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Full disclosure: I’m 67 years old. This upcoming September (2022), I’ll be 68. No point pretending otherwise. No point writing posts either celebrating–or bemoaning–my “hotness” in a previous life about half-a-century ago (so I’ll spare you the bikini-beach-babe pic, unless you’re really determined to view it, in which case knock yourself out). Things are what they are.
In the long run (even before we’re all dead), gravity, and avoirdupois, and lives filled with love and joy, or with hatred and bitterness, skewer us all, and show up on our faces and our bodies, and the best we can hope for is that the lines at the corners of our mouths go the right way, that the crows’ feet bordering our eyes are laughter lines and not the other kind, that we needn’t fear (in the selfie age) to be photographed from “below” because of our double chins, or our “turkey necks,” and that the inevitable downswing of our once spectacularly noteworthy (in our own minds at least) gender-defining characteristics–both male and female–hasn’t caused them to flop too far down the hill of decrepitude into realms of the ridiculous or the irrelevant.
My mother was fond of quoting what she believed were the words of Ingrid Bergman, to the effect that:
“A woman of 40 has the face she deserves.”
I don’t know if that’s apocryphal WRT Bergman or not. I do know that similar thoughts have been attributed to–among others–Albert Einstein and Coco Chanel.
In the long run (as I mentioned above), it matters not. I believe it’s an observation on what happens to us when our center no longer holds (h/t W.B. Yeats), and upon the importance of living a life that deserves some kindness when it’s viewed by our friends, our relations, and our loved ones. And–yay me!–somehow I seem to have accumulated–to this point at least and for the most part–kind friends, relations, and loved ones who shower that upon me, The rest of you–buzz off. I don’t want to know you. Life’s too short.
In the meantime, I plod on.
Somewhere a dozen or more years ago, when he was still pretty engaged with real life, Mr. She bought me an Easter present. It was a small container of eight tulips, almost ready to bloom. Eventually, they did, and they were beautiful. Scarlet. With a thin gold stripe surrounding the black center. I planted a single one of them, every other brick and concrete step, on the way down to the barn.
And I named them my “Marine Corps tulips.” Many of you will understand, but for those who aren’t clued in, scarlet and gold were designated as USMC official colors in 1925, and “the scarlet and gold” is often used as a metaphor for the Corps itself. Over the intervening years, with my many USMC friends, I’ve played on that metaphor in my crafting and my knitting, even producing–from my own design–a scarf (with that insanely difficult mobius cast-on) as a gift:
And the connection to Mr. She? Well, he, a gawky and near-blind-without-his-glasses kid from Pittsburgh’s South Side, enlisted with the USMC shortly after bouncing out of Carnegie Tech’s engineering program. I’ve told the story before of his eventually successful application:
Many years ago, Mr. She walked into the Recruiting Office in Pittsburgh to enlist. I suppose the Sergeant must have liked what he saw, because there was a little problem when Mr. She took the eye test. In short, he failed it miserably. A couple of times.
“Son,” said the Sergeant, “I think I know what might be the problem. I think your eyes are just having trouble adjusting to the light in here. Do you think that could be it?”
“Yes, Sir, I think it could be,” said Mr. She.
“I’ll tell you what,” says the Sergeant, pointing to a chair across the room and about eighteen inches away from the eye chart. “You just go sit over there for a few minutes until your eyes adjust. Then we’ll try again.”
So Mr. She did. Sat right there. Eighteen inches away from the eye chart while his eyes adjusted.
After about ten minutes, and a few more eye tests for other young men, all of whom passed with flying colors, the Sergeant said, “Son, do you think your eyes have adjusted all right now?”
“Yes, Sir, I think they have,” said Mr. She, and he took the eye test again.
And, as I’ve also noted before, Mr. She spent his many years of service in the USMC Reserves. At some point (not quite sure when) he was offered the opportunity to stay in the Corps and attend officer training school. Personal circumstances, and his lifelong desire to teach, caused him to turn the offer down. The USMC’s loss. And academia’s gain. (I can speak to that with authority, having been his student, 1974-1977, before I became his partner and his wife.)
In his final years, Mr. She came to dwell more than I might like on his military service, and to state more often than I might like, his wish that he’d taken the Corps up on their offer for a career. I’ve no doubt he was sincere. And absolutely no doubt that he’d have been a great officer had he done so.
Just as I’ve no doubt he appreciated the opportunity to talk at length with a “real” career Marine not long before he died.
But, the tulips:
This year, I counted the blooms from those original eight plants. And I stopped at forty-one.
Forty-one Marine Corps tulips.
Thank you, sweetie. This year, I’ll be separating them and dividing the bulbs. I’ll pass some along to friends, and plant many others here in places you loved,.
Next up? LOL. Perhaps “My Life As Told Through Tea Towels.” Or “Memories in Refrigerator Magnets.”
Don’t doubt me. The older I get, the more I’m convinced that it’s the small things that matter.