Devil's Head Diary

Vice vs. Age

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It seems eons ago that the pool closed, but we were finally back in the water and relearning the water aerobics routine. I was huffing and puffing through the moves when Chris, the lifeguard, indicated that she had a question. I paddled over to the edge willing to impart any needed bits of knowledge in my possession.

Her question: “Carolyn, I heard someone say you are over 90. Is that true?”

I revealed that it wasn’t true. I may be on the far side of 80 but I have a few to go before the big 9-0.

Her reaction made me think that if I really were 90-plus, she would have been wildly impressed with my agility and energy. Admitting to being a decade younger was far less impressive.

This encounter had me giggling for a week, sparked some memories of bygone years, and got me thinking about my future.

One of my grandmother’s favorite quotes was Oliver Herford’s bon mot, “Only the good die young.” The statement took on new meaning as I blew past young. Upon reflection, I figure the brashness of youth and the tendency to push limits was a form of self-preservation. If there is truth in Herford’s words, it would be advisable to get deadly serious about physical preservation and goodness avoidance.

Currently my plan for future fitness includes another decade or so of water aerobics and some tai chi sword play. In addition, I do have genetics on my side since I come from a long line of very old women.

Documentation indicates that they were not just old women, but they also were good women who hung out with good men.

I have a photo of my maternal great-grandmother on her 93rd birthday and she still looked spry enough to go for a few more years. She was married to a Methodist circuit rider who covered the central Texas circuit out of Cuero — an area of small settlements bordering Comanche, Tonkawa and Lipan Apache territory.

Their daughter, Ethel, my grandmother, lived to be 98. She married Mr. Goforth and moved to Comfort, Texas. (There is a joke in that combo — my Uncle Morris always claimed that he and his best friend, Adolph Stieler, were recruited by a fraternity at the University of Texas because they could be introduced as Goforth and Stieler from Comfort). Gram started the Sunday school in Comfort and after the church was built she was the church pianist for the next half century.

My mother, the youngest of the five Goforth children, lived to be 96. After my dad died, she became a master teacher and community leader who set a good example for all.

On the paternal side, my grandmother was wed in the Missouri Territory and followed her husband, a Presbyterian minister, to Texas. She lived to be 95. Their marriage only lasted about two years. The Rev. W.H. Brown died before my dad was born, but she persisted. She raised two boys, sent them to college, sold encyclopedias, dabbled in real estate and managed her 100-acre farm until shortly before her death.

My dad’s grandmother only lived to be 89. I don’t know much about her, but her husband, Hugh M. Cooper, was a master of understatement as evidenced in the recorded minutes of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, New Mt. Pleasant Congregation in Missouri. A page is left blank between March 10, 1861 to September 17, 1866. The next entry, penned by my great-grandfather, begins:

“Now about this time a National difficulty occurred and the church became somewhat scattered and in a disorganized state.”

So much for the Civil War.

Hence, based upon the “only-the-good-die-young” hypothesis, and the women who swam upstream from my gene pool, I can only surmise that these good women were snatched away in the prime of life.

I may have skittered along on the risky edge of appropriate as a teenager, but I made a conscious effort to observe the boundaries. Consequently, there are no glaring sins to mar my early goodness record.

Actuarially, that put me at risk, so I have countered it by diligently obtaining right-of-way and paving a six-lane highway to you know where with innumerable sins of omission. So far, the strategy has paid off.

However, when wanting to wimp out on a workout, I remind myself that based on calculations of goodness, the highway that is still under construction and my gene pool, I’m facing another quarter century minimum, and I don’t want to face it sitting or lying down.

In the meantime, if I’m asked my age, I think I’ll add a decade because I much prefer a “Wow, that’s hard to believe!” response to “Meh, ya’ still look pretty good.”

Award-winning columnist Carolyn Wiley


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