Category Archives: On growing older

Mea Culpa: Seeing Clearly

Okay, I was wrong this time, really wrong. Big time! I’ll admit it. Hear that, my lovely wife? Mea Culpa!

The ever diligent and loving Oma Trudy supervising  grandson Graham while he feeds a bottle calf

For sometime Trudy and I had disagreed on the color of my hair. We’ve even argued in the sort of emotionless way older couples argue. You see, I’ve always had light brown/blonde hair, but in recent years she’s claimed it had all turned gray. Nonplussed and unconvinced by her assertions, I would carefully steal into the bathroom and examine my hair in the mirror, inspecting it as if  examining the mysteries of the Rosetta Stone. I clearly saw blonde locks, perhaps mixed with a few gray hairs. Didn’t gray hair portend frailty, senility, and lack of relevancy? But I had no doubt whatsoever as to my hair colors- brown and blonde. My eyes wouldn’t deceive me.

To settle our long standing difference of opinion once for for all, I asked my hair cutter to decide this troublesome issue. Jennifer, who just happens to also cut Trudy’s hair, heard my lament and agreed to my request.

Well, Jennifer studied my hair slowly and methodically. She poked around on my head, moving aside shocks of hair as if leafy branches obscuring a bird’s nest. I beamed in anticipation, knowing I was about to hear unequivocal support for my blonde hair. I could soon boast a rare win over my always persuasive attorney wife. It was then the roof fell in. Jennifer calmly announced, “Your hair is gray.”

“Gray? You don’t see the blonde?”

“Nope.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yep”

“Not even blonde streaks?”

“Well, it all looks gray to me, but you do have lots of it.” I suppose with that comment Jennifer tried to lessen the heavy blow by pointing out that at least I hadn’t gone bald. At least not yet. Some solace that.

Gray! I was at that very moment staring into the mirror in front of her barber’s chair. I could clearly see  blonde amidst some dismal, dreary gray hair. My spirits sank. How can this be?

But then like the Phoenix of legend my defenses rallied and my resistance grew (some might call it rationalization and denial). Something funny was going on here. Thoughts of an estrogen conspiracy involving Trudy and Jennifer welled up within me. Perhaps Jennifer was part of some evil plot hatched by Trudy to put me in “the home.” Aha! There’s goes your tip Jen! What gives here anyway? Are you blind women?

Resolution to my existential dilemma came not long after. You see, my vision had worsened. Also glare made nighttime driving difficult. For this I sought the attention of my excellent eye doctor, Dr. Ann Plenneke. Several weeks later I underwent extraction of cataracts and lens replacements.

Alas, overnight my hair turned gray. Gray!!! Who would’ve thought the yellow tone to my hair had resulted from my own yellowed lenses? Mea Culpa, Dear wife, I was wrong, you were right. Tonight I’ll do the dishes.

I’ll admit this aging thing can be a bit tricky and is become increasingly challenging to negotiate. How does one do it gracefully? Now if a guy can’t believe what he sees, what’s he to believe?  Can I really trust my vision seen through new, store bought lenses that were almost certainly provided by the lowest bidder? What about my hearing that isn’t all that great either? Does this mean I shouldn’t believe anything I hear either? Ah, the nagging dilemmas that accompany an aging body.

“Well dogs if you won’t loan me your keen sense sense of hearing, then how about your outstanding sense of smell?”

Is it my loss of self-confidence in my own perceptions or merely an awareness that as I age my chances of being correct lessen? This is but one of many conundrums I’ve discovered with getting older. As a result I’ve learned to admit my mistakes and apologize quicker. I’ve found apologies now come with less difficulty, perhaps because I’ve become habituated to giving them.

On a more positive note, my rich stock of lifelong, accumulated experiences helps to lesson my sensory losses. My experiences place everyday challenges into greater perspective and usually diminishes their overall negative impact. This proves an advantage for me and i provides for greater emotional equanimity. Isn’t there something about wisdom growing with age? I sure hope so.

Perception, however, sadly slacks off. Everything diminishes in acuity. You name it- vision, hearing, smell, sensation. Sayanara, adios, auf wiedersehen! Why’s it wasted on my dogs who can hear a truck cross the cattle guard from half a mile away? Why’s their sense of smell denied to this human septuagenarian?

Hope my kids don’t read this. Admitting to flagging perceptual abilities could be a huge mistake. Think about it. My children, Andy and Katie, just wouldn’t get it. Think I’ll hide the car keys before their next visit.

“Bella, don’t worry. We’ll hide the truck keys before the kids come.” Note me wearing glasses before the cataract surgery, something I no longer have to do. Bella’s vision however has remained remarkably good.

 

 

 

Buddy’s Retirement- April 20, 2018

Buddy as a younger dog

It was inevitable, I suppose. Retirement is part of life isn’t it, that is if we live long enough. Buddy about whom you’ve heard much lately (Buddy- The Slacker) retired from his life’s work today. His retirement from herding came suddenly or at least it surprised me.

