ONE THING I DID NOT WANT TO BE

I visited my doctor yesterday for a periodic checkup. Every time I go to him, I think of these things.

SERENDIPITY

Old, by Rich Paschall

When you think of all the things you want to be when you grow up, “old” probably is not on the list.  You may think about being a doctor or nurse.  You may consider lawyer or politician.  Fireman or police officer may be on your list.  In fact, in your elementary school days you may have changed your mind many times. It is OK to dream about the future and fantasize about what you should do some day.

If superhero is on your list, you may have to give that one up rather quickly, unless you are Robert Downey, Jr.  He is playing Iron Man at the ripe old age of 50.  I guess that is a commentary on keeping yourself in good shape.  Of course, he is just play acting, like we do as kids, and he certainly has a stunt double.  Your own life…

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Alone

  A visit to the park                 

 small Midwest town church

A drab, older model, olive colored Chevrolet Monte Carlo pulled up directly across the street from the bright white colored Protestant church.  The driver of the car liked that particular spot because he enjoyed looking at the church with its impressive steeple and large cross at the top.  He was not a member of that church or even of that denomination.  He just liked looking at the church.  He never went inside and could not tell you why he liked it so much, he just did.

Harold exited his dependable vehicle.  It had taken him around town for a dozen years already.  He guessed it was good for a few more years, just like Harold himself.  His parking spot was not far away from Harold’s modest home in the small Midwest town, but it was a little too far for Harold to walk.  He did not walk much at all anymore, although he would be the first to tell you that he really should get more exercise.  He would tell anyone that, if only someone would ask.

Across from the white church with the tall steeple that could be seen for miles was the town park.  It was well-kept and was the pride and joy of the town.  It had a small pond stocked with swans, who could come and go into a little house where they were fed and cared for.  The door of the house was always open.  The pond was fenced in and the little house was inside the fence.  The fence was certainly to keep the people out.  Swans were to be looked at, but not touched.  They may look nice but could be downright mean. There were none around for Harold to see.  Maybe they went south for the winter, maybe they were inside the little house, maybe the town puts them away somewhere before winter.  Harold did not know and really did not give it much thought.

He took the path that led to a magnificent gazebo which was just about in the center of the park.  He could imagine bands playing there on summer nights to the joy of small town Americans with lemonades or ice cream cones in hand.  He had to imagine it because he had never actually seen it.  He stayed away from the park on summer nights when they had activities of any kind.  There was never a parking spot close by when bands were playing and Harold simply was not going to walk for blocks to go to an event where he knew no one and would have nowhere to sit.  Rocking away the evening hours on his front porch was his main summer evening activity.

When he reached the gazebo he went up its three steps and walked into the center.  It was on slightly raised ground and he could see all around the park.  “What a beautiful autumn day,” he said confidentially to himself.  “We are lucky to have such a nice spot.”  The “we” at that moment was actually just Harold.  Although the temperature was pleasant for that time of year, the breeze was alluring and sun was falling softly between the clouds and across the beautiful green grass, no one else came to the park that Thursday afternoon.  Children were in school, most adults were working and the rest did not know they could put on their best fall outerwear and join Harold in the park.

Having exited the other side of the gazebo, he looked down the path that led to the main street in town.  Right before the road was a tall flag pole with the American flag flying proudly in the autumn afternoon.  There were shorter flag poles on either side flying the flags of  the military services.  They were put there by the local VFW and the bushes and flowers that surround them were cared for by VFW members.  Harold wondered why he had never joined the VFW.  Of course, he was not sure if there was anyone he knew in the VFW and he certainly was not assertive enough to find out.

Rather than take the pathway, he decided to cut across the grass to a park bench he spotted across the way along another path.  Leaves were gently pushed out of the surrounding trees and were falling around the bench.  He thought it would be a pleasant place to sit down for a while and rest.  His slow movement across the lawn would have revealed a slight limp if there had been someone, anyone there to see it.  No one knew of the limp, however, except Harold and he was not about to tell anyone of it.  There were plenty of things Harold kept to himself.  He could not think of a single person he could tell.  There were no family or friends left.  He guessed he had outlasted them all.

When he reached the destination, he sat down on the cold metal bench.  The old wooden ones were more comfortable but these were going to last longer, if properly maintained.  With the awkward spacing of the metal slats, no one was ever going to get comfortable,  even Harold.  From a distance the bench looked quite inviting, but it turned out to be a poor invitation once you sat down, especially when the weather was turning colder.  It was of little matter to Harold, he was not going to stay long anyway.  First, he looked at all the trees and saw the yellows, oranges and even some greens.  Some trees had their colored leaves neatly decorating the green grass below.  “I wish I could get a thick, green lawn like that,” Harold murmured to himself.  “I wonder how they do it.”  Then he looked down the path to the right to admire some bushes with bright red leaves.  They were probably the brightest red leaves he had ever seen.  Finally he gazed off to the left to admire the white church.  He thought he should bring a camera some day to get a picture of the church from this beautiful vantage point.  Actually, he had that same thought many times before.

When he got on his feet again, Harold discovered that he had stiffened up in the cool breeze.  He moved slowly across the lawn feeling the effects of age and inactivity.  The slight incline toward the gazebo now seemed like a small hill but he conquered it just like he had conquered small battles in the past.  His impulses told him to turn around and take in the view one last time.  Across the lonely park he spied the black, metal bench sitting there all alone, just like he was doing not long before.

Note: Harold in this story is no relation to the Harold that has appeared in the short story series on SERENDIPITY (teepee12.com).  Apparently I know a lot of people named Harold. 

The short story as a video presentation.

SUNSHINE, SPRING TRAINING AND SURVIVAL

It is time for a Spring Training story. This one appeared last year on SERENDIPITY and was in the middle of a series of stories that mentioned Harold, a retired Midwest planner.

