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