John Wayne stayed in Tooele, and Hannah went with her mom. But Brian and Avery came and to help me unload the truck. Lila (almost 2) ran around talking and playing and exploring and shyly approaching Mom and Dad, her great-grandparents. I had communicated, I was sure, with Mom and Dad about where I thought it best to store my belongings: in the main basement room against the east wall. In fact, I had not discussed it with them. I had only imagined discussing it, and had fabricated, apparently, a memory both of the conversation and of their assent. But this was not the storage location they preferred: putting my stuff there would turn their family gathering place into a storage room. I was stunned, not at their preference—it is their house and their space, and my obligation and opportunity to respect them. Rather, I was stunned at my having transformed the fantasy of my unuttered thoughts into the reality of a memory of a conversation that never took place. Dad pointed me to a small unfinished area of the basement I was confident would not fit my belongings. But I did some quick organizing, laid down my 2x4s, and got ready to bring in the boxes. I applied a wide strip of amazingly adhesive plastic down the stairs to the basement and up the stairs and down the hall to my room. I did not want the boot traffic and black dolly wheels to ruin the light-colored shag. Clanking down the stairs with boxes of books on the dolly was a chore straining our arms and legs and back. Brian and I were sore the next day! On the moving-in side, Brian and Avery were my heroes. By night’s end, I was, simply, exhausted, took two Aleve, and fell like a boulder into bed. But not without remembering sheepishly my first new-home blunder, committed before even moving in. I will need to be extra careful to clearly communicate so as to navigate my space while not infringing on theirs. Fortunately, Mom and Dad are generous, flexible, and forgiving.
I closely watched Harvey and his family as they celebrated his 80th birthday. They spoke warmly of memories and sang his praises. How nice, I thought, that they, at least, recognize his worth. Harvey, though elderly and arguably past his prime, embodies an enormous wealth of tradition, strength, virtue, memory, and love. Though a quiet obscurity to many, he is a hero to me, as recounted in my book Rabbit Lane: Memoir of a Country Road. So many in western culture write off and even ridicule the elderly, seeing only weakness and faded glory. This fact I sorely lament. We would do well to remember their strength, their sacrifice, their accomplishments, their contributions, their legacy, and their love. Rather than relegated to the “old” category, implying uselessness, they should be lifted up as timeless mentors to be followed, learned from, cared for, and revered. As you read this poem, ponder for yourself, What is the worth of an aged man and woman? I hope your answer is bounteous. Consider sharing your thoughts in a comment.
THE WORTH OF A MAN
What is the worth of a man
when his ears refuse to hear
and shrouds eclipse his sight,
when his back bends low
and his hands quiver,
when he forgets things large and small
and the young lose their scant patience
with his remembrances and his gait?
He has made whatever difference, whatever contribution,
he is going make.
If he hasn’t said it by now, it won’t be said.
So much counsel.
So much love.
So much poetry.
He is a mere memory,
and fading at that.
That is what you think.
That is what so many think.
he taught you to tame a fox and skin a weasel and splint a songbird’s wing?
he bought you a thrift store bike and taught you to fix a flat?
he slogged in from the smelter each day after dark, slimed with sweat and soot?
you took turns tossing the ball to the family mutt?
he told you how to treat a woman, with fidelity, with respect, with tenderness?
he called you a numbskull for smoking behind the barn, and stomped the butt out?
he carried you, and even sang, and even cried, when your body burned from fever?
But you do not remember.
You spurn the soul what made you.
You rush break-neck from your cradle to your own aged obsolescence.
Tomorrow, as you shuffle and stoop,
they will glance at you and ask,
What is the worth of a man?
I have lived alone for 1 year now: 52 weeks: 365 days. The highlight of my life is to see my children. They grew a gorgeous garden this year, and shared with me their harvest: sweet corn; swiss chard; cucumbers. And a pumpkin. Their front porch is adorned with two dozen perfect orange pumpkins. Hyrum and Hannah offered me one, perfectly round, with a spiraling stem. The pumpkin reminded me of them each night when I came home from work. It looked so cute sitting by the front door, until one evening I found it smashed on the rocks.
smashed my pumpkin:
my pumpkin would survive
My little daughter
raised this pumpkin
in her garden.
I love her.
I do not get to see her much.
I miss her.
So, I set by my door
her pumpkin, my pumpkin.
It reminded me of her.
I dared to hope
you would let it be.
But you smashed
my little girl’s
(PS. She gave me another yesterday. One can hope.)