Rose Mary’s Words of Wisdom Upon Growing Old

I’m being eaten by a boa constrictor,
I’m being eaten by a boa constrictor,
I’m being eaten by a boa constrictor
—and I don’t like it very much!
Oh no, he’s up to my toe, oh no he’s up to my toe
Oh no, he’s up to my toe
And I don’t like it very much!

Along with repetitions of the refrain, the song continues: Oh gee, he’s up to my knee . . . Oh my, he’s up to my thigh . . . Oh fiddle, he’s up to my middle . . . . Oh heck, he’s up to my neck . . . Oh dread, he’s up to my—Slurp!
Bill’s niece, Susan, taught us this old song while we and members of the California Clarke family sat around a campfire in Grand Teton National Park when Vicki was seven years old. Typing the words refreshes in my mind’s eye, ear and other senses the memory of chilly evenings, the smell of pine trees and wood smoke, the moonlit vision of the glorious, snow-capped mountains across Jenny Lake, and beloved voices raised in song and laughter.
That’s the way it is with songs that we memorize. They become a part of the very woof and warp on the loom of our internal being and bring evocations of past experiences that warm our spirits during the winter of our old age like the hot buttered rum that Susan served around the campfire. I see very few advantages to being old. I’ve learned that when people of a certain age, as the French so delicately put it, seem to ramble, actually they are expressing the connectivities of their long and jam-packed lives.
“Too soon old, too late smart” should be inscribed on my tombstone — later, rather than sooner, I hope! The boa constrictor of time crept up on me when I wasn’t looking and has me inescapably in its grip. I’m going to be eighty years old in June, and I don’t like it one bit.
I know, I know. You younger folks have years and years ahead of you before you are old, and you don’t want to hear the sighs and lamentations of elders. However, our revenge is that while you aren’t looking, Father Time will snap his fingers a few times, and one day you’ll be where we are. It seems to happen in the blink of an eye, but in reality aging is a cradle-to-the-grave process.
The fine poet Robert Browning wrote, “Come grow old with me. The best is yet to be.” I don’t want to sound sour, but with all due respect, Browning was full of crap. That said, we saw the darling Maurice Chevalier perform at Clowes Hall many years ago when he was eighty. He said, “People ask how I feel about being eighty years old. I do not like eet, but ven I conseedair zee altairnateeve . . .”
The Farmer’s Insurance commercials on TV depict bizarre events such as an ice fisherman’s truck sinking into a frozen lake or a dog turning on a faucet that floods the kitchen. The insurance man says, “We know a thing or two, because we’ve seen a thing or two!” Bill and I have learned a thing or two.
We shouldn’t waste our youths worrying about the future, but we can take sensible steps to prepare for and cope with the inevitable changes that come. Our populace is growing older. Bill and I have known several centenarians, and Knightstown’s beloved Vivian Forst will be 106 in June.
At any age, attitude is key. Helen Ernstes, an Irvingtonian and one of our former teaching colleagues, had good health until she died when she was a hundred. One time I asked if she were happy. She said, “Of course I’m happy. If you decide to be happy, you will be happy.” More to come.