Monday, August 21, 2006

Going Home Again, Part I: Is this Progress?

Top: Front view, the
original house today,

Bottom: Side view,
showing the addition.

On Sunday, I decided to take a closer look at my old farm home on the outskirts of Whitewater, Wisconsin. I knew that it had been turned into student housing many years ago, so I assumed that the house I remember as both beautiful and shabby was gone.

The house still stands on a curve in the road. From the west, the front looks beautiful: much the same, but refurbished quite attractively. The trees are not the ones that were there fifty years ago, but there are trees, as well as flowers. Of course the barn and other farm outbuildings are gone, replaced by new streets and small apartment houses.

Were this the only possible view, the house would seem to be a well-preserved version of the house I grew up in, but then there are the north, south, and east sides. There, a huge, box-like apartment building is attached, with multiple garages facing south. I suppose all this is progress, but my old home is gone.

Copyright 2006 by Marlys Marshall Styne
Photos by the author

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Going "Home" Again, Part II: My High School Reunion Picnic, 8/13/06

Last Sunday, I journeyed into the past. Like Thomas Wolfe and many others, I have dealt with the question of whether one can go home again, and both question and answer grow more complicated as time passes.

The home I sought last Sunday was the one I left at the age of seventeen, when I went away to college. That was fifty-six years ago, and other than a few summer vacations and short visits long ago, I never lived there again. The occasion was the annual reunion picnic of my old high school, Whitewater (Wisconsin) College High School.

The school, a "training school" for what was then Whitewater State Teachers College (now the University of Wisconsin at Whitewater) closed fewer than ten years after I graduated, so there are no new graduates. The surviving graduates are all senior citizens now. This picnic is canes and walkers and 40's and 50's music, not frisbee-playing and young children. This year, there were two or three attendees who graduated in the late 1920's, before I was born, so this group almost makes me feel young again.

With class sizes under thirty students (ours wasn't the only high school in town), we were and are a small group. I was the only reunion attendee from the class of 1950 (see my graduation photo above). Last year there were three of us (of the original twenty-one). I know that four or five class members are deceased, and one is recovering from an operation, but I wish more of the others had attended.

Anyway, the reunion was well worth the approximately one hundred mile drive. I joined five or six members of the class of 1951 and one from my brother's class of 1952, only one of whom I've kept in touch with, and enjoyed a bit of reminiscing. It was no surprise that most of the others enjoyed their high school days more than I, the ultimate shy nerd, did. I can laugh at my old self now. For me, high school was not "home."

Physically, the school no longer exists, and in my memory, it grows more remote as the years pass. Home now is Chicago, and returning here required only a drive in heavy traffic. I didn't mind that, and I'll probably attend next year's reunion picnic.

Copyright 2006 by Marlys Marshall Styne

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Senior Moments
times two: Self-Help and Inspiration for Seniors

Book Reviews:

For seniors looking for self-help, inspiration, or just indications that the writing world cares about us, two books I've just read, with identical titles but different approaches, are certainly worth reading.

I. David Wayne Silva’s Senior Moments: Getting the Most Out of Your Golden Years (Outskirts Press, 2005) is a self-help book and an autobiography by a senior citizen for other seniors. This book is a series of appropriately-titled chapters about the inevitable challenges of aging and the experiences of the author and his friends in dealing with them.

In the first chapter, “Thoughts on Time,” Silva writes, “Time that seemed endless in our youth now flies by with brutal resolution.” However, one positive aspect of aging is that mentally active seniors learn to savor every moment. “We see beauty in people, flowers, sunsets, and our animal friends,” becoming more aware of the beauty that surrounds us. This book shows how Silva and his friends have done exactly that. The author offers a great deal of practical advice.

In chapters including “The Christmas Tree,” “Another New Year’s Day,” and “Valentine’s Day,” Silva deals with loss and how to find comfort on what could be lonely, depressing holidays. He finds comfort not only in memories, but in observing flowers, pets, even squirrels, and listening to crickets around him. He also finds comfort in his strong religious faith and includes a short prayer at the end of each chapter, yet he does not claim that religion is the answer for everyone.

Toward the end of the book, Silva mentions his own serious health problems in “On Sleepless Nights,” “Thoughts on Pain,” and “Chronic Illness,” but with few complaints. He retains his focus on the positive side of aging, emphasizing in another chapter that “Living Means Growing.” He suggests that we ask ourselves, “Am I still growing? Have I given in to aging and the conditions that growing old brings to our lives?” This book will help the senior reader who answers “No” to the first question and “Yes” to the second to improve his or her life.

Californian David Wayne Silva, a former teacher, school administrator, and family and grief counselor, comes through as a friendly, outgoing, caring senior I would like to meet and talk with. This book should appeal to and comfort anyone old enough to be thinking seriously about the problems of aging, issues almost everyone will face eventually.

II. Senior Moments, subtitled “A book for seniors and those who love them,” by Jacqueline D. Byrd (Byrd & Byrd, 2005), is based on the author’s weekly “Senior Moments” column, originally written for two Maryland newspapers. Mrs. Byrd is more Baby Boomer than Senior Citizen, but as an attorney specializing in Elder Law, she is eminently qualified to advise seniors and caregivers on various issues such as estate planning, health care, senior housing, and other challenges ranging from how to tell when it’s time to stop driving, how to avoid scams and frauds, and how to recognize and deal with elder abuse to how to remain active and stay happy into old age.

This book is full of valuable information; the author cites and quotes various experts on aging and legal issues, and includes a detailed table of contents that makes finding specific topics and resources easy.

The final chapter is more personal as Byrd discusses her own “extraordinary” mother and grandchildren and her coming sixtieth birthday. There, she contemplates “the realities and the mystery and blessing of growing older.”

There are many opportunities for seniors, but, writes Jackie Byrd, some seniors won’t consider volunteering at a senior center, moving to assisted living when it’s needed, or joining senior activity groups because “old people are there.. . . So, unneeded, they waste away, full of sadness and regret, feeling misunderstood and unloved.” Anyone who reads Byrd’s book carefully and heeds her advice can avoid such a fate.

Copyright 2006 by Marlys Marshall Styne