The last few days have been a bit strange. I’ve sort of felt as if I’m in an episode of Star Trek — and I’v walked through some sort of time warp. One of the best parts of being a full time RV’er is that we spend our time in places we like. If we don’t like our neighbors we move (or they move); if we don’t like the weather we’re free to move; if we love where we are we have the option to stay as long as we like. One of the strange parts of being a full time RV’er is that doing those very things can result in losing track of what’s going on in the other world — the one where people stay in one place, where they are forced to deal with neighbors and bosses and family members, and where you sometimes end up in places you don’t want to be and cant do anything about changing.
The world I remember growing up in (which might not have been the real world at all) was a world where you could still find people who stood for something noble (an out-of-date word if ever I heard one) and who had principles, people with class. I grew up an idealist; I haven’t lost that idealism but I admit of some disillusionment with the current state of national and world affairs. I know the world will not go back to what it was. I can’t even say I’m sorry — the world has outgrown what it once was and new paradigms are needed to cope. What I’m not so sure about is how I — personally — want to react to what I see.
All of this has started some months ago when our grand-daughter set the date for her wedding. And I’m not blaming anything on her — she just provided the jumping off point for thoughts that have nothing whatsoever to do with her.
When Peggy and I married we attended a small church on the near North side of Chicago. After church we often drove one of the older parishioners home — he lived on the far South side of town. He had moved to Chicago from Pittsburgh in a buckboard not all that different from this shot of a Chicago Police wagon from the late 1800’s — which was when he moved there. He would point out places, like the mouth of the Chicago River where it now crosses Michigan Avenue — the center of downtown Chicago — and tell us about weeping willow trees and where he used to go for ‘country’ picnics in the middle of what is now all glass and steel and concrete. I had said, at that time, that probably no generation in history had seen as much change as his. He went from foot-power and horse-power to men on the moon in one lifetime. Since then the changes don’t appear to the eye to be quite as dramatic but I know in my heart that they are increasing at an ever steepening rate of change. We see miracles around us everyday and are so desensitized by them that we don’t even think of them as miracles anymore.
My father in law built his own house in the late 1940’s. His refrigerator was still running when we sold that home in 2008. He had installed linoleum counters in the house and those linoleum counters lasted a good 40 years. His kitchen cabinets had a mere two coats of paint on them — with good care and a regular wash-down they looked as good as new when we sold the home — except that they were 60 years old. We sometimes watch HGTV and I’m struck by how many young couples absolutely have to have the latest fads in kitchen design. Marble isn’t enough for counters, it has to be granite, and granite isn’t enough it has to be something newer. Painted appliances aren’t good enough they have to be stainless steel. You name it, someone’s going to find fault with remodel projects that were completed the day before the house went on the market.
I’ll never forget my father coming home from work on a few occasions all upset with the newly hired children of his longtime co-workers. These college aged young men had to have pickup trucks as new as their fathers’, and stereos as loud, and clothing as nice as their fathers’ who had worked all their lifetime to acquire those things. Surely, “normal” is what you grow up with and people seem unable to imagine living with less than what they had when they were young.
We talk, from time to time, about what we would/might do when the time comes to get off the road. With my heart problems I don’t know how long we’ll be able to do this. We aren’t in a hurry to change our lives around but at some point I’ll need surgery and how early that happens (or is advised) will make a big difference in whether we can continue after the fact. The point being, we talk about what we might like as a sticks & bricks replacement for our RV.
We know we don’t need a lot of space. Right now we have 8 feet by 40 feet (320 sq ft) before you put out the slides and they add, I don’t know, maybe another 70 sq ft at most. That is smaller than most small apartments. I think our grand daughter’s first studio apartment clocked in at about 400 sq ft — so we live full time in something she was only too eager to get out of because it was so small. There are numerous new projects going up around Milwaukee aimed at the senior market. I look at the rates being charged for new construction and say, “why would I want to spend that much money for that?” The key word being “that” — they are all modern looking and functioning, heartless and cold. Sure, they are streamlined, but I don’t know if I’d want to live in something that streamlined.
It’s good that the world changes. It’s good to stay abreast of change. But it’s also good to be content — and to know when you are in your own comfort zone. When I was still in ministry I had a lot of older folks to deal with — seems between my 20’s and my 50’s I had more old people in my life than young ones even though we were active with Kathryn’s schools and made a point of keeping young people in our life. The fact is they were still outnumbered by the aged and the infirmed. But one memory stands apart from all those dealings with all those older folks. Maybe they were unique, but to a person they enjoyed a sense of contentment with their lives. These were mostly immigrants to this country. A good number of the lived into their 90’s, they had been farmers in the Old Country — Poland, Germany, Czechoslovakia, Serbia, Ukraine. Life here had been infinitely better than what they left behind and they never forgot. Also, they never gave up being who they were. They still spoke their own language (along with sometimes faltering English — but they all became U.S. citizens); they cooked their old food, they tried to assimilate into this country but they were content being who they were. When they got sick they suffered through their illness with courage. Most of the time you didn’t know they were sick — they didn’t trouble people with their problems. They smiled. Some of my fondest memories are of these old, wrinkly faces, smiling — talking away to beat the band — and smiling. To this day I honestly see smiling wrinkled faces as being the most beautiful faces I’ve ever seen. They fought their way through life, they were at peace with it, and they were content.
I don’t know if I will reach their age. I don’t know if I’ll turn into a chatterbox they way some of them did. Already I get razzed by Peggy that I will talk to almost anyone — just not for too long. I question whether I have the character to bear without complaint as many physical problems as many of them carried around with them. I think I’m kind of a wuss when it comes to physical discomfort. But I’ll try.
There isn’t much I need right now. We have our coach. And when something goes wrong with it all I want, or need, is to get that thing fixed. Other than that I’m really pretty content. Oh, I talk about what we can do, what we should do, what we might do — but none of that matters a whit. The two of us are together, we’re having a good time, and we have most of our health. With little exceptions what more canyou ask? When I see how the world is changing around me I mostly want to say, “Well, let it change…. I’m happy with what I have.” I hope I’ll stay that way. Every time we have these interactions with doctors I find myself asking questions of myself. I’m glad that (generally) the doctors get two shots at us and mostly leave us alone. I know that will change as we age. Heck, for the 5 years between my mom’s passing and my father’s he was literally back in hospital once every quarter for 5 years. I’d rather not repeat that as “family history.” But the fact of the matter is none of us get’s to choose our own weaknesses. We can influence them — make them worse by our actions or inactions — but basically it’s all up to genetic soup. We’ve been mostly lucky. Not everyone is. We have a lot to be thankful for.
And in the meantime, I wonder what stories I’ll have if I ever get to the ripe old age of that gent (he was in his late 90’s when we drove him home week after week). I’m sure I’d enjoy telling 20-somethings about what we went through. I suppose they’ll be as amazed as I was — if they even believe that life could be so basic in the 1950’s, and 60’s, and 70’s, and 80’s and 90’s…. But I know one thing. I’m glad I was born when I was. I know the world I grew up in. There were many things we didn’t have when I was younger. But to tell you the truth — there’s nothing I see now that I would trade for the world I grew up in. Nothing.
Thanks for stopping by, and I’ll be here again tomorrow. Why not stop in and say Hi!