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May 27, 2012: Let us now Praise Famous Octogenarians

Yesterday, as we eating a late breakfast, Pete, Nancy, and I began making afternoon plans. This involved tossing our respective ideas out onto the table, and talking about what would be most feasible in terms of time and distance. I suggested that we go and check out Sutton, which is about 15 miles down the Glenn Highway. Nancy agreed that she’d like to do this and then added that this is where Edna Woolston lives – further adding that she’s been a long-time contributor to the publication Senior Voice. Nancy is never, ever pushy—in fact she’s so polite that it’s sometimes hard to figure out what she’d like to do. However, I sensed that she’d like to meet Edna, which is why I suggested that we give her a call.

I have an aversion to talking on phones, and as well, to calling people out of the blue. But for Nancy, I will do just about anything. So I called Edna, introduced myself, and said that our friend Nancy enjoyed her column, and would like to meet her. Edna, who was very gracious, and said to come on over. So Pete, Nancy and I took a drive to Sutton.

Edna and her husband Bill live off Jonesville Road, in a white-and-green clapboard house. Their place is on a rise, and tucked amongst the birch trees. The pair greeted us warmly, and quickly explained that the roof of their main dwelling, as well as several of the roofs on the outbuildings, had been damaged by the heavy winter snow.

Edna beckoned to us to take seats at the kitchen table, and set out Lipton Tea and store-bought baked goods. And so for the next two hours we talked. Nancy, who perhaps the most socially adept person I know, quickly discovered the points of commonality, and brought them to the forefront of the collective conversation. Both Nancy and Edna were born in 1925, making them 86 years old. Bill, born in 1922, is 89.

Nancy with Edna
Nancy with Edna

Nice cat artwork
Nice cat artwork

Pete with Bill
Pete with Bill

Nancy, Edna, Bill, and I are all from upstate New York. Thus, the conversation remained lively and animated—repeatedly moving at the speed of light from present to past to present again.

Their kitchen is homey –Framed photos of their two deceased husky dogs grace one wall, and a shelves with Matchbox cars grace another. And books and magazines seemed to compete with house plants for space.

Edna did most of the talking, with Bill making important asides. They came to Alaska 18 years ago from Gaines, NY, and visited their son who then lived in Anchorage. Shortly thereafter, they purchased their place in Sutton where they’ve been ever since. They have children and grandchildren scattered like dice, about the country. They were childhood sweethearts, have been together now for 69 years. Edna was previously a town clerk, and Bill was a carpenter.

During the course of our visit, I discovered that Edna and Bill are (as some would say) getting on in years. They both are in need of haircuts, although her long white hair is quite striking. And every so often, she paused in mid-conversation to find the right word. This, she explained, as having had a stroke, and 17 “major surgeries.”

While they’re advancing in years, the two spoke candidly about the drawbacks of being elderly—one being having friends pass on, and another being having family members being at the distance. This, Edna intimated, has made them feel increasingly more isolated. But least I or anyone else think she was complaining, she quickly explained that Bill still drives. Furthermore, one of their favorite pastimes is going to yard sales.

Bill then retrieved three Ziploc bags full of miniature cars, trucks, and planes, to which Edna said “They were only a dollar each!”

As everyone talked, I read two articles that Edna had published in Senior Voice – short, one page, typed personal essays. Both were good, but I really liked one in which she made a metaphorical comparison between aging and being on a moving train. Edna reflected upon being on this train, and seeing friends get on and off. Waxing expositionally, she concluded that although she wasn’t quite sure where or when her journey would end, that it’s been a good one.

I was given a tour of the downstairs before we left. Their four cats had been ushered into their downstairs bedroom before we arrived. Edna introduced me to them-I was more taken by the room itself. It was filled with books and garage store collectables, some of which included horse statues.

We continued on into the living room, which like the bedroom, was filled with books – I don’t mean trash books, but good books on a wide range of subjects including political history, biographies, and animal training. And here and there were more garage sale finds. I was taken by a statue of a resting Holstein cow with a rubber band collar, and as well, by a hand-carved camel with a little leather saddle.

The place is definitely home, and understandably, the pair would like to remain where they are. I could totally relate to Edna and Bill’s viewpoint, that it would be difficult living, say, in Anchorage in the Pioneer’s Home.

We all parted company, exchanging phone numbers and promising to keep in touch. In fact, Bill’s eyes lit up when I showed him photos of Hrimmi. He said softly that he was around horses growing up, and enjoyed being around them. I also told Edna that should she want to put together a book collection of her essays, that I’d gladly give her a hand with this project.

Our visit got me to thinking that the elderly in Alaska face certain challenges –being so far from loved ones and wanting to remain self-sufficient being but two concerns. Edna and Bill are good examples of this. I’m now at an age in which I have an infinite number of years left. It’s as much a crap shoot for me as anyone else – I have no idea what I’ll have to contend with should I be fortunate enough to live to be 86. Indeed, this is a sobering thought.

Next: 171. 05/28/12: No Ideas But in Things