On request Buddy declined to jump out of the bed of the pickup to help herd the mama cow about which I recently wrote (A Sad Day On The Ranch). This job in the past would have been an easy one for Buddy, merely moving one cow through a couple of gates and into an adjoining pasture where the remainder of the herd grazed.

When I called to Buddy, he merely stared back at me. Has he suddenly gone deaf? What’s wrong with that dog!

After a few moments of reflection on the statue-like, immobile Buddy, I thought perhaps his bad back might be hurting him or else he had judged after twelve and a half years he’d accomplished his limit of herding cattle. Nevertheless, pushing one cow through a couple of gates and into another pasture has previously hardly been work for our Buddy who has lived to herd. But I know twelve and a half years makes for an old dog, especially for a Border collie.

He’s been the best herder I’ve ever had on the ranch. His exploits are legion, as I tried to indicate in the Slacker piece, his first herding experience. Nevertheless, lately he has been less invested and less enthusiastic about this effort. I maintain that in his place today he urged the younger Bella to help me. Surprisingly Bella did a fairly good job but not up to the standards set earlier by Buddy.

Buddy on left and Bella on right. Photo by Ramsey

Buddy has lately spent more time napping on one of his four beds (yes, can you believe it- four beds) that are scattered strategically around our house. He never has to take more than a few steps to find a doggie bed. If a bed is not immediately available, a low chair will do just fine.

While he still enjoys riding around in the pickup, he now seems anxious to return to the house and resume his doggie slumbers.

Perhaps his life’s arc from superb and indefatigable herding dog to his current “just don’t bother me” attitude is an expected part of normal aging thatis sure to affect us all. I’ll admit since retiring, I enjoy naps more.

Years ago when I asked my grandmother Hutton when she was quite elderly what it was like to get old, she replied, “Tom, you just slow up.” This observation must be as true for Border collies as it is for humans.

I hope Buddy reneges on his retirement for at least a brief period of time. What gives me hope is that Francisco, our ranch hand of seventy-five years old has retired at least five times. Each time after his announced retirement he came back to the ranch after having become thoroughly bored with watching TV and missing “his” ranch.

The animals, the beauty of nature, and the opportunity to make the ranch better proves for Francisco an incredibly strong draw. Might Buddy one day feel a spurt of new resolve along with a strong desire to herd- just one more cow? Time will tell.

By the way, what does one give a Border collie as a retirement gift? He has no use for a watch. Your thoughts?

Buddy, the retiree, taking one of his frequent naps

Reflections on Getting Older

“Grow old along with me! The best is yet to be, the last of life, for which the first is made.”

As mentioned in an earlier post,  the meaning of Robert Browning’s famous saying for a long time of puzzled me.

Is it life satisfaction that increases with age? Or is it that our thinking processes somehow affect how we react?

Psychologists have grappled with changes in the way we think as we age. Raymond Cattell developed the concept that general intelligence consists of two types: fluid intelligence and crystallized intelligence. Its not that intelligence declines in older age (unless a dementing illness sets in), it’s that fluid intelligence declines while crystallized intelligence increases.

“Say what? What does this have to do with herding cows?”

Both types of intelligence increase throughout childhood and adolescence. Fluid intelligence, the ability to develop new problem solving strategies, peaks by age 40 whereas crystallized intelligence that comes from prior learning and experience doesn’t peak until the 60s or 70s.

Both types are important to overall intelligence. There is also some evidence that brain training games may benefit fluid intelligence.

The direct approach to understanding intelligence

Perhaps it is a greater reliance on crystallized intelligence that allows older people to better determine the veracity of an event/statement based on his/her longer experience. While this doesn’t always comport with what youngsters may believe or have experienced, it at least holds as a general rule.

“You better hope that your fluid intelligence and crystallized intelligence will outweigh your lack of smell and hearing.”
Photos by Ramsey

When considering aging in humans and dogs, one thing of which I am certain is that dogs can model positive aspects of aging. For example Buddy (pictured above) awakens in the morning stiff and sore. He and I both take awhile to get going. Nevertheless when Buddy heads for the truck and his ranch duties he pulls himself together and goes after life with an incredible zest. He’s not one to give into his infirmities.

Within reason this is a life characteristic that I and other humans should emulate. While our physical and mental capabilities may not be what they once were, we should continue to use what we have to the maximum.

Thanks Buddy for your example and we shall grow old together as the best is yet to come.

Reflections on Getting Older- Part II

Not long ago I had the pleasure of hearing Col. R.E. Cole recount his experiences as Jimmy Doolittle’s copilot as depicted in the book and movie, Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo. This was my favorite early war film. I like many others of my generation grew up steeped in heroic films about World War II. The movie starred Van Johnson as Captain Ted W. Lawson, Phyllis Thaxter as his wife Ellen, Robert Walker as corporal David Thatcher, Robert Mitchum as Colonel Bob Gray, and the inimitable Spencer Tracy as Lt. Colonel Jimmy Doolittle. Heroism was on full display and made you proud to be an American.

