The older I get, the more one of my grandfather's most memorable observations rings true.
He'd catch a glimpse in the mirror and ask himself, "Who is that guy?" Which was his way of saying: That vaguely familiar older gentleman with the male pattern baldness framed by a silky white fringe couldn't possibly be me. That guy with the jowls and the turkey neck staring at me incredulously couldn't be the young, fit milkman that all those lonely housewives used to ogle shamelessly from their kitchen windows.
Some people are old and crochety from the age of 8. Others, like my Grandpa Clarence, retain the sparkle of a 19-year-old until the day the Lord calls them home. Age, C.F. Hays believed (without ever saying so in exactly those words, as far as I know), is a matter of outlook. It's the inner spring in one's step that endures decades after physical evidence of that spring fades. It's that vestige of youthfulness that once inspired my brittle 90-year-old grandmother to, wthout warning, drop into plank position and peel off a push-up while we grandkids leapt out of our chairs, begging her to stop. She'd made her point.
I like to think I got some of that. I don't know if it's in the family DNA or not, but the older I get the younger I feel. Usually. Much of that is self-deception, of course -- an illusion some of us happily permit ourselves to embrace. But if it gets you where you need to be, why not roll with it?
I think of this now because I have been assigned to do so. It's that time of year again -- the runup to this September's Kern County Fair. If you don't bake pies or can dill pickles or collect oddly shaped gourds, but would like to participate in one of the Fair's many, many contests, this may be for you.
It's the Author's Corner, an opportunity for local residents to put their wisdom and word flair on paper. This year's topics: "One of Grandpa's characteristics that stays with me after all these years"; and "How to win over someone you think dislikes you." I am not qualified to write on that second subject, since it's something I have utterly failed to master, but I can write about Gramps.
Inner youthfulness is the characteristic I remember most about him. Some of it I witnessed and some of it was family legend.
One of his many jobs was that of streetcar conductor. At the end of his route he'd show off for the girls by doing pullups on a bar above the conductor's door. His performances got the attention of three girls in particular -- sisters, one of whom ended up becoming my grandmother.
Grandpa took the gymnast thing seriously, apparently. He once told his son, my uncle, that he could do a backflip over the family picnic table. At 20 that would have been a nice trick but Grandpa was at least 40 at the time, and of sound mind. Things didn't go well that day, though. He landed on the table and bruised himself up pretty well.
This tendency to expect the body to perform like its 20-year-old former self well into graying maturity is in my genes as well, I'm afraid. Ask my hamstrings, which, inspired by Andy Murray's triumph at Wimbledon, made a disappointing return to the courts last week following a long, long absence. That's the downside of the youthfulness trap. Pretty much everything else is upside, though. So, thanks, Grandpa.
What about you? Write about one of Grandpa's characteristics or your power to ingratiate or enter the Fair's fiction or poetry-writing competitions, which have open themes. Entries ($2 per) must be typed and are not to exceed one side of a single 8-1/2 by 11-inch sheet of paper. The contest has four age divisions: Adult (over 18), Junior (ages 15 to 17); youth (ages 11 to14) and Kids (10 and under). Entries are due Aug. 9 and will be displayed during the Fair's run, Sept. 18-29. Visit tinyurl.com/KernAuthor to learn more. So finish those pull-ups and get busy.
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