Sunday, December 2, 2018

Stories on Aging

Today I’d like to relate three separate stories which are only loosely connected, but which have a common theme about aging.

Aunt Trudy

Last weekend my Aunt Trudy passed away (*1). While it’s been a few years since I’ve visited with her, I was close to her during my growing up years and for many years thereafter. So, like with many of my relatives, her passing will leave a hole in my life. Trudy (her legal name was Gertrude, but nobody called her that) was married to my mother’s younger brother, Richard (Dick). Since she was closest in age to him in their family of five children, that meant that she was also closest emotionally to him and they did many activities together.

Following WWII, in which my father and all my uncles served, my parents and both of my mother’s brothers married in the space of one year and began raising their families. We lived in the northern part of Wolcott, my Uncle Zeke and Aunt Babs just a few houses away, and Uncle Dick and Aunt Trudy in Prospect – about 10 miles away. My mother’s youngest sister, my Aunt Vi, later married and she and Uncle Tony lived in the southern part of Wolcott. Thus there was physical closeness as well as family connections between all these families, although the 10 mile trip to Prospect was a farther than to my other uncles/aunts. So going there was more of a “treat” than going to see my other relatives. In the days that I did a lot of bike riding, I once made the trip to Prospect, but with all the hills in that part of CT it probably took an hour and was hard on the legs on the uphill portions. In fact, I chose to take the “back way” along Plank Road instead of having to deal with the steep uphill portion of Summit Road at its northern end.

When my wife and I married we lived for a few months with my parents, then as we were looking for a place of our own, my Uncle Dick mentioned a house that had become available not far from where they lived where a widow lady had recently passed away. We rented that house for the next three and half years, and since we were now living in Prospect got to know Uncle Dick and Aunt Trudy even better.

That was over 40 years ago now, but the relationship we developed continued after we moved to PA in 1975 and we often stopped by Summit Road on our frequent trips to CT over the intervening years, with our last few visits being after Uncle Dick had moved to a nursing home not far away where he eventually passed in 2011. After Aunt Trudy moved out of her house and went to live with her daughter, my cousin Cindy, we did not see her again, especially since my mother passed away in 2012 and our visits to CT became less frequent.

But as I noted above, the passing of Aunt Trudy will still leave a hole in my life. She was the last of my aunt and uncles to pass away, so there is no one of that generation in my immediate family who is still alive. God Bless, Aunt Trudy – you can now enjoy being in the company of Uncle Dick, your siblings, and my cousin Pat. But we will miss you here on earth.

Ancestor Ages

I have noted before (*2) that for over 15 years I have kept a spreadsheet with all my relatives’ dates of birth, death, and age. When I started keeping this spreadsheet there were over 20 living individuals above me, i.e. older, in the list. This included not only my parents, but most of my uncles/aunts. But with the passing of my Aunt Trudy, there are now only six living individuals above me, and only one of them is of an older generation (my father’s cousin Gertrude Anderson who is still going strong at age 94!), no one else is more than ten years older.

This summer I reached the “ripe old age” of 70. While that is a number like any other, it seems to hold a lot more significance. Many people in their 60s are still working, but not that many in their 70s. Any while my hair is no more white than it was a year ago, I am suddenly in a new decade of my life and when you tell someone you are 70 they react differently. And, perhaps more importantly, I am beginning to “feel” older – I have a lot more aches and pains then I used to. As I said to someone recently, “I now have aches where I didn’t know I had muscles to ache.”

While I have a lot of relatives on my mother’s side of the family who lived into their 80s, here is a complete list of my relatives (great-grandparents, grandparents, aunts/uncles, cousins) who were born before me on my father’s side of the family:

·       74 – Louis Russell (great-grandfather)
·       32 – Anna [Merchant] Russell (great-grandmother)
o   75 – Erskine Russell (grandfather)
o   51 – Linus Russell (great-uncle)
o   88 – Loretta [Russell] McNaught (great-aunt)
o   83 – William Russell (great-uncle)
o     3 – Allen Russell (great-uncle)
o   89 – Pauline [Russell] Scott (great-aunt)

·       42 – Maurice Levy (great-grandfather)
·       63 – Caroline [Northrop] Levy (great-grandmother)
o   68 – Vera [Levy] [Russell] Rogers (grandmother)
o   81 – Irene Hartwell (great-aunt)

·       85 – Vernon Russell (father)

·       74 – Dorothy [Russell] Hill (aunt)
o   76 – Carolyn [Hill] Burns (cousin) – only one still living in this list
o   65 – Bobby Hill (cousin)

That’s 16 people and I’m already older than the age that 7 of them were when they passed away! And in the next few years I’ll pass another 3 of these. I guess I should be grateful that only half of my DNA is from this side of the family and that the other half is from where my mother and her four siblings lived to 88, 86, 85, 85 and 81.

Community Christmas Dinner

Yesterday our church had its annual Community Christmas Dinner. We invite those in the community, especially those from the local retirement communities, assisted living centers, etc. to join us for a meal, singing of a few Christmas songs, a short devotional, etc. It lasts about two hours – from 4 to 6. The church provides the food and we have lots of volunteers – setup, cooking, serving, table hosts, cleanup, etc. My wife and I always volunteer to host a table.

This year I was assigned to a group from one of the local assisted living centers who came in their small bus. I had three ladies at the table with me. One had some obvious physical and mental handicaps (used a 4-wheeled walker, required help to get into her chair), one was the bus driver from the group, and one was physically okay but as the driver told me, “I have to sit next to her so she won’t wander off.” It soon became obvious that she was dealing with some version of dementia such as Alzheimer’s.  We enjoyed our meal and singing together and I conversed with them as best I could.

Toward the end of the time there is an announcement made that the oldest person at each table would get to take home the centerpiece – a poinsettia plant with a candle in the center. I had already quietly managed to determine the ages of the ladies so I could help with this aspect of it. The one sitting next to me was only 53, and the driver was turning 60 in a few days. I asked the driver if she knew the age of the lady beside her, to which she replied, “I don’t know, and she might not either.” So she asked and the lady responded, “I’m in my 70’s.” They may or may not have been correct, but that’s all we could get from her. The bus driver decided that she would bring the centerpiece back to the assisted living center and put it on a table in their dayroom.

As the announcement was made, one of the servers who was standing next to our table, looked a me and pointed at the centerpiece and mouthed, “Is that yours, Al?” I gave an exaggerated frown as I replied, “Watch it!” in jest. But then I looked at it from his perspective. The first two ladies looked their age with their hair speckled with gray. The last lady had a nice soft gray color to her hair. But my hair, what there is of it, is all white. I know that he was joking with me, as the centerpiece is supposed to be for the guest, not for the host, but I really did look like the oldest person at the table! But at least I’m not living at an assisted living center!


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