“He was an elderly man of 42…”
Those were the opening words of one of the many, many stories I dreamt up and put pen to as a girl, most of which are lost and forgotten, scribbled on scraps of crumpled paper lost under beds and in schoolbooks many decades ago, but this particular line I recall vividly. I was 14, and, as I proceeded to read the opening line to my bemused family lounging around the kitchen table on a sticky Saturday morning, I got no further. The entire room – parents and siblings alike – burst into gales of laughter.
Alarmed, I had no idea what I had done wrong. I flushed to my roots then went pale. What on EARTH was so funny about an elderly man of 42?
For all my youth, I was thorough at what interested me, if completely useless at what did not. I researched my subjects carefully, spending hours in the local college library even though I was not allowed to check out any books. That was OK. Just let me sit among the stacks and revel. I was, and remain, a true book geek, loving the smell and feel of history, the weight of the volume, the dust, the page after page of words and words and words… factoids and figures, drawings of 16th century French clothing and Civil War maps, photos of American Indians and serious contemplation of how wrong we all went at Bull Run…
Yes, my friends, these were the musings of my 14-year-old mind. And yet I always wondered why I never made cheerleader. Go figure!
I spent many happy summers with my grandparents, and on at least one such occasion, my dad packed me off on the Trailways bus bound for southern Missouri with 2 suitcases: One full of clothes, and the other… well, when Dad lifted it with no little difficulty, he exclaimed, “Whatcha got in here, girl? Bricks?”
He was close. “No dad – that case is my books from the library.” I pushed my glasses further up my nose, hoping to appear more authoritative. “I’m studying General George McClellan – did you know they called him ‘Little Napoleon’?” Short though he was, he was also handsome, and though I was bookish, I was also a bit boy crazy at 14. General McClellan fit the bill nicely. It didn’t matter that he had been a happily married man and was long dead. A girl could dream.
Fortunately for me at the time, I had NO IDEA of the true extent of my geekiness. This was MY normal, wasn’t it everyone’s?
So, when embarking on my well-researched and finely crafted tale for my family’s delight, I was quite upset by their reaction. Didn’t they care that this ancient man of 42 was the father of my main character, Letitia, who was about to set sail for Cadiz (Spain) on an adventure? I had the atlas open… Encyclopedia pictures of the very place. My sketchpad was full of drawings of the ACTUAL MAIN CHARACTERS! This was a swashbuckling adventure… swordfights, pirates, damsels in distress… didn’t they even want to KNOW what was going to happen?
My mum, tears in her eyes at this point, finally explained through gasps of laughter, “Honey, I’M nearly 42…”
“Ohhhhhh.” I replied, sinking deep into thoughtful contrition. My mum was certainly not elderly by any stretch of my overactive imagination, with her pretty, smooth-skinned face and curling brown hair.
Thus, my first acquaintance with the relativity of age. Being 14 at the time, I figured 42 was about as old as a person could possibly ever get. By that reasoning, I should have been dead now 6 years. Still alive and kicking at a cool 48, my impression of what makes one elderly has altered dramatically. I have come to the conclusion that the old and much over-used adage is, in fact, very true: “You are only as old as you feel.”
Which makes me about 19, so it’s all good. I can live with that.
Originally published 26 February 2014
- feature photo: flickrhivemind.net
- books: telegrraph.co.uk
- Gen. McClellan: ironbrigader.com
- 42: thednetworks.com
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