Lillie, the mother of my best friend from high school, has been writing a wonderful blog about her life, and that inspired me to start a blog in lieu of writing those sporadic group emails. I kept putting off the first entry, but getting a note in my inbox that “theoldyard,” Lillie’s blog, is following mine has shamed me into starting.
So here goes the latest of my mental meanderings. Someday maybe I will write down my life story before I totally forget it, but that will take time, which brings me to my subject.
At the age of 64 (and yes, I did put the Beatles’ “When I’m Sixty-Four” as my general ringtone for this year), most of my life is past, the future begins to be measured in smaller time frames, and living in the present becomes easier to do. I think of the passing of time often these days, especially as it is lived out in our little corner of the world.
It is interesting to me how we personalize time, not just as “Father Time” in New Year’s cartoons but with every verb we use to describe its movement. We say it marches on inexorably, flies swiftly, drags depressingly; these are just a few of the expressions we use which, in reality, do not apply to time itself, an impersonal constraint here on earth. Rather, these expressions indicate how each of us views the passing of time in our lives at any given moment.
For those of you who have not been following our adventures here in Stedman for the past four years, and for those of you who have found them hopelessly confusing, I will explain a little about where we live and the people who are close to us, geographically and relationally. Stedman is a small town in Cumberland County, North Carolina, about 15 minutes east of Fayetteville, traveling along NC 24. Fayetteville is most known for being the home of Fort Bragg. We are also only about 15-20 minutes away from Salemburg, in Sampson County, which is where we lived for two years when we first moved to North Carolina.
The trailer we live in, a single-wide built in the 1960’s, was first made available to us as a place to stay on our weekends off from our position as houseparents in a maternity home. We became a part of Stedman PH Church when we first moved here, and our pastor told us about this place. When we came to look at it, we were told to look for the blue and white trailer that was across the road from the place with all the animals. Despite the leaks in the roof in the dining room and the back bedroom, only when it rained, of course, the place seemed like a haven to us. We could leave things here that would make it seem like home, and we wouldn’t be continually moving from temporary place to temporary place. George and Patty, our landlords, fixed it up for us, with furniture, curtains, linens (including one of Patty’s first quilts on our bed), and even matching dishes and silverware Patty purchased at a thrift store. When we decided t0 leave our position at the home, we asked George about the possibility of staying here full-time, and we worked out that we would pay him rent and the electric bill, and buy our own propane and heating oil.
The road we live on is off 24 and is called Magnolia Church Road because Magnolia Baptist Church (which I found out last night has been here since the mid-1800’s) is on this road. From Magnolia Church to Maxwell Road, which borders us on the other end, a good portion of the land is Honeycutt land. The Honeycutts are Patty’s mother’s family, I believe, and so our neighbors are all related to Patty and to each other. The animals across the road are owned by Pete and Martha; Martha is Patty’s cousin, and Martha’s mother, Nellie, still lives in the original home they grew up in. George and Patty live across the field, and their daughter Ronda and her son live right in front of us.
Over the course of the past four years, we have become very close and now consider each other family. It was thinking about Patty and Nellie that got me started on my thoughts about time. Patty is now in end stage dementia; during the past six months her decline, physically and mentally, has been overwhelmingly rapid. When we first moved here, Patty could easily beat us in dominoes and cards, still quilted and did jigsaw puzzles, gardened, cooked and cleaned. Now she is bedridden, unable to do even the simplest thing for herself. George’s life has slowed down in keeping with hers; his life is homebound to a great extent as he patiently cares for her daily and tries to keep her from slipping further away.
Miss Nellie has also begun to show signs of aging, though she refuses to leave her home. She recently had another hospital stay and is increasingly fragile, but, though her short-term memory is going, she retains her sense of humor. Last fall she was pushing a wheelbarrow and picking up pine cones. Martha is her caretaker and will not go far from home.
We are thus very closely surrounded by the evidences of the ravages of time. On the other end of the spectrum, however, I am in contact with new life and growth on a daily basis. Living in the country is part of that, but the major part is spending so much time with little ones, not just the sweet little boy I babysit for, but the children at church, where I work in the nursery once a month. Here time is measured in milestones of growth rather than signs of aging: turning over, sitting up, crawling, a first tooth, a first word. I find all of it delightful, and it fills my life with joy and laughter. I read somewhere that a six-year-old child laughs 300 times a day (or maybe it’s a three-year-old who laughs 600 times a day? Obviously I am still losing brain cells more rapidly than I wish). Spending time with children slows down the effects of time on my mind and body, not just because I have to move around so much. It is because they make me laugh. Not just the little ones, but the older ones, like my grandchildren and my great-niece. Children know how to have fun; they know how to live in the moment; they can appreciate the ridiculous.
The neat thing about babysitting is that every activity is an end in itself; we can take as long as we want to bathe or eat or play, because we do not usually have to be anywhere or do anything other than what we are doing at the moment. What a luxury! Raising children was a much more serious affair; we had to eat lunch at a certain time to get somewhere else, for example. We still managed to be ridiculous and have fun, but living in the moment was a lot more elusive. There were also tasks to be accomplished, goals to be achieved, dreams to realize.
Whatever has not been fulfilled of those tasks, goals, and dreams I have passed on to the next generation; my children will do some of the things I never got to do, and I will enjoy the experiences through them. I don’t know how many years I have left, nor whether they will be lived in health or in infirmity. I do know that I must live them with intention, not wasting any more time, filling each moment with love and laughter, and sharing Life with as many people as I can. Someday my time here will end, and I will enter eternity; I don’t want to come empty-handed.