Old is when:
The best man in your wedding doesn’t remember being best man.
The first house you lived in is burned to the ground as practice for the fire department.
There is no one left to remember you as a child.
On most days I do not feel old. I feel like the younger woman who still lives in me and is wearing the costume and mask of an older woman. But there are moments of great clarity when I fully realize that I have lived a long time. My reaction to that realization can range from amusement to deep sadness and sorrow.
One amusing instance occurred when I accepted an invitation to attend a dinner during my former (now deceased) spouse’s 50th reunion at the United States Military Academy. We had married the year of his graduation and the best man at our wedding was a fellow graduate. During the cocktail hour, I saw our friend and best man in the crowd. I approached him and, having not seen him for many years and realizing that I might not be instantly recognizable, I told him that I was the first wife of my husband and made some comment about his being the best man in our wedding. He looked at me strangely so I asked if he remembered (name of my husband). He said, “Yes, of course!” We asked the usual questions, “Where are you living now? What are you doing? How is the family?” and then wandered apart greeting other people.
My husband and I had seen our friend on several occasions when stationed together in Washington, DC. Later in the evening the gentleman in question approached me and said, “I think you must have mistaken me for someone else. I was not the best man in your wedding.”
Now, my memory is sometimes tricky but in this case I knew for certain that this man had been our best man and I offered to send him photographic proof! I was amused by the whole encounter but, on reflection, a little saddened also. Sad that his memory is fading (I can identify with that) and sad that he did not remember my wedding. And, yes, I did dig out my wedding album when I returned home and made sure that my memory was accurate. I never did send him a copy of the pictures and I wonder what he thought about a crazy lady who thought he was someone else!
A few years ago I returned to the small town in Oklahoma where I was born, with my oldest daughter. I wanted to show her my very first home. A very small, very modest duplex. I guess the old adage is true, “Be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home” because I felt a kind of affection for the house that had been my home for the first six years of my life. and that contained my very earliest memories. I drove down Florence Street, turned around at the corner and drove very slowly down the street again. My house had disappeared! I parked and we walked to the spot where it once had stood. There was a small patch of burned ground. A patch that looked too small to have been home to two families. I was overcome by a great sadness. I learned later that the fire department had used the small abandoned duplex for training purposes. So, at least, my first home had met a worthy end.
I was an only child so the death of my parents meant that my childhood is now remembered only by me, like the memories of living in our first home on Florence Street. My aunts and uncles predeceased my parents and I did not grow up with any cousins. As we grow older and the previous generation begins to die we lose not only our loved ones but also pieces of our own history. Perhaps that is why we begin to think about leaving a legacy to future generations of our family, lest our history disappear altogether.
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
A time to weep, and a time to laugh;
A time to mourn, and a time to dance
Ecclesiastes 3:1, 4