Life’s Litany

“All our life is drawn on our faces. That’s why when we’re old, we have wrinkles. It’s like a painting. Your grandmother’s life is in the wrinkles in her face.”

I bought it when my dad told me this. Sometimes I studied my grandmother’s face to see if I could find the stories. Really, parents, you can tell your kids anything, pretty much.

My grandma didn’t mind my sitting on her lap, looking at her, putting my little hands on her face, asking her questions, like “What does this wrinkle mean, grandma?” I couldn’t read words yet. I thought the wrinkles were just one more thing I’d learn once I started school. I figured the grownups could look at her and see everything.

Now I’m the age my grandmother was. My life has been so different, and I would say easier than hers it’s crazy. The photo above is two of my aunts — the youngest of my grandmother’s children — on a spring day in front of their house in Hardin, Montana around 1930.

At her 50th wedding anniversary party — 1957 — my grandma was about the age I am now, but older than I at the same age — but not by a lot. It’s not only life that writes on our faces but genetics.


At this point, I see life as a conveyor belt or a river; time. We’re born, discharged into time, we are carried along, dependent on our parents, we learn how to live here, our parents drop away from us, we become parents ourselves, we age and, in our turn, step off the conveyor belt of time into the vast gray of memory. We began as a spasm of delight and end as an idea. And my dad was right; our lives ARE written on our faces.

12 thoughts on “Life’s Litany

  1. I love how literal kids can be, and also our postulations–sometimes right on and other times, not so much. Great that your grandma was able to be present to you. And yes, I am amazed at how much less “old” we are at a given age, although depending on the morning, it may take a while to perceive.

    • Yep. My dad tended to be a little poetic and often explained things with metaphors. I didn’t raise ten kids and lose one; I didn’t live on a dirt farm in Montana during the depression; I didn’t haul water in a big barrel dragged on a sledge across the ground by a Percheron — my grandma’s daily life was all that and more. Crazy.

  2. I also think the generation before us got older than we did faster above and beyond genetics. It was also culture. They were supposed to be old at 50 and very old at 65. Diets were different and they worked physically harder, though I don’t know if that was part of the difference. I think they “thought” they were older. If you look at old movies and you see “middle aged people” — and you realize they were younger than us by maybe 10, 15 years and they look older than we do now. Once they got married and assumed responsibility, they were “older” and they acted and dressed older. They grew up. We … not so much.

    • I (personally) think we like to believe we look younger than they, but looking at my grandmother’s photo, she doesn’t look a lot older than I at the same age. But life expectancy has changed by 15 or 20 years. Grandma, at 66, wasn’t looking at 80 or 85. She was looking at 70. When she died, she was 74. I’m OK with that, too, but NOT ok with my current physical limitations. There was no way she could have resisted the same limitations. The possibility didn’t exist. I don’t know. I agree that they grew up. Our parents’ generation grew up, too. We haven’t. Well, not true. I did. I grew up a few months ago when I found a great job that I would have loved to do, began the process, and then, in the middle of it, I could almost see in front of me a 30 something young woman on the threshold of a real career who ALSO wanted that job. I backed away, thinking, “It’s your turn. Good luck.”

      When I look at all those incredibly ugly old men (and women!) in Congress, our generation, well, it’s staggering. I think they should get out of the way. They should grow up and get out. Especially the fat, squinty-eyed, big-assed, orange one. He should get out.

      • I should change what I said: wrinkle for wrinkle, they didn’t look older, but they dressed older and considered themselves older. They “thought” old and acted old. Some of us do, but many of us don’t. I accept that my body is a mess and not likely to get much better, but my brain is still reasonably sharp and most of the time, i enjoy life. I don’t think a lot of our elderly forbears enjoyed their years.

        For me, I’m pretty sure it is computers that have made the difference. I can ‘get out’ virtually, even if i can’t get around much physically. If I were really stuck in this house and had nothing to see, no one to talk to … I’d had my life. I have a feeling that many of them hated their lives, too. I know my mother reached a point with her cancer — she was just my age, too — when she hated her life. She was more like you than me. Very outdoors, physically active. A walker, hiker, climber. She skated and rode and ran and played tennis … and when she had lost a lung and two breasts and she could barely breathe anymore, she didn’t want to go on.

        “What should I do?” she asked me. “Just sit in a chair and look out the window? That’s not living.” Maybe if she had had some other resources to channel, it would have been better. I don’t know, but my mother was dying when she was my age. So far, I’m not. Fingers still crossed!

      • They definitely considered themselves older and they certainly set themselves apart from us and said things like, “Act your age!” 😀

        I’ve realized through this that, for me, not being able to do things I love — even a compromise of them — is the end of life. And I don’t love writing or painting all that much, actually. I love being outside. I guess for all of us “old” or life’s termination moment is when we are no longer able to be ourselves — that’s how it was for my dad and your mom, too, it sounds like.

        Some of my friends seem to be happy sliding into old age. I’m OK with death, but not disability. that, too, is like my dad.

  3. I loved what your father said about wrinkles…. “All our life is drawn on our faces. That’s why when we’re old, we have wrinkles. It’s like a painting. Your grandmother’s life is in the wrinkles in her face.” I really enjoy reading your posts!!!! Hope you have a wonderful weekend! 🙂

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