Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Kind of Old Person You Want to Be

I am not sure how this is a "talking in accents" Southern blog entry except to say that growing up Southern insured that I had a close relationship with all four of my grandparents and that from family stories I can tell you trademark witticisms--family 'catch phrases'-- of most of the rest of my ancestors back to the beginning of recorded history.

In most Southern families, these are usually buzz words for cautionary tales. Say for instance, you are shoe shopping with Aunt Edna and suddenly forget where you are and begin talking loudly about your cousin Amber's bad meth problem and the way she and her drug addict husband have taken out credit cards in Amber's daddy's name that it has taken Amber's daddy months to straighten out. Aunt Edna simply says one thing: "Well, she's another "Augustine" for sure." "Augustine" being code for: "yes, honey, there is that criminal strain in our bloodline, but this kind boy who just hauled five shoe boxes of boots out of the store room for you to try on and whose mouth is agape really should not be privy to your monologue about how Amber and her drug addict husband showed up at the Baptist church and--summarizing and giving just the Readers' Digest Condensed version of their sins-- took a record 45 minutes to confess."

Point taken, Aunt Edna.

That said, let me also point out that most of the family witticisms recorded in the oral histories of Southern families are probably from OLD PEOPLE. Pay attention to that. What that says is this: no matter how young and cute and smart you have been all of your life, what your family is going to remember about you is something you say when you are OLD.

All I know about my grandfather's grandfather Miller who lived to be 95 years old is this one statement. "Old people are either old and sweet or old and hellish." Family history reports that Grandfather Grandfather Miller was of the latter type.

My Great Grandmother Boyett, on the other hand, was reported as being kind, gentle, sweet, loving, good-natured, and always with a smile on her face. Good thing, because the other women of the family aged into bitter crones, capable of blistering car paint with their withering tirades and guilt-inducing whines.

My own mother was going for the Great Grandmother Boyett sweetness model and was doing an admirable job of adopting the 'gentle and smiling' thing until she fell and hit her head and checked out for the next world. I really hate that. It would have been easy for me to think of her perseverence into the world of "old and sweet" as she aged and used that picture in my mind's eye as my own role model. As it is, I have a struggle on my hands.

I can do a reasonable impression of the 'old and sweet' most days, but Spring just ticks me off. Two weeks ago there was snow on the ground and I walked around like Susie Sunshine having a positive attitude about it. People were dying on the highways because not only did they not know how to drive on black ice but the State of Alabama was doing precious little in the way of highway maintenance. Yet I was able to smile and be positive and gush at the beauty of frozen precip.

Then yesterday morning I got up and everywhere I looked around town gorgeous fluffy white and pink trees had popped overnight into extravagant bloom. AND IT WAS NOT EVEN MARCH YET. Danger buzzers went off in my brain. Don't these fool trees know that they have no business doing this, that there WILL be a freeze and they will transform into brown slimy bruised trees just as suddenly as they had morphed into prom dresses. What I really (and I mean REALLY) felt like doing was marching up to that gigantic pink tulip tree on the lawn of First Christian Church and really giving it a piece of my mind. A finger-wagging telling-off school teacher talking-to.

But do I really want to be remembered that way? Should the local newspaper take a picture of me doing this and publish it as a human interest story, would that then be my legacy? What kind of old person do I really want to be: old and sweet? Or old and hellish?

I really have some serious work to do.

The future is much closer than we think.


Philip Shirley said...

Old, sweet and hellish may be in the same person. "Do I contradict myself,I am large, I contain multitudes," Mr. Walt said so well.....

Ray Clifton said...

The code in my family for mean, ill, rude, or pessimistic behavior is "being a Clifton," as in "Keep your distance today. He's feeling Clifton."

theprofessionalpalate said...

The problem is clearly your immediate DNA... way too much old & hellish to compete with the sweet aging.

...and makes me sad just to think of how much I wish she were still around... but that is, of course, a post for another day.