Notes from the other side of 60

August 10, 2009

They streamed in from Toronto, Lakefield, and Westport.  The Kingston contingent had just gained a new granddaughter and couldn’t make it this year, but the rest of   my classmates from Westport Public School, The Old Eights, sat down to a Saturday lunch featuring some of Newboro Lake’s finest bass fillets and abundant conversation.  This was the year when we (all but me) turned sixty, so before we broke for an all-aboard tour of the property on the Ranger, we put together a few observations and yarns for the benefit of readers who have yet to reach that august plateau.

On Aging:

Ice cream is its own reward.  Eat it while you can.  Don’t go to a fortieth high school reunion without a large-print nametag or no one will recognize you.  Accept the fact that gravity rules.  What will fall will fall, be it body parts, kidney stones, hair, jowls, eyelids.  So.  We are still well and enjoying each other’s company, despite the failing parts.  After all, in the book of one’s life, what really counts is the story, not the pictures.  Buy your toys while you can still afford the insurance to use them.  Don’t use your motorcycle to hunt with.

On our collective memory:

Date your pictures.  Write down who is in them and what year it was. Newboro Lake writer Charlotte Gray said in a speech recently that we should date and label all of our photographs.  Also print off all of your important emails so that there is a hard copy and our memories won’t just disappear.

No Old Eights lunch would be complete without a yarn about another local writer, Orville Forrester.  His son Jim offered this one:  “The only time I’ve ever been around explosives was when Dad dropped a stick of dynamite into the spring above our cottage to blow it out.  There was a big white explosion — a fountain of quartz crystals and water mixed together.  Then in typical fashion he dug a trench through the North Shore Road, ran a little plastic hose down the hill to the cottage, and we had running water.”

On change:

Somebody at IBM once said, “We’ll only need about two of these things.”  Learn to type if you haven’t already done so.  Don’t resist technology.  It will keep you connected to the world and allow you to communicate in a pervasive way.  Older people do well with Google.  It’s good for the mind to use search engines.  It re-ignites one’s innate sense of curiosity and provides new ways to find interesting things.

The publishing industry is in trouble, not from the recession, but from the spread of digital media.  Universities are cutting costs by eliminating textbooks, offering course materials online.   Newspapers find themselves competing with their own online editions.  Are journalists a dying breed?  One of the biggest worries publishers have with digital media is that if someone censors something, a single copy can be deleted and it’s as if the item had never existed.  Our memory is lost, replaced by whatever the Winston Smith of the day has decided we should remember in its place.

Stuff is one of the worst afflictions:

“You are probably wondering how we survived the Toronto garbage strike.  The pyramids they built were very convenient.  You’d just go with any number of bags and hand them to someone else and they would end up in one of these mountains of garbage.  You could give them everything, as long as it was double bagged, no questions asked. We had put an old washing machine out for pickup just before the strike, though.  It’s still there. They sprayed the pyramids of garbage to reduce the smell and the rodents.  The first day of garbage pickup was a bit ripe.  The trucks smelled horrible.”

“But the Portland dump is a lovely site.  Robert Redford (a red Ford pickup) and I drove to the dump with the stuff left over from my Westport yard sale.  It all had to go.  The staff were very nice to me and even helped unload my junk.”

Then there was the time Jim and Stephanie had to get rid of an old, 1940’s house trailer abandoned on their property after use as a goat shed and chicken coop.  Their neighbour was in charge of the operation in their absence, and he enlisted the help of a backhoe and a crane to lift the thing onto a flatbed trailer for disposal.  The only suitable landing bed among the hills was the township road.  As the crane swung the hulk onto the trailer, the slings pulled up through the rotten floor and out tumbled dozens upon dozens of large, shiny milk snakes.  Bedlam ensued.  Heavy machinery operators and farmers are as jumpy as anyone else when the road is alive with angry snakes.

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