Years ago I assigned the topic TVland to the “Me, Myself and I” memoir-writing class I teach for senior citizens here in Chicago. Beverly read an essay confessing her childhood desire to be Jim Anderson’s daughter on the radio/TV show “Father Knows Best.” I’ve been calling her Princess ever since.
Earlier this month I asked the students to start an essay with the words, “If I could be any age, I’d be…”. Princess is 86 years old now, and at least three fellow writers in class are in their 80s, too.
Hanna turned 90 in January. After living all those years, was there one age they’d like to be for ever and ever?
Many of them wrote about being in their twenties, and one came in at age 35: “By age 35 you’ve lived long enough to have some serious experiences, but you still have a lot of life ahead.” A few (including Princess, of course!) chose 17, but none wanted to be any younger than that. From Beverly’s essay:
My mind was an internal tangle of books, movies and magazines. Make believe filled my thoughts when I was alone. Different scenes and dialogs rolled before my mind’s eye when I went to bed. It put me to sleep. I was a good sleeper back then.
Princess dreamt of being a lawyer. Her father insisted she study nursing. She didn’t argue. “Having dad there to tell us what to do made things easy.” Like many of her fellow writing students, Princess finished her essay saying how grateful she felt to be the age she is. She may never have become a lawyer, but now she volunteers regularly at the VA hospital. “At age 86 I am happy to be alive and well,” she wrote. “I’m surrounded by the love and concern of my two wonderful children.” After reading that essay aloud in class that day, princess returned home and suffered a stroke. Mom’s speech is improving, her daughter reports in email messages to me. The next questions are in the cognitive arena.
Our class is on a short summer hiatus now, and last Saturday Jean, one of the writers, had us all over to her place for some snacks and refreshments. Another student chauffeured me and my Flintstone-sized cast to Jean’s Hyde Park apartment. A third was waiting at the door to help me inside.
Our hostess Jean has been in the memoir class since 2006, shortly after her husband Charlie died. “I was feeling low,” she said. “I hoped maybe your class would help.” I think it has. She still misses Charlie, of course, but when her fellow writing students walked into her apartment and gawked at the thousands of books lining the walls, Jean was happy to explain how she and Charlie always liked to read. From time to time she’d pull a book from the shelf, show it to a fellow writer, explain the book’s significance, why she couldn’t part with it.
A conversation about books led to one about art, then one about writing, then one about parties. And there I was, surrounded by old friends, laughing my broken-foot-blues away.
Not everyone could make the party, of course. Maria was back in Italy to visit relatives, Eldoris had a bridge date that afternoon. But you can bet that those of us who were there made a point to lift our glasses of iced tea to Princess and her speedy recovery.
Now, back at home, I am toasting to all my friends in that memoir class. Here’s to you. You consistently show me how to appreciate life — at any age.
Link to Shutterfly here to see more photos from Jean’s great party last Saturday.