A sign of growing old: You learn how to listen

It was when I was wrestling a 14-year-old kid a few months ago that I started really feeling my age.

This young man had been feeling his oats and had been pushing my buttons for some time. I finally decided it was time to teach him a lesson, so we had a little old-fashioned ‘rasslin’ match. Problem was, the first time I took him down, I landed on top of him and one of my ribs apparently wasn’t up to it. I walked around with either a cracked rib or some messed-up cartilage for the next two months.

Funny how time creeps up on you.

I was thinking of this as I watched the graduates bound down the ramp after getting their diplomas at graduation a couple of weeks ago. It really doesn’t seem that long ago that I was their age and getting my own diploma, but, well, when I do the math, it was quite a spell. I hope they were listening when some of the speakers, such as Steve Emmert and Jeff Freeman, gave them some sound advice. But when you’re 18, you’re kind of eager to find out for yourself what life is all about. You don’t really want someone telling you, though it would save you a lot of grief if you listened.

I thought Freeman’s advice, to remember the folks back home, was telling. I’ve lived all over the world and I’ve run into all kinds of people in all kinds of places, with a lot of different views on life. But I still have some good friends whom I knew when I was living back in my home town of Grants Pass, one of whom I went to kindergarten with. When we get together, it’s just as Freeman said. They know me, and getting together with them is getting back to basics.

I started thinking again about age about a month ago, just about the time I’d gotten over that cracked rib. My grandma died then.

She was 97 and she was quite a woman, as are most 97-year-olds. If you live that long, there’s something special about you. It was particularly special in her case, I thought, since she’d had a fever earlier in life that doctors predicted would cut about 20 years off her life. Let’s see: 20 plus 97… Of course, her brother is (yes, that’s present tense) 103, so who knows what could have been?

She lived a full life, though, considering she lived all of it within a few miles of Massilon, Ohio, home of the Fighting Tigers high school football team (the brick stadium is comparable to Willamette University’s), lots of nearby Amish and Mennonites (her home was built by Amish men), deviled eggs, potato salad and extreme humidity on hot summer days.

Her husband, my grandfather, refused to let her get a driver’s license (for illogical reasons that I won’t go into), but that didn’t stop her. She rode the bus and walked all over town until she was too old to do so, and she read voraciously and clipped stacks of interesting snippets of information. It’s probably a mercy she never discovered the Internet, judging by the amount of clippings her kids had to clean out of her home when she moved to a retirement facility. (Problem was, she pretty much remembered each and every one of them, so it was quite taxing to her to see them disappear.)

She’d send me frequent cards and letters, always with a few small clippings of news stories or some such that she’d read somewhere and thought I’d be interested in. She could remember minute details from her childhood and loved to tell people about the interesting things she’d learned. She would have made an excellent journalist.

When her eyes failed, she got a magnifier contraption that blew the letters up to a huge size and kept reading for another 10 years. She was a faithful reader of this newspaper up until the last few months, I’m told.

Now that she’s gone, I’m a little disappointed that I never really tapped into her knowledge and experience. When I was young I didn’t really care, and now that I’m older, with plenty of responsibilities, the opportunity wasn’t there.

But I guess that’s part of the maturing process – figuring out that you’re really not that smart after all. Problem is, when you do, it’s sometimes too late to learn from those who’ve gone before.

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Speaking of age, you ready to try running/jogging/walking the Sportsman’s Holiday Mile? Registration forms are available here at The New Era and at the Chamber of Commerce. It’s a great deal for the money – $5 (a lot of “fun runs” these days cost $20 or more) and you’re doing it for the right reasons. All proceeds go to the kids who run at the high school.