Thursday, January 15, 2009

Turning Life's Corners

01/14/08 Chatterbox Betty Kaiser
“Join me, friends, in this distinctively modern adventure, the almost certain journey into old age." Wayne Booth
Every journey has certain defining moments — especially the aging one. I remember the first time that someone offered me a senior discount. I was 60 years old and had ordered lunch at Taco Bell when the checker leaned over and whispered, “Are you by any chance a senior?” Standing there with my silver hair and wrinkled face, I could hardly say ‘no!’ So I fessed up to being a senior and received a complimentary soda with my lunch. Until then, I had never really thought about the perks or ramifications of aging. I was prematurely gray-haired at 37. At 60 years of age I was blessed with abundant energy, and didn’t feel a day over 49. But thanks to a senior discount, I was mentally on a new journey to being "older." Yesterday I turned another corner as I headed down that senior road. I celebrated my seventieth birthday — that’s 7-OH! — Gulp. I’ve been giving myself pep talks ever since. I say things like “Really, Betty, you were born an ‘old soul.’ Now that you’ve lived 24,500 days, your physical body has just caught up with your spiritual side. Deal with it!” So far it’s not working. The truth is that anyone old enough to experience the blackouts of WW II, recall the presidency of Harry S. Truman and remember when Alaska and Hawaii where NOT United States — is no longer a spring chicken. Many years ago, my then 80-year old neighbor Sallie introduced me to the difficulties of aging as she turned the various corners of life. Some days, frustrated and tearful, she would throw her apron over her head and say, “Oh, Betty, I’ve turned another corner!” I learned from her that as the numbers start to add up on this journey, the corners become more difficult to turn. I was born on a Friday, January 13, 1939, in Oklahoma City to unwed parents — in hard economic times. There are no records or even anecdotal knowledge of the first few years of my life. Eventually abandoned to an orphanage, I have only hazy memories of that era. Those were the years of the Great Depression, World War II and the so-called Dust Bowl migration. Wind driven, gritty dust storms blew through wide areas of Oklahoma and the Texas Panhandle. Unable to grow crops and feed their families, thousands of people fled the area and headed for hope in California. I was among them. Somehow, this tiny, orphaned, five-year old girl made her way to California with other migrants. In 1945 a family in Los Angeles began proceedings to adopt me. It was not an ideal situation for any child. My new mother was grief-stricken after losing a three-year old son to spinal meningitis. The family decided that adopting a child would compensate for her loss. They were wrong. We were not a mother and daughter match made in heaven. In fact, we were polar opposites. A life had been stolen from her and I was full of life. She was in mourning, anxious, sickly and controlling. I was a healthy outgoing, adventuresome and fearless child. I was her worst nightmare and she became mine. Two more children were added to the family and I assumed the role of nanny. It was a tense, fearful atmosphere. Every school day dad prepared breakfast while I packed lunches for my siblings and myself. I shared responsibility for household tasks with a housekeeper, was generally ignored and was clearly the family’s stepchild. My young life had turned another corner. School and church activities were literally my salvation. Unappreciated at home, I thrived on the warmth of acceptance and praise that I found in the classroom. Most of the time I talked too much and giggled too loudly but I loved learning and the freedom to be me. Sundays I lived to go to church where I learned that God loved me. ME! Wow. What a revelation. From that point on my soul was connected. I had someone to trust. I was safe in heaven’s corner. This old soul learned at a young age that life would always be challenging but with God anything was possible — even a successful teenage marriage. I met my future husband at 16, married at 19 and had three kids by the age of 23. Between the wedding vows, baby steps and growing pains those were exciting, exhausting and wonderful times. As the years unfolded, we learned that daily life is a seesaw. Sometimes you’re up and sometimes you’re down! Many years, the challenges seemed to outweigh the joys: times of serious illness, unemployment, the deaths of family and friends all took their toll on our happiness quotient — but never for long. Joy was always just around the corner. For 50 years, whatever the circumstances, our life has been a paraphrase of the old Captain & Tennille song, “Love kept us together.” We are often bewildered at the events that beset us but we are always bound together in love. 2008 was a celebratory year for the Kaiser Klan. Chuck turned 70 and together we celebrated our golden wedding anniversary; Kathy and Tim celebrated their silver wedding anniversary; John and Betsy opened the doors of a new church in Templeton; Jeff returned to school for a Ph.D. in music; and our grandsons filled our hearts with hope and laughter. The bulk of my life’s journey is behind me. Perhaps yours is also. Now comes the question: what does our “almost certain journey into old age” hold? I don’t know — but bring it on! And may God grant each of us the grace to meet its challenges and enjoy the ride as we turn the corners.
Betty Kaiser’s Chatterbox is about people, places, family, and other matters of the heart. Read her weekly columns in the Cottage Grove Sentinel.

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