“Old people talk about the past because they have no futures and young people talk about the future because they have no pasts.” I’ve probably shared that Ann Landers quote before because it’s one of my favorites. The older I get the more I understand the scary truth in those words. Sure, I’ve got plans that go beyond daily living but none of those plans go beyond where my 2016 day planner ends---unless we count my 2017 colonoscopy, assuming I can find a ride by then. With so many decades in my rearview mirror and only one, maybe two decades in front of me, thinking of the future doesn’t come with the same optimism that it did in the past. Ya, I know it’s all in my head. There are people my age who are doing exciting things. Climbing mountains, jumping out of airplanes, running for political office, traveling the world, helping to solve the world’s problems. Developing a passion for projects and adventure can happen at any age. On the other hand it’s very First-World, New-Age of me to wish I could find my muse and live happily ever after wallowing in a passion project---that certain something that lights my fire every morning and makes me quit thinking about the fact that I’m drifting. How long should it take to retool a widow’s life?
My dad always gave credit to my mom for the assets they were able to accumulate in their lifetimes. Not that accumulating assets is what anyone should use as a measure of success. However, setting aside the obvious----the love and caring my parents gave to whoever came into their lives, the examples they set regarding good values, humility and humanity---I’m amazed that they managed to accumulate not only a house in a middle class neighborhood but a cottage as well and all the creature comforts that went with them including two cars and a motor home. Both of my parents grew up dirt poor in hard times and without mothers in their lives from an early age. They both entered the work force before their teens and when they got married Dad was a machinist and Mom was a waitress. They lived in an apartment, often taking in my mother’s father who from all accounts was a penniless drunk dating back to the time his wife died fifteen years prior.
My parents bought their first home at a time when the banks were eager to sell off all the houses they’d accumulated during the depression and couldn’t sell until the WWII came along, so they were able to buy it without a down payment. My mother was a long-range planner. She convinced my dad to turn the house into a two-family and rent out the upstairs apartment. I don’t remember that house but over the years I’d heard plenty of stories about it. My brother used to tell about all the mice that were in it when they first moved it. It was his job to whack them with a board when they came up through the heat register while my dad was in the basement making them scatter. Mom hoarded the rent money for a few years until she had enough for a down payment on a house in a better neighborhood, just in time for me to start first grade. And while they were landlords, my parents also bought a lot on a lake, contracted to down a house and used its lumber to build a cottage.
When I look back over the first twenty-five years of my life, it seems like I was always living in a house that was either under construction or a project was in the works. Mom had remodeling plans running in her veins and Dad, over the years, taught himself how to do the plumbing, electrical, roofing, carpentry and cement work involved. And when my folks were winding down from their remodeling---they’d just finished upgrading the cottage for year-around living---Don came into my life with his newly acquired, little run-down house with a pink stove, another rental house and a four family apartment house and remodeling came on the my stage, again, for the next fifteen years. A lot of our earlier “dates” involved putting up drywall and painting. The pink stove, by the way, was the first thing Don moved out of the house and he never replaced it. The kitchen in his little bachelor pad was just a room he walked through to get to the garage and where he kept his coffee maker and a massive collection of coffee cups. It was a big deal to pick out a cup because it reflected his mood. If he used the “Don’t Let the Turkeys Get You Down” cup I knew something on the news was bothering him. But I digress. The point is my folks could see the same Remodel-the Nest genes in me that they had.
Parents probably spend less time than me obsessing about the legacy they'll leave behind. They can see their families before them---their passion projects, so to speak. The years of work it took to guide their kids and how those traits and values are getting passed down to the next generation must be gratifying to see as you age. That gives me an idea. I wonder if I could find a vet to reverse Levi’s vasectomy. There’s a sweet Schnauzer that comes into the groomer on the same day as Levi. They could make cute little grand-puppies that I could train, spoil and knit sweaters for next winter and I’m not too old to accomplish all that before I die. ©
NOTE: The circa 1947-8 photo above is the front of the cottage my folks built. The boy on the tree on the left is my brother, the woman on the right is my mom and the guy kneeing is my dad. They were taking down a huge tree so they could add a porch on the cottage.