Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Threescore And Ten More Or Less

“The years of our life are threescore and ten,” wrote King David three thousand years ago in Psalm 90. People in their sixties who are approaching that milestone often review their past lives. That’s what a friend who is a psychotherapist told me recently. Thoughts, feelings, images, smells, sounds from our past all come unbidden into our consciousness — some pleasant, some painful. We can push them away or we can entertain them — watch them and feel them as they play out.

Ma's house in Lovell

Triggers include old songs or passing by places where something significant occurred long ago. Sometimes it’s just a smell. It’s all those for me but lately it’s old photographs too. I thought I was done sorting through boxes of old pictures from my mother’s house in Lovell. Two years ago “Ma,” as everyone calls her, decided to go into assisted living and my nephew was invited to take over her place. We moved only the contents of her bedroom into her new facility, then children and grandchildren were invited to take whatever was meaningful to them. That made only a small dent in the house’s contents and my nephew was told he could keep or dispose of whatever was left. Last month he dropped off still another box of old photos we had overlooked.

Tewksbury neighborhood 1959 or so

One envelope from the box contained wallet-sized photos of more than seventy children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. Those little pictures used to cover the entire front and one side of Ma’s refrigerator because her thirty-plus grandchildren sent her school pictures for every grade. I sorted those into envelopes for myself and my siblings now that each of us heads a three-generation extended family of our own. Most live in Greater Boston and all came up to bucolic Lovell, Maine for summers and vacations with Ma. Widowed at 52, she bought an old farmhouse here and lived in it for more than thirty years. Back in the twenties and thirties, Ma’s own grandmother brought her grandchildren for extended stays “out in the country” of Cochituate, now part of a Boston suburb called Wayland. Ma had such fond memories of those days, she wanted to repeat the process.

Kate Carney, Ma's grandmother 1890?

Also in the box were more pictures of myself and my siblings as we were growing up in the forties, fifties and sixties, some of which I had never seen. There were also more shots of my mother and her siblings from nearly a hundred years ago. There were photos of her and my father after they had eloped during World War II and before all us children came along in the baby boom. Some of those I’d never seen either.

My mother and father 1940s

Then one of my daughters gave me a photo album she retrieved from my late mother-in-law’s condominium with shots my immediate family from thirty and forty years ago. I spent two days at my computer scanning hundreds of these formerly one-of-a-kind keepsakes. Now they’re re-produceable with only a keystroke thanks to the wonders of digital imaging.

Daughter Annie and wife Roseann 1978

I’d forgotten much of what I was seeing as I sorted through all this, including just how beautiful my wife looked as a young mother. She is still stunning as a grandmother and I have many, more recent images of her which I see regularly thanks to digital photo frames I bought for us and our children. They have motion detectors and turn on when someone walks by, then turn off after five or ten minutes. Now I’m compiling hundreds of selected family photos from 2017 and this year’s collection will contain extended-family shots from forty, fifty, and sixty years ago as well.

Some of the grandchildren around 1985

I also gave a digital frame to my mother who turned 93 in September. Soon I’ll bring her a thumb drive with our 2017 images so she can plug it in and see what my branch of the family has been up to. She has only a tiny refrigerator in her studio apartment at the facility but many of her grandchildren are still begatting great-grandchildren. Today each branch can bring her a thumb drive too. There are always new names to learn as more babies are born and she prays for all of them every day.

At fourscore and thirteen, Ma is the last of her generation. When she passes my siblings and I will be the elders and younger ones will look to us. Continuing what David wrote in Psalm 90:

The years of our life are threescore and ten,
    or even by reason of strength fourscore;
yet their span is but toil and trouble;
    they are soon gone, and we fly away.

Ma in 1948?

But they’re not all toil and trouble. There’s plenty of happiness along the way too as Ma keeps reminding us before that day comes when she, too, flies away.


Uber_Fritz said...

Great piece, Tom. At 66, my experiences are on par with yours. My mother turned 90 in August and I grew up on farmland in Mansfield, MA.

Anonymous said...

Sheesh, You just HAD to remind me.
It was bad enough when I heard my first Top 10 hit referred to as an oldie.
It was bad enough when "I've become my father!",
And NOW you've gone done and reminded me, "I've become...the Patriarch"
(My partner has likewise become the Matriarch of HER family)
And they don't even BOTHER to play Winchester Cathedral on the oldies radio any more!
OT(ish), A.I.M. , via. AOL, apparently fades away on Dec. 15