, we played dominoes and rummy on Granny’s kitchen table, while she told my mom stories about very ordinary things that happened at the market or during the last snowstorm. “Well, you know….” she would always start. I liked listening to her. And she always sent us birthday cards with checks.
Grandma Coleman had been a 21-year-old widow, returning back to rural Ohio from Arizona where her husband had died of tuberculosis. She had travelled across country by unheated train with no food service, three children under age five, her late husband’s corpse in the baggage compartment, and the $12 her neighbors collected for her trip at the start of the Depression. There on a hardscrabble farm, she began raising my dad and his two sisters alone.