For the last two or three years, Christmas Day has kind of snuck up on me. Ever since retiring early, at age 62, because of severe and abiding health problems, I've avoided all long-range projects and activities that need to get finished by a certain date. Heck, how do I know that on the future day when I'm scheduled to read an essay or critique a poem in Warrensburg, I won't be on my back undergoing surgery in Kansas City? It's happened before, and it plays hell with everybody's schedule. I miss all the activity, all the involvement in other people's lives.
So, I just sort of let Christmas happen. And I'm here to tell you the holiday's a whole lot less fun and less gratifying, if you do. It's as if you'd consciously decided to just separate yourself from the festivities, sat by yourself in a chair in a corner, and let life go on as it would, around you. It felt a little like I were the ghost of Ebeneezer Scrooge come back to see how my contemporaries were getting along without me. Strangely enough, they were! Just fine. I wanted to get back on the train . . . before it left the station.
And there was another reason.
I was playing around with our computer a couple of months ago, and happened onto a program called RealAge. You're probably acquainted with it. If you gave this program the particularities of your health, it would spew out your genuine age, not just your chronological age. You know, I'd just been telling a friend that I'd been rooting around in the ground at our new StoneHouse Perennials, preparing it for a GrandOpening next spring. He responded by telling me I looked as if my health were excellent, and I'd live to a ripe old age. What kind of old age could I look forward to?
Well, my last few trips to check in with my Joplin and KC doctors had resulted in sterling reports. In spite of all my history of diabetes mishaps caused by my own stupidity, since age 18, maybe I was finally on the right track. Maybe my RealAge was not 68, but only about 43. Gee whiz, on good days I felt only about 38. The program was free; I might as well give it a shot! Ah, hope springs eternal ...
I was crushed. Well, I thought to myself, their damned machine was loony wrong! A person was, within limits, master of his own fate. Tomorrow I'd start walking around the house. Moreover, when my sister Bev flew in from Ohio for Christmas, I'd ask her to bring her own 3-pronged aluminum cane that she'd used after her hip surgery. I'd learn how to walk as well as I'd walked before my own amputation. When I phoned her, I began to tell her about my RealAge venture.
"Oh, Chuckie!" she yelped, as soon as I mentioned the words "RealAge." For a split second she sounded exactly as she used to when she was 6 and I was 12, and I threw a warm drumstick at her across the dining room table. She'd done the same thing, I guessed, and immediately regretted it. Well, I treated it as a joke, but I must have been subconsciously jolted by this estimate of my mortality. 91? Holly smokes, it occurred to me, I'm living on borrowed time!!
And so, around the first of November, I started preparing for my 68th Christmas holiday. I made it about halfway through weeding our brick walk, before the cold really descended on us. I planned to apply stove blacking to our antiquated pot-bellied stove that Ginny picked up somewhere for a half dollar, and that stands against the wall that holds our mailbox and front door.
While I was at it, I figured I'd startle any visitors we might have over the holidays by painting our porch swing and handsome oblong wooden flower pot holder. As of Thanksgiving weekend, that project is on hold until the warm weather returns, if only for a day or two. I've always heard it's the sentiment that counts, don't you agree?
That Christmas gift may be a bit iffy, but I've already got some other Christmas gifts in my hot little hands, and I'm waiting for an electronic device to arrive in the mail whereby I can duplicate some irreplaceable negatives taken by my father, an expert amateur photographer in the days before all you had to do was press a button for expert results.
These negatives are of photos Dad took of my two cousins and me when we were about three and ten years old, and sitting together outside their lovely old house in Portsmouth, Ohio. I want to frame those old photos and present them to Connie and Sam, when and if we get together this Christmas vacation.
Will those be welcome gifts, after all these years? I'm hoping. After all, I don't have that many years left to show my relatives that I love them. Gosh, after all, I'm already 91 years old!