A Century

I think every generation cuts its teeth on, then kicks to the curb, the generation preceding it. I see it in the behavior of Juvenile, I mean Junior, Congressperson Alexandrea Ocasio-Cortez. When she hits 40, she’ll have a shock and I can’t explain it better than that. I remember it, though. In my thirties, teaching at an international school in San Diego, I had all the answers to everything. My boss, who was in her late 40s/early 50s just nodded and went ahead with what she knew to be right. Us young’uns went around reinventing the wheel and she ignored us. I noticed at that point in my life, too, that my older colleagues — those five years older or so — hitting forty, started looking bewildered. I happened to me, too.

I didn’t know everything after all and the world was not waiting for me to enlighten it. It was truly shocking.

But my generation really went at our parents. I understand why, now. They — those from non-urban areas, anyway — had grown up in a world that had almost ceased existing by the time we were teenagers. My mom and her sisters grew up on a farm on the high plains of Montana. She knew how to care for livestock, how to hitch Percherons to a wagon, well, the list of stuff she knew that was completely alien to me is very long. And vice versa. We were challenged to find common ground.

My mom, Aunt Kelly, Aunt Pat and Aunt Martha, 1922

I see the same thing today — not so much from the generation that would have been my kids if I’d had any, but THEIR kids, the so-called “digital natives.” They don’t think about where all the stuff they’re used to came from (us and Gen X) they just use it. Their childhoods have been radically different from “Granny’s” (I’m granny but I’ll smack you if you call me that) and even that of their own parent’s. The idea of a “helicopter parent” didn’t exist when I was a kid and the kids who would have been mine were probably cruising around on their BMXs with their own house keys.

The forty-something folks who were once “my” kids? I love them with all my heart. I had the privilege of being the “other adult” in their lives. I learned that role from my Aunt Martha who, unlike my own mom, retained her interest in the future throughout her whole life. She didn’t freeze in time or live in the past. She remembered her childhood and loved her family, but, as she told me a few days before she died, she left on purpose and never wanted to return. Everything she wanted was BEYOND the horizons of the family.

She left. She went to business college and when WW II started, she packed her Montana small town suitcase and went to Washington DC to work for the OSS, the precursor of the CIA.

I liked her from the time I was born, I think.

Back row — Aunt Martha, Aunt Kelly, My mom
Front row — My cousin, Linda and me, first birthday (I think) 1953

I was thinking about my Aunt Martha’s fiftieth birthday while I was walking Bear today. The custom in my mom’s family had been to put as many pennies under the birthday kid’s plate as they were old that year. We taped 50 pennies to my Aunt Martha’s plate. The plate wouldn’t lie flat on the table. We also tried to get fifty candles on her cake, but that kind of back “fired” when the top ended up covered with wax. It was a fun birthday. I was seventeen.

As life went on and the war between my mom and I escalated for reasons I didn’t really understand until about ten years ago, my Aunt Martha was always there. I can’t even count the times when she pulled me out of some family disaster and took me to Denver to stay with her. For every little big moment of my life (new office in Rainbow Girls, for example) she was there one way or another — sending me corsages of yellow roses or just showing up.

She always showed up.

The most amazing showing up was when I was flying back to Montana from San Diego after my mom died. I changed planes at DIA. I walked down the concourse looking for my connection and there was my Aunt Martha. We hadn’t planned it, but we were on the same plane.

For reasons no one completely knows — maybe there were many contributing factors — my Aunt Martha ended up with dementia in her later years. She had to move back to Montana (she didn’t want to) and go into an assisted care facility. Two of her sisters were in Billings so it was a reasonable decision for the family to make. For the first year, she would call me and ask me to come up and help her find her own house.

The house — townhome — she’d lived in (and loved for decades) in Denver we’d picked out together. We both walked into it in the process of helping my mom find a town home. The high ceiling, the big living room, the clerestory windows, the light coming in, made both of us gasp in delight. In Billings, she was where she needed to be, but it wasn’t ever really all right. She made the best of it, but understood that it was necessary because she was slowly losing her mental abilities, her memory.

On one of my trips to visit her after she’d moved to Billings, my Aunt Jo, my Uncle Hank and my Aunt Martha met my plane. My Aunt Jo told me to drop them off at their house and then take my Aunt Martha back to her place so we could visit for a while, just us. When I opened the door to her apartment, I saw the room was decorated by dozens of yellow post-it notes. All of them said, “Martha Ann arrives today.”

I miss her very very much. Our parents are important, but sometimes it’s the “other adult” who matters most.

She would have been 100 years old today, Washington’s Birthday.

Aunt Martha and me, 1955

20 thoughts on “A Century

  1. I think I would have liked your Aunt Martha! You were very lucky to have her as the “other mother” in your young life! A very happy Aunt Martha’s birthday to you!

    It’s interesting that you began this post with comments about AOC and her cohort of young women — I was shocked at the SOTU by the brashness of the group (and especially AOC herself) — you hit that generation-gap nail right on the head!

    • Thank you! I will celebrate Aunt Martha’s birthday maybe by cooking her favorite dinner — T-bone steak and fried potatoes and onions, even though that’s a long way from my usual diet! Maybe I’ll just make chocolate chip cookies or jello with cabbage and carrots. šŸ™‚

      AOC is just a version of Trump. She plays to the crowd, she wants attention, she’s happy to be sensational and ignorant, she has little humility. I can’t stand her. Some of the others I have hope for.

      • What a great way to celebrate her birthday — reminiscing with comfort food! I hope against hope that AOC and her friends will mature a bit and learn quickly about their role!

        • It’s her food. šŸ™‚

          I hope they do, too. Seeing the photo of all of them right after they were elected was really heartening to me. It’s been a LONG haul for us females of the species. Aunt Martha was one of those women who just KNEW she could do as well as any man at the work she did. She was awarded a commendation from Congress.

  2. My mother-in-law who just died in January was a hundred in December. She moved alone to California in 1942 and became a comptometrist and eventually a key-punch operator when computers came online. Same generation, just different geography.

  3. I am so thankful for the ‘other’ adults in my kids’ lives. There have been plenty of times that they refused my help or advice, mostly because they wanted to assert their independence, and it’s been the other adults who they’ve turned to. I wonder what they would have done without them.

    I’ve been the other adult in many, many lives and it was always such a privilege – one I enjoyed immensely. Those kids are having kids now and it’s like I have dozens of ‘other’ grandkids already!

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