Unlike a lot of kids in my generation, I had no adult influences growing up. There were no doting grandparents hovering around the corner, no aunts, or uncles who cared about my sister and me. No male father figures to substitute for my own father who left our family after a couple of years. I had no uncles, cousins, coaches, or teachers to show a young boy the ropes. There was a vacuum of adult guidance that no one stepped forward to fill.
Thus growing up, I had no road map or past history to guide me into the world of adulthood. It still surprises me sometimes. My only world of adults consisted of cold sterile aunts and bachelor uncles, shouting card-parties and the ever-present, none too subtle attitude that ‘children should be seen and not heard.’ Our opinions were neither recognized nor cared about.
So it’s hardly surprising that my attitude toward ‘old people’ has never followed that 50’s tradition of respecting our elders for their wisdom and guidance. They didn’t seem to care about me and I returned the attitude. My protagonist Daniel said it best in ‘Love in the A Shau.’ He said ‘The best thing I can say about my Aunts and Uncles is…” (It wasn’t a kind statement but it was true.)
That is, until now.
Mig (Mylon) and his lovely wife Pat have restored my faith in old people. That’s good news coming from a newly ripen 75-year-old who only recently began to recognize his own mortality. At 89, Mig still has got the vim and vigor of a 50 year old and his mental acumen can beat the best of them at card and dice games. He can still swing a fishing pole or heft a shotgun with his sons and grandsons.
Knowing Mig and Pat has helped dispel many of my myths about growing old and in the process has clarified why it’s so easy to fall into the trap of ‘getting older.’ There were a couple of other folks that taught me the same thing.
Sharon’s parents finally sold the farm long after others had ‘gone to town.’ They began to travel and engage in social activities long denied them because of the many hours and hard work on the farm. They were like Mig and Pat.
My mother used to confuse me with her distain for old people. Whether it was dancing at the Marigold Ball room with her new-found friend (soon to be her second husband) when she was in her seventies or card games at Gloria De Lutheran Church in her eighties, my Mother would go on and on about the old people at both places. Now I’ve come to understand what she was grousing about.
There seems to be a trap that a lot of older folks fall into as age creeps into their lives and slows them down. All too often, they become more self-centered and absorbed with only themselves. Their view of the world becomes more narrow and sheltered. In turn, that isolation from every-day life makes them overly cautious, concerned, and protective of their own self-interests at the expense of relationships with others. It becomes a gradual transformation into someone you don’t want to be around for any length of time.
Mig and Pat are just the opposite.
These great-grandparents are still very much engaged with the world around them. They still babysit their great-grandchildren, travel, engage in social activities, and are very much involved with their church and community. Mig is quick-witted, sharp minded and engaging. He can talk with some knowledge to anyone about almost any subject. He’s like my youngest granddaughter. Leave him in a room with strangers and he’ll have ten best friends in no time at all. Pat is just the same.
Like my mother, Mig can’t stand to sit still. He has to be on the move all the time. He still does electrical work whenever a job pops up having been a master electrician all his life.
I’ve come to realize the secret of growing older with grace and panache. It’s simply to keep moving; physically and mentally. It means being engaged in just about anything that makes you want to get out of bed in the morning. It means spending time with your adult children, your grandchildren and just about anyone younger than yourself. It means doing what excites you, moves you, and fulfills even your most modest of ambitions. Mig and Pat are sterling examples of this.
There’s no doubt about it, when I grow up, I want to be just like Mig.