February 8, 2010

USA: Marching into old age

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SANTA CRUZ, California / Santa Cruz Sentinel / Columns / February 8, 2010

By Dan Harper

There is only one thing I regret about my life -- I never realized until late adolescence that I had 70 plus years to better myself.

When I finally made that discovery, I was locked into the cares and responsibilities of fatherhood, husband and educator.

"Youth," said Lord Asquith in 1923 "would be an ideal state if it came a little later in life."

So the revolution came and went. The 1960s found us among the trees of Ben Lomond.

My wife and I and our small family were in Ben Lomond, where the swirl of alternative lifestyles got its wings. We were busy raising a family and missed a lot of the subtleties of that age.

Drawing of St Andrew's Church, in Ben Lemond, built end 19th century

We were hardly at the center of that revolution. We lived in the woods, but I never really participated in the drug-taking, or protesting the war. I never painted peace symbols on the sides of my VW beetle and my hair was never very long.

To be honest, I was thoroughly enmeshed in my middle class values by the time we had our two kids. My naivete and innocence kept me ignorant in many ways. I don't think I could tell the difference between a Lamborghini and Spaghetti Risotto in those days.

The sexual revolution that was occurring all around us somehow passed us by.

We had just arrived from the San Joaquin Valley, and we were a very conventional family. I suppose we still are.

This was when people were dancing naked in the fields below us, but we were still eating canned pork and beans.

I was an English teacher, and Alice was a UC Santa Cruz librarian. We believed in the lyrical gospel of Dylan Thomas ... or was it Bob Dylan?

We threaded our way through this acid-crazed world in our 700 square foot Ben Lomond cabin. The bigger world around us left us largely untouched.

Alice and I even sold candles in downtown Felton, and I sometimes wore a necklace and grew a beard "" though all that doesn't seem so risky now. Our two young children weren't part of this revolution -- but of course, neither were we.

We were squares in round holes. We were fakes and pretenders -- sometimes even fooling ourselves.

We believed in hard work and paying our bills. We always balanced our checkbook. We saved money so I could buy a motorcycle.

We weren't the people we claimed to be. We honored family values and lived industriously and honestly. It was difficult to believe in free love and still put on a suit and go to church each Sunday. But we did.

Old age seemed far, far away then. But today I look at photographs of our little family and our little house and I think, "How utterly naive we were."

I have recently renewed my friendship with my college roommate of more than 50 years ago. Bill Jack lives in Northern California. He sent me a newsletter he came across from "The Shasta County Sentinel" which quoted a poem by an anonymous source simply called, "The Crabby Old Man."

It's a poem about aging and traces the ages most of us live through.

Near the end of the poem the Crabby Old Man wrote, "I'm now an old man," And nature is cruel. / Tis jest to make old age/Look like a fool. / The body, it crumbles /Grace and vigor, depart."

Yes, I, too, regret the way my body "crumbled." And aging is one of those small tragedies that occur to everyone if they're lucky. The powers I thought I had have somehow slipped away when I wasn't looking.

The virility of bulges and muscle have turned to fat and flab. This cruel change has transformed me from a vain self-centered specimen to a weakened and vulnerable old man.

Vanity fades. I have come to accept my diminished physical powers as the price I pay for living into the twilight of life.

Yes, my wife and doctor tell me I'm overweight, but the good life has let me live beyond all reasonable estimates.

I feel like I'm living into old age, not as I want to look, but with the body I've earned. I'm just glad I made it this far.

Someone once said, "I'm not fat at all --I'm just short for my weight. I should be 9 feet, 7 inches." I guess I have tasted too much of life and good food. Do you feel sorry for me? [rc]

Dan Harper is an Aptos photographer, journalist and former English department chairman at Cabrillo College.
E-Mail:  dnaharp@pacbell.net.

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