220px-thirtysecondsovertokyo-1

Colonel Cole is now 101-years of age and, while frail, is still sharp. I must assume the events depicted in the movie and book proved to be the signal event of his life.

A recent article, My Flight With a Doolittle Raider, was published in Texas Coop Power. In it the author, Matt Jolley, describes a day in 2010 when he and Colonel R. E. Cole strapped themselves into a World War II-era B-25 bomber and roared off the runway for a spin. Once in the air the owner of the plane  turned the controls over to Colonel Cole.

I believe Cole’s thoughts may have gone back to April 1942 when he and 79 other volunteers, only four months following Pearl Harbor, managed to take off from the swaying deck of the U.S.S. Hornet. They flew at the absolute outer fuel limits of their planes to drop a limited bomb load on Tokyo. While the physical damage was limited, the attack by Doolittle’s Raiders tremendously elevated American morale and diminished that of its enemy.

B-25 bombers awaiting takeoff from the deck of the Hornet

B-25 bombers awaiting takeoff from the deck of the Hornet

Imagine the satisfaction Colonel Cole must have experienced when he relived this event a few years ago. The author of the piece saw no boyish transformation in Cole, nor did he see a giant grin. What he witnessed was the quiet confidence of a man in full control of his airplane. I believe Cole must have felt a surge of satisfaction, reliving those seminal moments that has given his life such special meaning.

Colonel Cole is the last living Doolittle Raider. At his public speaking appearances, he is now attended closely by his daughter. He still loves to share his stories with others. With Veteran’s Day two days ago, it’s only fitting to remember and honor Colonel Cole and the other gallant men for their service and sacrifice to our nation.

But in another sense, what do events such as this one mean to the individual who experienced them. Wouldn’t it be marvelous if everyone who reaches old age could have the opportunity to re-experience their own signal  life’s event.  While this may not be possible, it suggests another option.

Why not allow an older person to reflect (tell their story). Our lives as story have such great importance for our own understanding. I only wish I had listened more closely to my grandparents’ stories. This inter-generational transfer of knowledge is good for both the listener and the speaker.

With the upcoming holidays, the opportunity exists to deepen understanding of the narrative of the older members of your family. I hope all will take advantage of this, not only to learn the stories, but to assist in the meaningful development of the aging process for your loved ones by allowing them to reflect deeply on what was important for their lives.

I would love to hear how this works for you.

To Be Continued

 

 

Reflections on Getting Older

You are likely familiar with the verse written by Robert Browning:

Grow old along with me! The best is yet to be, the last of life, for which the first was made.

When I first heard this verse, albeit at a much younger age, my thoughts were something like, “bunk, hogwash, senseless prattle, horse feathers!!!!”

Robert Browning 1888

Robert Browning 1888

Over the years though I’ve gained greater appreciation for what Robert Browning was getting at.  In part, admittedly, this was due to my professional interests in Gerontology and Geriatrics. But this was largely book learning and short on personal experiences. Now that I’m living the aging process, I can better understand both the challenges and gifts that accompany it.

I hope in a series of blog posts to explore this topic further and relate the accepted features of aging and also the personal anecdotes. As always, I look forward to reader’s comments.

I suppose what made me think about this topic was an eightieth birthday party I attended several weeks ago. My son’s father-in-law was turning eighty. Alissa, his daughter threw him a no-presents birthday party, and instead requested everyone submit a letter describing what her Dad had meant to their lives. An astounding 88 letters arrived! These were carefully cataloged by Alissa and presented to her Dad.

Now the really good part: Roger on seeing all this and better understanding the impact his life had on others- teared up and became quite emotional (well for a Norwegian anyway). Now this is a stoic man who was a very successful businessman, a real numbers cruncher type who had played athletics at a very high level. He is a stoic Scandinavian-American not prone to public displays of emotion. But a public display of emotion he showed. Why was that?

I began thinking about this and melding my inner thoughts with what I knew about developmental psychology. While I have taught a college course on this topic, I’m really not an expert, but I wish to share my musings.

On entering “the third act” of our lives, most folks begin summing up of their accomplishments and  coming to grips with areas in which they were less successful. This phase of life often includes the deepening of relationships, dousing the inner fires, reducing the drive for accomplishments, and the sharing wisdom with others. This is a phase when mentoring of younger people often takes place along with the passing on of meaningful experiences to others .

The testimonials offered about Roger impacted his personal developmental journey, as it did mine. The birthday party affirmed his life’s worth and informed him of long forgotten kindnesses and other positive impacts on others. This timely theme for the party blended perfectly with the very developmental process he was undergoing. What a stroke of genius by Alissa for organizing the event in this way.

If we are fortunate, we all will age to a ripe and healthy old age.

Health and vibrant aging can be such a gift

Health and vibrant aging can be such a gift

The more of life I experience, the greater I recognize that Robert Browning’s wisdom, “the best is yet to be.” Let’s hope so.

 

To Be Continued