“May I have some more…?”
Charles Dickens 1838
Remember, at the last family gathering, you said you wanted me to write and tell you about what Grandma and I are doing and you wanted stories from our past…good and bad…and you also wanted to know about what it is really like to get old… and decrepit. I might add….jokingly There has been a lot of ‘past’ for us…about 162 years of ‘past’. You said you are working on your big paper for your Honours degree You wanted to know about the problems Grandma and I face in our everyday living as we are now in our “sunset years”…Oh, gawd do I hate that expression. I prefer “sunrise”. Here is my first rambling letter to you. When you are next here for a meal we can carry it further if you wish. Here ‘tis. Use it as you wish with both of our blessings. My ego will be satisfied with a footnote and a line in the bibliography. Grandma will be sticking her oars in at various points…I can assure you.
“Flying in the face of getting older is first of all, flying in the face of accepting the reality of aging. This flies in the face of trying to do something about creeping and chronic unplanned obsolescence. Another way to express this process is to view aging as personal time filled with unintended consequences. Not much in my life has turned out as I planned. In fact, planning by me has usually failed. But I have learned to roll on the heaving ship of life.
When I asked my impious, ninety-three-year-old grandma, your great grandmother Irene, what her secret in life was, she responded quickly with, “If it is empty… fill it…if it is full, empty at and if it itches, scratch it!” To this she added, “And do not write your epitaph too soon.” Then she cackled that wonderful high pitched whoop of hers and said, “Whoop da diddie…” I puzzled over her answer for some years before the full meaning struck. Grandma was a philosopher, and sometimes pretty earthy. Mother, your grandmother Mabel, riddled with arthritis, had terrible trouble getting out of bed each morning when she was in her seventies. When she was about ninety she said, “I wish I could die for thirty minutes each morning! Just thirty minutes, no one else will clean the house.” With that, she added, “Old age ain’t for sissies!” Her laugh was more of a snort than a laugh. One time she laughed and snorted so hard from the humour of one of her home truths that she spat out her false teeth. I can still see them skittering across the floor. You can imagine the hilarity in the kitchen. I hope I can age like those two…they both laughed right down to the siren.
Rockie, I just had a great idea, and bless you for it. I will use these communications with you to use as a basis for a book about getting old. It has been years since I did some serious writing. You have inspired me. I will call this one, “Old Age Ain’t for Sissies” and I will dedicate it to your grandmothers Mabel and Irene. I know you have just said, “Awesome”, as you read this. I can see you. I have been casting around, looking for something to occupy my time meaningfully. Old Man Arthritis is getting so that there is little work I can do on the farm. I really miss milking my goats and things like putting up sheds or stretching fences. But the goats are enjoying a good retirement and I always have the chooks. They are natural comedians, especially when they are protecting a new brood.
Thinking about getting old is not easy. It is difficult enough to look at myself as a dottering old man in a full-length mirror and then think of having once been a handsome and dashing young buck. I am reminded of the passage, “Vengeance is mine says the Lord I shall repay!” and “Vanity of vanities…” Well, I have not always been old, I have to keep telling myself. Reaching back sixty-five years, to my first construction job, age seventeen, I picked up two bags of cement, one under each arm, and delivered the bags after climbing up a long ladder. The boss told me he needed ten more bags immediately. “Swede”, he yelled, “I want them now!” Easy. Today, none of my shoes have laces as I cannot lean over without pain. Once I was arrested by a highway patrol cop for seriously exceeding the speed limit. The cop knew my dad and I caught hell a second time when I got home. A couple of months ago I was pulled over for driving too slowly on the Northern Outlet and instead of looking over my car, he examined me! He asked about my eyesight, my reflexes and if I was feeling well. I thought for a moment that he was going to give me a strip search. He told me to be careful and I said, “Thanks, Sonny”. I wish I had learned to keep my mouth shut more in life. Once I won a beer drinking contest where I quickly tossed down ten pots. Last night I fell asleep in my chair after partially sipping one glass of red wine. Patch used to jump up onto our bed for warmth. Now I call her over and she snuggles happily between and keeps US warm. One of the aching problems is not in getting older, the problem seems to be increasingly remembering the present. Unfortunately, it is the past we remember and the present, we seem to forget. For example, I now have seven pairs of glasses and they all seem to hide. Grandma has only three pairs.
