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Spanning the generations

The old axiom, “You’re only as old as you feel” is true. Some days I feel 103, although I do work extra hard to keep my sense of humor at 27. I don’t know another way to handle feeling 103 except to laugh at it.

The most amazing thing to me about aging is how much overlap there is among the generations. One has to reach a certain age to appreciate knowing both their grandparents’ and grandchildren’s generations.

All my grandparents were born in the 1800s, and my grandchildren in the 2000s, the new millennium.

From my grandfather’s birthdate in 1885 to my grandson’s, in 2008 is a span of 123 years. That’s not a particularly staggering number until I think about being in the middle of that succession.

I’ve known all these people – how they talk, their work, their humor, their day-to-day lives. A few similarities exist across the generations, but very few. From the buggy whip to the space age to the cell phone in five generations.

I remember my grandfather reaching into his pants pocket and pulling out a nickel – for a Milky Way – the same as he had for my mother. Today, a Milky Way costs a dollar, and most men just carry a debit card. My children pay with their phones.

Come to think of it, I never saw my Scottish grandfather pull anything BUT a five-cent piece from his pocket, although I knew there was silver in there – I could hear it. He had knowing fingers. He would hold the nickel up like a great prize, wink at me, then press it into my hand. “Don’t lose it,” he always said. Fat chance.

I started thinking seriously about both ends of our personal time spans in my mid-twenties. It happened during a flight from Los Angeles to Boston, and I never forgot it.

I was the lead stewardess on the morning flight, departing at 8:00 a.m. During boarding, a tall, elderly man with a soldier’s bearing was assisted down the jetway to our 707. He stopped before he stepped in and looked down the length of the airplane fuselage. He paused and shook his head in wonder. As he stepped through the doorway, I smiled and said, “Good morning. Welcome aboard.”

“Well, good morning to you, little lady.” I was, at that time, over 5 feet 9 and wearing 3-inch heels. I was not little, but he was referring to my youth. It didn’t take long to find out why.

The gentleman wore a light blue suit, a blue silken tie with his dress shirt, and highly polished shoes. His thin white hair was wispy, his wrinkles well established. He walked slowly to his first-class seat in the last row, carrying, not using, his cane.

As we taxied out, I offered him his morning menu and a choice between champagne or orange juice. “Champagne at this hour? Do people do that?” was his wide-eyed question.

“Oh yes sir. I could even make you a mimosa, a combination of the two.”

“Oh no, I could never do that before breakfast.”

He wasn’t comfortable, so I didn’t push him. He did eat well and accepted even a third cup of coffee. I sat down to talk to him after the food service.

Mr. Findlay was originally from Boston, and he was going home. But there was more to the story.

It was 1968, he was in his mid-90s, and this was his first flight. He was overwhelmed with the airplane, its size, its quiet, and the fact that he’d just eaten a cheese and mushroom omelet with warm Danish and fresh strawberries. “This is a big experience,” he confided. “Looking back, I’d have to say this is almost as big as when I came to California.”

He told me that his family had traveled from Boston with as much of their household as they could bring. They joined a Conestoga wagon train in Ohio for the trip to San Bernadino. At age four, he traveled west on his mother’s lap, and was returning to Boston to meet up with family – for the first time.

He was stunned at the contrast, and so was I. We had a grand chat about his childhood memories of that early trip, and I talked him into a glass of champagne to celebrate his homecoming. Eventually, the champagne overcame the three cups of coffee, and he napped his way to arrival.

Meeting Mr. Findlay made me appreciate how many lives we touch in a lifetime. We interact at every age with hundreds, maybe thousands of people, and some of them do change who we become.

Thinking these good thoughts, holding onto memories of special people at both ends of my many years, keep me from really feeling 103. At least until naptime.

Marcy O’Brien lives in Warren with her husband, Richard, and Finian, their snooping Maine Coon cat. Marcy can be reached at Moby.32@hotmail.com

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