When I'm 56
by Liz Flaherty
It was exciting when I was six. I got a doll for Christmas and a new red wagon for my birthday. My sister worked at a department store and bought me cool clothes and married the mysterious stranger who would raise my brother count to four. A huge limb came through a kitchen window during a storm and I climbed my brother Joe like a tree, knowing beyond all doubt that I was going to be taken care of.
Sixteen was exciting, too. I was able to date as soon as someone asked me and I could drive a car on the road instead of in the back pasture. I could wear makeup as long as my mother wasn’t paying a lot of attention, and every now and then I used swear words in public. I’d already witnessed that long, sad weekend when President Kennedy was shot, and the even sadder one — for me when my grandfather died, so I knew by then that my brother couldn’t keep me safe anymore.
I loved being 26. I was done having babies and we were buying our own house.It wasn’t long till I was 36, ten years into my bleacher time, and I was getting wrinkles. My kids were in varying stages of adolescence and my hair was getting really, really gray. At least, I think it was; I’ve never let the roots get long enough to be sure. It was the best of times, being young enough to get up and down without groaning but old enough to try and talk someone else into doing it for me.
Vietnamwas finally over and I could vote and even drink if I wanted to. My oldest son started playing baseball and what fun that was--I had no idea I’d be spending the next 12 or so summers on bleachers. It was an exciting time.
Fifteen minutes later, I was 46. I was catching onto having grandchildren, using a computer, and cooking in one-quart saucepans. My husband and I rediscovered ourselves as a couple and found out we canceled each other out in the voting booth. I discovered Wal-Mart and he discovered golf and the grandkids found out just how easy it is to run over both of us. We started making a lot of age jokes even though they’re not all that funny anymore and the veins in my legs took on a spidery look. And it was exciting, being a couple again, with no one in the back seat criticizing our driving.
And in the blink of an eye, it’s 2007 and I’m 56. I remember my mom being 56 and she was a whole lot older than I am, a phenomenon I haven’t quite figured out. My veins are worse, but I don’t care, and we’re not even going to talk about my roots.
We’ve seen more horror in the past few years than any of us can bear to think about. More than we can begin to understand. There are more things in life to create anger than I can remember there being before: terrorism, gas prices, politics, greed, “not my job, man,” and the cost of prescription medicine, to name but a few. I catch myself saying, “It wasn’t like that when I was your age,” because ... well, because it wasn’t.But you know what? It doesn’t help a thing for me to wax nostalgic about what once was. It doesn’t bring back good service, reasonable prices, or kindness. Like the generations before us, we’ve made a bunch .. .oh, good grief, a huge bunch ... of mistakes that our kids and grandkids have to clean up after. When I was your age, we were messing up the air big time then because we didn’t know any better. But you do. Littering was rude and inconsiderate; now it’s downright dangerous.
And there are things that have stayed the same. Although cherry cokes and ice cream cones cost a lot less when I was a kid, they tasted just the same. Pizza is just as sinfully good now as it was then, even if you eat it cold the next day. Hot dogs and hamburgers still taste special when they’re cooked on the grill and there’s not much that’s better than a burned-to-a-crisp marshmallow.Oh, and then there are the things that are better. My car was seven years old and had 165,000 miles on it when I got a new one, and we kept the old one because there was nothing wrong with it! I don’t remember cars lasting that well when I was young. And this computer, while it does have its tantrums, is so much easier to deal with than a typewriter. My oven cleans itself and I have a machine that washes the dishes. Oh, yes, much better.
So, like I said, I’m 56. And you know what? It’s fun. Healthy days are not things you take for granted and sunshine is a joy that fills your soul, not just your eyes. Grandkids are the reward you get for having done something right with their parents, and if you don’t have any of your own, it’s perfectly all right to borrow someone else’s.
We’ve just passed New Year’s, so spring will be coming up soon. Days will be longer, grass green and new, and the sky even bluer than we remember it from last year. Flowers and children will cover the landscape with bright colors and sweetness. We’ll eat ice cream and strawberries still warm from the sun and we’ll hold close the beauty of springtime graduates and early summer brides. I’m 56. And it’s exciting.
Til next time.
Married for thirty-some years to Duane, her own personal hero, and mother of three and grandmother of six, Liz Flaherty has written a column from her Window Over the Sink off and on for over ten years. She hopes you enjoy her essays. You can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org