But our many grandchildren can be helpful. Knowing I can repeat myself with the wonderful stories of my amazing childhood, as you remember, I have asked the grandkids to help me. If they have heard my story before they are to smile and show their fingers for every time they think they may have heard the story. Last week young Abraham raised both hands, showed ten fingers and hollered, “‘Nuff Grandpa!” He shouted before I had even finished the story…again.
The little things in life are what bother me now. I have made all the big decisions. For instance, why do all television stations lower their sound after commercials? My hearing is fine. Perhaps they sell more gadgets that way. Why have they made the steps into Metro buses higher? Perhaps my legs have simply gotten shorter. We are told that we get shorter as we age and I think I have lost an inch or two because of my bowing legs. Or, why do cars on the highway blast their horns at me so often? Young people are in too much of a hurry.
Just the other day a young punk on his skateboard, of course he was wearing a baseball cap backwards, roared by me on the street corner at Brisbane Street and knocked off my hat and shouted, Gotcha Old Man! In my younger days, I would have played Gotcha! a different way. But he was out of sight before I could adjust my glasses. It is this backward wearing of baseball caps that has given the world insoluble problems. If we could totally outlaw baseball caps the world would be a better place. Just think of all those young hoons whom we see on some news programme, going to court. Most of them wear their caps… backwards. And in the graffiti, which cover the city walls, goodness. They must all hate their mothers and grandmothers. Where have such words like that started in the minds of the young? I remember getting the belt from father once for saying “Bloody” in front of him. That was after I cut myself badly with my knife while sharpening an arrow for killing birds. Yes, Rockie, this generation, I guess your generation or at least some of them, have little discipline and will be the ruination of the country. I am glad you have been trained differently. Don’t tell me anything else please.
And that brings me to another story… tell you the next letter. Or perhaps I will just get on with writing this book and let you read it as you wish. This could be fun for both of us. I rather liked doing this and hope it helps. I failed Sociology at my first attempt in university and ended up teaching the stuff. It is a lovely discipline and great to teach but too much jargon for me. Have to go out and feed the chooks…had three new hatchings. It is holy to watch a new mother teaching her babies how to be successful. This is only exceeded in humour by watching baby goats learn how to be goats. Let me know if this is what you want. Just give a call.
Buck Thor Emberg
Buck is a traveller. He and his wife Joan began their travelling life together 37 years ago. They have lived in twelve countries and travelled in 126. Buck sees himself as a humourist with a philosophical bent. He recently completed his PhD in Tasmanian History and holds other degrees in Philosophy, History and Theology but still sees himself as a boy from a dirty little railroad village close to the border of Canada…on the USA side. He has been a cleaner of railroad spitoons, brick carrier, football player, teacher, city planner, clergyman and has been trying to retire for decades. For this he has always failed as the next book or work has already started and he has never been able to keep a job.
In this work, Old Age Ain’t for Sissies, Buck takes us travelling with him and Joan across Australia and North America as they attempt to retire. His humourous philosophy is scattered throughout the book as bits of home-spun truths and gleanings from other writers and thinkers. He refers to himself as a Kierkegaardian Existentialist…which essentially mean his mind and life come straight from the Chaos Theory. This is a work about how to or how not to retire.
Buck is deeply involved in the environmental problems of Tasmania and belongs to a number of conservation groups in which he is very active.
We would like you to take these trips with Buck and Joan and certainly respond with comments or additions if you wish. He may be reached by email at:
These installments of the serialized book continue fortnightly.
Get on your philosophical bicycle and join them.