The grace in growing older

One of my favorite book titles is The Grace in Older Women, a Lovejoy novel by Jonathan Gash. I must admit that I recall not a bit of the plot, a sad fact in light of my personal relationship to the whole Lovejoy thing – I’ll have to explain that here sometime.

Today’s column by Garrison Keillor which ran here in the Rocky Mountain News, reflects the grace – and perspective – of a man looking back at his youthful attitudes with wiser eyes. I enjoyed it hugely and you can read the whole thing here.

Sipping coffee as he thinks about his young daughter’s chalking “I Love Dad” on the driveway, Keillor wonders if he should spend more time teaching her how to work, the way his own hard-working family taught him to hoe weeds when he was still of tender years. He writes:

Work is a blessing. There is enough passivity and mediocrity in the world without us adding to it. . . .

The good people I come from were graduates of the College of the Crash, Class of 1929. They valued hard work and persistence. They enjoyed their coffee breaks, not the $3.50 kind with froth and a shot of caramel . . . but the kind where the waitress brings around the glass carafe and says, “Let me warm that up for you.” It was the work around the break that gave the break its sweetness, not the coffee.

Of course he rebelled against this, seeing his father come home tired every night after work, falling asleep in his chair after dinner and going off to bed – to rest up for another day of work. He told himself, “My life will be different. I will think, I will read books.”

Now in his own late middle age, it looks different and he admits his errors:

We rebelled on the basis of poor information. We considered our people to be “vanilla,” as we used to say, meaning bland, but we were ignorant of vanilla. The vanilla bean itself is not bland or simple, nor is vanilla extract; it’s as rich and complicated as chocolate. If the only vanilla you know is what McDonald’s sells, then yes, vanilla means emptiness. But the emptiness is in you, my dear, not in your people.

So you read books and thought big thoughts and sought a different life, and you achieved it, if you did, by virtue of the very qualities you rebelled against which your dad instilled in you. He may not have hugged you or encouraged your fantasy life, but he taught you to buckle down and attend to business and to thrive on it. It was this persistence that enabled you to become the self-absorbed romantic you are today. And now here you are in your pregeriatric years, drinking $3.50 coffee and worrying about how to bring up your children.

Solomon said, “The thing that has been is the thing that shall be; and the thing that is done is that which shall be done: There is nothing new under the sun.” But he never went to Wal-Mart. I miss the old times . . .

We all went to public schools and we knew certain songs by heart, the one about the E-ri-e is a-rising and the gin is getting low and Dinah in the kitchen and the spacious skies of course and praise God from whom all blessings flow. But then the schools started encouraging creativity and kids wrote their own songs, which were crappy, but teachers pretended they were wonderful so as not to stunt the child’s imagination, and the old songs, which truly were wonderful, got lost, which was symptomatic of a general loss of standards carried out by romantic narcissists my age, some of them friends of mine.

I’m groping for grace in my life these days. I’m sure the clothes I wore in my teens and 20’s were ugly as hell to many of my parent’s generation. So I’m holding my tongue about some of the stuff I see young folks wearing now. Reserving the right to certain basic aesthetic opinions, of course, and my disapproval of the “street ho” look being sported by so many young girls and sold by the industrial-fashion-retail complex.

And call me a fuddy duddy, but I still think the Denver Art Museum Expansion is ugly as hell. The good news is that no terrorists would consider bombing it because it already looks like collapsed rubble so what would be the point?