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Saturday, April 16, 2011

O is for Old age and occupation

My grandmother Angela
 Old age is a daunting, frightening thing for many of us. That may be because we know what to expect and we just don't like it. The aches, the pains, the slowing down, the diminished mental faculties, all of that bodes ill for a happy life after a certain age. Some of us, however, get old before our time, mostly from attitude and boredom. Yes, boredom! To relieve this boredom we need occupation no matter what our age.
Grandmother Angela, me and my brother Alex
 Take my paternal grandmother for instance. She was a devote Catholic who had five children, 18 grandchildren and more great-grand children than I can remember. She always lived with one of her kids. She lived with my family for a while, in fact, when we lived in Manhattan in a tiny two bedroom apartment. Even when she was young, she seemed old to me. It wasn't the wrinkles or anything like that. She just had no occupation and never seemed to be doing anything other than praying. Now there is nothing wrong with praying so don't misunderstand me, but to do this all the time? She was as close to a nun as I ever saw without her actually being one. This, in my eyes, made her old.

Mom and Pop out in the sugar cane field
My parents are what most people would  consider old, into their 70's, but they just never seem old to me. Why? Because they always kept busy even after retiring. My father runs his little poultry farm and takes care of a good piece of property, planting all sorts of fruits and vegetables for their consumption and for sharing with the neighbors. Not by himself, he does all this, but with a helper. The thing is, he's always doing something and because of that, he's relatively healthy of mind and body.
Mom fussing with her plants, not much different then me!
My mother, on the other hand, is a bit sickly. She has severe arthritis so she can't do as much as she'd like, but even still, she keeps as busy as she can. She reads stories and teaches Catechism to the neighborhood kids, takes them on outings down to the river and to picnics by the waterfall. She loves doing gigantic puzzles, to go swimming in summer and to walk through her beautiful tropical garden and fuss with her vast collection of orchids. She used to do very intricate crocheting but now her hands hurt a bit too much for that, so she does it very rarely.
Mom with her Catechism class. She insists you can teach about God anywhere!
 My mother seemed to figure out what I noticed about my grandmother, that she was getting old before her time because of boredom. So, what she did was teach her how to crochet and do other simple crafts, like plastic canvas needlepoint. Now, this may seem like a ridiculous thing to teach a sixty plus year old woman--at least my aunts, her daughters thought so--but teach her these things my mother would and did.

And you know what happened? She loved it! Yes, my grandmother found something she could do to keep her gnarled fingers nimble and her mind a bit more sharp. She also found a joy in making things to give to her loved ones. Did she ever become proficient in these crafts and create master pieces of heirloom quality? No, but that was hardly the point. She crocheted doilies and baby blankets, made simple bath tissue covers, napkin holders and placemats. All of these item found permanent places of honor in her relative's homes. That was enough. It made her happy to make them and to give them away and that was all my mother had expected to do.

I thought that was pretty good. When I went to visit my grandmother in Florida she gave me two of the doilies she made. She laughed as she showed them to me and said, "They're not very good, nothing like your mother makes,but if you would like them you can have them."

"Of course I want them! They're beautiful!" I told her. To me they were.
Doilies my grandmother made for me
My grandmother died last November. She was eighty-four years old. Declining in health she was, so it wasn't as if it was unexpected. She was ready to meet her maker, I heard her often say. But still, it was sad. I will however always keep the two doilies she made which brought her equal joy in creating and giving them as it did for me in receiving them.

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