Thoughts on Growing Older

Florence Dyck at 19. (SUPPLIED)

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I’m not sure when I started thinking about aging. Was it in 1995 when my husband’s parents died within a month of each other? Or in 2011 when my mother died? Was I now, officially, part of the older and expected to be wiser generation?
I never feel wise, but most days I feel as young and well as I did as a newlywed. I, especially, feel that way after a long walk with friends, a morning of pickle ball or an outing with grandchildren. But then I look in the mirror and wonder how 55 years could have passed so quickly. One day, with a 10-year-old grandson watching, I did something quite novel (for me) on my computer. “Not bad for an old lady!” I joked.
“You’re not an old lady,” was his quick response. “You’re just an old girl!”
“Thanks!”
Another time, a daughter-in-law told me I had so much fun with the grandkids because I was such a kid myself. I chose to take that as a compliment also! I agree with the words of Carroll Bryant, “growing old is mandatory but growing up is optional.”
I do know that I am growing older. In case, I forget I have another birthday coming up to remind me. I love my birthdays, I really do. For my 65th birthday and retirement gift, I planned a two month backpacking trip in Europe with my sister, Deb, and a school friend, Eve. We had amazing adventures together! For my 70th birthday, my husband and I flew to Victoria, BC for a few days. Then, last year, I celebrated my 75th birthday in Disney Land with my husband and our daughter and her family. I would just prefer ignoring the numbers, though, as the birthdays roll by quicker each year.
I was born on a beautiful Good Friday morning on Friday, April 23, 1943. It was not a good time in history to be born. The news that day in both The Winnipeg Free Press and in The Tribune was about the war raging across Europe and parts of Asia. Fighting between Canada and its allies against Nazi Germany was fierce and relentless. The world news that day told about a Polish Polizeifuhrer, Jurgen Stroop, burning down all the buildings in the Warsaw Ghetto. Most of the Jews had already been taken to concentration camps. This fire would kill the ones in hiding.
Mom and Dad, like many of their peers, were struggling to raise a young family at this terrible time. They followed the war news but it did not affect them as it did the people of Great Britain and their allies. Dad was conscripted in 1944 after he already was married and had two children. He was rejected for severe health concerns.
When Jeanne was born in the Concordia Hospital in Winnipeg, the nurses supposedly told Mom she was the most beautiful baby ever born there.
When Jimmy was born, three years later, he was almost “switched at birth”. After my sedated mother woke, her longed for son was brought to her. Mom took one look at him and declared, “That’s not my baby!” The nurses checked his bracelet and, indeed, she was right.
Almost 8 years later, Debbie was born in the Morden General Hospital. She was the adored baby of our family. And we all declared her perfect!
No stories, embellished or otherwise, were told about my birth. I was not the firstborn. I was not the only son and I was not the baby of the family. In fact, my only claim to fame was being born less than a year after Jeanne. Two babies so close together would be a challenge at any time. It was especially difficult during war-time.
Flannelette for diapers and blankets was in short supply as was anything else Mom needed. My parents did not complain, though. They supplemented their ration cards with vegetables and fruit from their garden and eggs, milk and butter from the chickens and cow they kept on their small semi-rural property on the outskirts of Winnipeg.
The memories I have of my childhood and growing up in Winnipeg, on a farm in southern Manitoba, and in Morden are etched deep in the recesses of my mind. And basically, I have nothing but good memories. I grew up in a poor hard-working family. My mother was firm but loving and managed to keep our family together despite the toll of our father’s illness.
I was an energetic child with a joy and zest for living and mischief. I tormented my older sister by chasing her with bumble bees and spiders. I even chased her with the discarded skin of a snake. My brother and I romped in the hay and tried riding our pig after we read about it in a farm magazine. I was thrilled when I was finally allowed to wear a pair of hand-me-down pants. I’m sure I was “that delightful child who drove her mother wild.” She despaired of my ever forsaking my tomboyish ways!
I grew older! I did all that was expected of me. I loved school and learning. I was one of those unusual kids who never had to be reminded to do her homework. At home, though, I did my chores reluctantly. I had summer jobs that contributed to the family’s income. I graduated high school and went on to university without creating too many waves.
My husband and I married young as did most of our peers. We had our first child two years later. My only regrets are that I wasn’t the kind, patient mother with my first three children as I was with the last two. These are my only words of wisdom to my children, and maybe to other young parents. “I have no regrets about the times I was too lenient with words and/or discipline. I only regret the times I was too harsh.”
The years passed. I taught for almost 25 years during our marriage and worked at other jobs to help with our finances. We raised five wonderful children and now have ten amazing grandchildren. We were so blessed to have Ron’s parents plus my mother and two wonderful step-fathers involved in our lives and supportive of our family.
Our twin grandsons, Christian and Elijah, now 11 in Grade 5, were born in Penticton the year I retired. They are wonderful little boys and we enjoy our times together. A while ago, I told Elijah about the day I was teaching and saw a black cougar-like animal on the berm near our school. “I love your stories, Grandma,” he said. “You make them so interesting!”
“That’s why I’m writing a book,” I answered, “so someday, when I’m not here, you can read my stories to your children.”
“What did you say?” he wailed. “I want you to be here to read to them! I don’t want you ever to die!” I assured him I would be around for a while yet and definitely hoped to read to his children. I will watch my choice of words in future.
When I started writing, with an autobiography for my family in mind, I thought my life too ordinary to be interesting. Then something clicked. No life is ordinary! The fact that we are here; living our lives, loving our families and enjoying our beautiful world is extraordinary. Every life has a story to tell. My mother and grandmother were both story tellers. On the farm, we spent the long, dark evenings gathered around the oil lamp. We sat enthralled while our mother, never missing a stitch in her knitting, kept us entertained with stories she had read in books or in newspapers. As young as I was, I loved hearing about the lives of others.
Almost seventy-six years have passed since the day I was born. “Who is this person?” I wonder. “When did she get so old?” A few years ago, I was indignant when the impossibly young staff at fast food places asked if I wanted my senior’s discount.
“Noooooo!” I felt like shrieking. Finally, resigning myself to senior’s discounts, I visited the local swimming pool with three young grandchildren in tow. “Three kids and one adult,” I said, “unless you have a senior’s discount.” Without missing a beat, the young girl said she thought it was 60 and did not think I qualified. I agreed wholeheartedly and gladly paid my full fee.
I did not think I was old at 50, or 60 or even 65. I turned 70. “Now, I really am old,” I thought. Then, I turned 75. In case I forget, others have subtle ways of reminding me. Be careful backing up. You don’t want any marks on your license. My daughter holds my arm and cautions me about the slippery deck at the pool. I am reminded to watch my steps on ice or uneven pavement. I am even asked if I can manage taking my groceries to the car.
My mother, who lived to be 93, commented that growing old was not for sissies. And one of her elderly friends laughed as she said, “who’s idea was it anyway, to call these years our golden years.”
I am encouraged, though, by two quotes I read recently. One said, “Do not regret growing older. It is a privilege denied to many.” And, one by Oprah Winfrey said, “Of course, I want to look my best. I want to feel strong and vibrant. But I know for sure that the pathway to your best life isn’t the route of denial. It’s owning every moment. Staking a claim in right now. And, with gratitude, embracing the age you are.”
I am grateful that I have had the privilege of growing older. I will also try to be grateful for the age I am right now. And I definitely am thankful every day for the good health that allows me to stay active and for all the adventures I am still planning.

Florence Dyck at almost 76. (SUPPLIED)

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