SERENDIPITY

The missing Harold mystery, Rich Paschall

George and his ever talkative wife Martha had just about enough of the Midwest winter. They were tired of snow,  tired of cold. At close-to-retirement age, they were just plain tired. When another cold night forced them to stay at home rather than visit a favorite neighborhood stop, they realized there was only one thing which could pull them through to warmer weather. Baseball! Right then and there, they began to talk about a trip to sunny Florida for a round of spring training games.

A year before, they had traveled to Florida on a rare road trip to see the Chicago Cubs play. The Cubs lost, of course, but they deemed the trip a success. They had visited a ball park other than Wrigley Field, spent a day at the beach, and wandered through town to do some typical tourist shopping. They had some very hot days, but did not suffer the kind of stifling humidity…

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To not grow old gracefully

It is often said that we should learn to grow old gracefully.  Those who do not are sometimes looked on with scorn.  Perhaps you may hear that someone should “know better at that age.”  What is it that we should know better?  Of this, I am not sure.  I just know that a lot of people have ideas in the back of their minds of what old should be.  For a long time I thought being like my father’s father was the way to be when you are old.  I guess that may be in part because I always thought of him as old.  Of course 30 seems old to a child, but from his 60’s to his 80’s my grandfather seemed about the same to me.  Everything was taken at a slow pace and with good humor and I could not see anything wrong with that, as long as I was not actually old myself.

Age Appropriate

Age Appropriate (Photo credit: skittledog)

Except for the eccentric few, society has notions of what you should do, say, wear when you get old.  For example, you probably should not shop for your clothes at the Gap or some other shop that pitches all of its advertising at the young.  If you do, you may hear that your apparel is not age appropriate.  If you can not shop at Neiman Marcus I suppose you should shop at Goodwill or some place that will have stuff for old guys.  If you still fit into your high school or college clothes, they may not be correct to wear unless you have irresponsible friends your own age who do the same.

Sports is not a good ideas for old folks either.  When you sprain your ankle playing touch football in the park, you may count on someone saying, “He ought to know better at his age.”  It will be worse yet if you break something.  That will be the point that people will try to find out what kind of help you actually need.  If you are past 50, they will no longer pass this off as some sort of midlife crisis.  Instead they will wonder if you have reached early senility and should be kept under constant surveillance.

If truth be told, most people approaching the supposed golden years may want to partake of a lot of activities they had to put off while doing that all important action of “growing up.”  Work, family and a whole host of post high school, college or military life obligations may mean postponing things you really want to do.  A little extra financial security, if there is such a thing in these times, and a little “empty nest” freedom may mean you are ready to go off and live a life you wish you had lived when you were much younger.

Growing old gracefully will not be on my list of things to do.  I intend to continue to play loud rock and roll in my car until neighbors think I must have the sound up that loud because I can no longer hear it.  Trust me I have never stood in front of a loud-speaker like Pete Townsend blowing my ear drums out, but I nevertheless like to rock and roll down the highway.  While I sometimes wish my neighbors would tune it down after midnight, I am not always certain the same applies to me.

There is another important thing to know that may not always appear obvious to the younger set.  Giving up on the things that we love to do is a scary idea.  It signals that we have turned a corner into the final era of life.  No one aside from perhaps the clinically depressed wants to go there.  We want our lives to be vital for much longer than practical.  This may account for a good deal of the depression that afflicts the elderly.  It is the realization that you can not do want you really want to do.

When I see my younger friends going off to do things that seem like the type of thing I would like to do as well, I generally meet these times with a cross between jealousy and sadness.  I am jealous that they are doing things I can not, or because they are doing things for which I would not be included because I am not of the same age group.  Most my age seem to have family obligations that do not allow the freedom to run off on adventures like I can, so I feel a bit sad to know I have reached the point of being left behind.  I hasten to point out, I really could not do everything my younger friends do, but that doesn’t mean I would not secretly like to do them (or not so secretly sometimes).

There is much value in staying as young and vital as possible.  You can live a longer and more productive life.  When you start turning the corner of fall to meet winter, you will not find it so depressing if you have kept your good health.  Instead you will be able to still see adventure ahead.  If crossing 40, then 50, then 60 just means the opportunity for new and exciting things, then these will not be milestones to dread.  In fact they may hardly be a bump in the road.

Having cultivated friendships in many age groups, I now find that I can be in the company of those who are decades older on one day, and having fun with those who are much younger the next.  While a chronic condition has slowed me down a bit, it has not knocked me down at all.  If it does, I at least know some younger guys who can pick me up.  My contemporaries may have to let me lie on the ground a while until they can think of whom to call to get me picked up.  Therefore, we need to keep the young and strong nearby, if not indeed with us, at all times.  If someone, someday says I have not learned how to grow old gracefully, I think I will take it as a complement.

BUT NOW THE DAYS ARE SHORT

It is not just autumn, but also “the autumn of my years.” It is a time for reflection. Sometimes the past is the image you see.

SERENDIPITY

The Autumn of the Year, Rich Paschall, Sunday Night Blog

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When I was seventeen, it was a very good year…

As I turned seventeen, I had finished my Junior year in high school and was looking forward to Senior Year at a new school.  It was a bit scary, I admit.  No one wants to leave his mates behind and start again, but that was my fate, not my choice.  At least the new school was in the neighborhood, and I already knew a few students who were going there.  Although we did not admit at the time, the final year of high school put many new thoughts in our heads.

You may think sex or sexual orientation, but those thoughts had already arrived years earlier.  All the passing of a few years meant was these thoughts and curiosities intensified.  As you might imagine, a few of the boys and girls were a…

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