Old and New
It’s been more than twenty years since I sold it, but I miss the old house. It’s only a mile down the hill in the village and it must be something like how it feels to have an ex-wife in town. It was drafty-cold in winter, but when I felt chilled I could warm up by backing up to the wood stove. My new house is warm and tight. There are no drafts and the temperature is even, but I still miss the old place.
That old house drove me crazy sometimes, but most of my memories are good. It will always be part of me because for nine years I crawled all over it inside and out, fixing this and painting that, re-building something else. Nothing was square and all the carpentry took longer, but it was strong, built with posts and beams and tree-nails. The foundation was split granite and hadn’t moved for over a century. There was brick-lined, well just inside the building and water flowed through the partial cellar during spring, coming in from the uphill side and draining out the downhill side. In a dry summer, the well would get low, but we always had enough water if we were careful, even with four kids and two adults. I liked that the house was older than me, more than a hundred years older. When the wind blew hard on winter night, I’d feel uneasy, but then I’d realize that the house had weathered many such storms for more than a century before I was born. There was a certain security in that.
I like my new house too, but it took a long time before I’d done enough to it with my own hands to make it really mine. I bought the land, cleared the trees, and chose a plan with my wife, but I hired carpenters to do most of the actual building. It’s twenty years old now and I’m fifty-seven - much older than the house. The wind blows more strongly here on the windward of Christian Hill. There’s nothing between me and Mount Washington to block it, and on Christmas Eve it was howling worse than I ever remember it. The old house was on the leeward side of the same hill, and I was questioning my judgement about deciding to build here. If anything happened, I’d have no one to blame but myself.
Speaking of the blame game, many in my generation of baby boomers have blamed our problems on the WWII generation for a long time, suggesting they could do a much better job of it. Well, that “greatest generation” is nearly all gone now. The old folks don’t stay around like old houses. They die and we bury them and we become the elders. Most of our current world and national problems are created by guess who? Baby boomers, because we’ve been essentially running things for a couple of decades. Though we still do, we can’t legitimately blame our parents anymore, and soon we won’t be able to ask them for advice either. We’ll have to become fonts of wisdom for those generations following us whether we’re able to or not. I hope they’re more gracious to us than we were to our parents.
Like my new house, our new president-elect is younger than I am. The last two have been only slightly older but I don’t think either one was smarter or wiser - quite the contrary. Obama is on the back end of the baby boomer generation and I’m nearer the front. I’m a whole decade older than he is. Pondering this reminds me of how I felt when I talked to a much younger resident surgeon who was about to do an emergency procedure on me. I had to consent because I couldn’t wait for my own doctor. Now Obama is about to perform emergency surgery on our whole country. He has a Democrat-controlled Congress to pass what he wants and I’m going to have to sit back and watch.
When I go food-shopping, I notice more aisles selling “organic” things, whatever that means. I push my cart past them. If shopping carts had bumper stickers, I would see “Obama/Biden” and “Earth is our Mother” and “Live Simply” down those aisles anyway. Let them pay the inflated prices. In the checkout line recently, a cashier looking for the price of some produce I was buying asked me if it was organic. “I hope not,” I said. “At my age, I need all the preservatives I can get.” I never buy organic produce. It costs more, usually looks wrinkled and misshapen, and doesn’t taste any better. The only way produce tastes better is when it’s fresher, and organic doesn’t mean fresh.
All these are indicators to add to my “You know you’re getting older when . . .” list, which will only get longer until I’m dead - nature’s way of telling us to slow down.
Happy New Year.