Back in the Fifties, the Weavers used to sing a song:
How do I know my youth is all spent
My get-up and go has got up and went
But in spite of it all, I’m able to grin
When I think of the places my get-up has been.
As I get older…and older and older…the song, which I always thought was fun, gets more and more relevant. My father, who lived to 91, used to be the living embodiment of the final stanza:
I wake up each morning and dust off my wits
Open the paper and read the obits
And if I’m not there, I know I’m not dead
So I eat a good breakfast and roll back in bed.
But of course, that wasn't all. I felt cheated of the catching up and schmoozing we could have done. I wanted to know how they were affected by the civil rights and antiwar movements of the Sixties and by the women’s movement later on. I wanted to know if they got to write their books and paint their pictures and play their music and travel all over the world. I wanted to know if they had fun. I wanted to know if they were happy.
On the other hand, academics of our generation could be and often were political firebrands. Having survived all that, they should have gotten to retire—a state that no longer means golf and bridge and Florida as it did in my parents’ day, but a turning of their energies to a new set of dreams and ambitions. One high school buddy, whose career was even more checkered than mine—poet, therapist, and stand-up comic (“I’m not a shrink, I’m an expand!”)—got cancer shortly after finally inheriting enough to relieve his endless scrabbling for a living.
Grandkids are the payoff for all that showing up for adult life we have to do and what our kids put their parents through. If I live as long as my mother did (and let the planet please not fall apart by then), I have a good chance of dancing at my granddaughters' weddings, cradling their children, and maybe even holding their first published books in my hands. In the meantime, I've decided that 70 is the new 39. I'm old enough to remember Jack Benny, and his shtick was that no matter how many years went by, his age was always 39. So if I feel like it, I can stay 70 forever.