I just got back from vacation out West where I met with a lot of very, very old people.
First I met the mule man. His name is Lew. My mom wanted me and my kids to meet him since he had mules, and she thought my kids would like to come and feed them. Not my first idea of a good time, but I always do what my mother says.
We found Lew out back by the barn. I am pretty sure he was close to 800 years old. He had three mules tied up to a fence by the corral. He taught my kids how to hold their hands flat as they fed alfalfa pellets to the mules. Once they had mastered that skill he said, “I’ll teach you anther way to feed the mule, and if you can feed him like this I’ll go into the house and give you a dollar.” Then he took an alfalfa pellet, put it in his mouth, bent over, and to the horror of my children, he let the mule take the pellet from his lips.
After wiping a smile (and mule spit) from his mouth, the ancient man slung a saddle up on the mule, slung up Naomi, and then slung up Dan as easily as if they were all made of paper mache. He led the mule around in a few circles. Then Danny wanted to be in front, so Lew taught them how to switch places. He told Naomi to stand up on top of the saddle–yes, on top–and had Danny to crawl through her legs as she slid behind Danny’s back and viola! Like magic Danny was in the front. I wish you could have seen the pride shining in my children’s eyes at acquiring this novel, new skill. I could read Naomi’s mind: Now THIS is a TALENT!
After that he lifted Danny off the mule but told Naomi she could slide off the back of the mule’s rump, “but don’t ever do it on any other horse or mule unless you want to get your head kicked off.” As he was putting the saddle way he said to me, “Did you know that I have five daughters and each of them can ride a bucking horse and shoot, skin and clean their own elk. But my greatest regret is that not one of them can play the piano.” Before Naomi could say, Hey, that is not so bad! My mom piped up and said, “These girls can play piano! And they can sing for you. RIGHT NOW!”
So, since I always do what my mom tells me, we did. In Lew’s tack shed. Surrounded by saddles and ropes he made himself, while he sat misty-eyed on an old pick up truck seat. To our delight, he reciprocated by reciting a cowboy poem from memory. When it was time to go back to my Mom’s, Lew looked at my two-year-old and said, “Since you didn’t get to ride the mule I’ll take you on the four wheeler.” And then he drove my Levi back to the house, making sure they crossed under every single sprinkler a long the way. I may have had my doubts about the mule man when we arrived, but by the time we left I was his biggest fan.
Next I went to a family reunion, where I saw my Uncle John whom I have not seen for years. He engaged me in conversation in which he asked me all about my life. Then he called my children to him, looked them steadily in the eye and said, “Your grandfather had a beautiful voice, just like you. Did you know that? I knew your grandfather very well. He was a wonderful man. I know because he was a good friend of mine. And it is important that you to know how wonderful he was.” I tell my kids every day how great my dad was, but like a lot of things, it doesn’t sink in until they can hear it from someone else. This was truly a great gift from my uncle, and one I will always be grateful for.
Finally, I attended the 90th birthday party of one of my favorite people in the world: my grandmother. Actually, she is not my grandmother. She is Scott’s grandmother, but I claim her whole heartedly. She is extremely intelligent, talented and has read almost every book ever written. When she talks to you she makes you feel like you are her absolute favorite grandchild, and that you possess talents that no one else has, and that your talents can make a difference in people’s lives and will change the world. And because she is who she is, you believe her. If you met her you would claim her as your grandmother, too.
All of these encounters make me wonder if I am cut out to be a good old person.
What kind of old lady will I be? Will I be the old lady that complains about everything and tells the younger generation to take their shoes off and get out of my flowers or don’t touch my breakable things and eat your vegetables? Or will I have something wiser to say like “I remember your grandfather and he was a good singer and a good friend” or “you, my dear, have talents that will change the world” or “let me show you how to switch places on a mule.”
On the Forth of July I entered a 5K race. So did my husband, many of my in-laws and most of my kids and nieces and nephews. My athletic in-laws and competitive husband took off, leaving me behind with the smell their burned rubber, and I was on my own to pad my way amongst strangers down the streets of Manti. Before long footsteps came from behind and I looked to see my nephew, Max.
There was no way I was going to be beaten by an 8-year-old. Especially one who is related to me. I broke away from him for a while, but a half mile later I heard those shoes coming up behind me again. So I let him keep pace with me, and we talked about the weather, the pros of stretching before a race, and how often he practiced running. Throughout all this I always made sure I was slightly ahead of him at all times. When there was a mile left he was still on my tail. (Inconceivable!) I debated what I should do. Should I pick up my pace and leave him behind? After all, I do have a 28-minute personal best that I needed either meet or surpass. Besides that, if I came in too late I knew I would have to prepare a good verbal comeback for my husband when he asks if I stopped to pick flowers.
“How you doing, Max?”
“Are you feeling good?”
He looked good. His pace was good. He wasn’t limping, he wasn’t complaining. I measured up the situation, calculated the risks.
Then I asked,”You want to sprint the last part with me?”
“Are you sure you can do it?”
So as we rounded the corner to the finish line, we sprinted. I still could have left him and crossed first, but we ran side by side until right before the finish line when I pulled back and let him cross first.
Now he can say he can beat his aunt.
It is a start, I guess. Luckily, I am only 37. I have a lot of years still to learn how those 80 and 90 year olds do it. But hopefully, when I grow up and become an old lady, I will be a good one.
By the way, my enchanting niece who also happens to be Idaho’s Miss Outstanding Teen, is doing a project called Bridging Generations. You should check it out. #BridgingGenerations