How is it possible??  My oldest brother will celebrate his 80th birthday tomorrow.  When I was young, someone that old was an elderly person.  Dick is hardly elderly.  I suspect he could out work me any day in cutting and hauling firewood — and I am a mere child of 66.  He has confessed that he might lose track of where he put the chain saw, but age has little to do with that.

As the years have gone by, my perspective on aging has changed dramatically.  Dad died at 84, pretty much with his boots on.  He had worked hard during the day and died in the evening.  Mom lived to be 97 and was pretty sharp until the end.

This summer all my siblings will celebrate some significant event in their lives.  Brother Dick turns 80, Sister Gayle turns 75, Brother Dave and his wife Velda celebrate 50 years of marriage, Sister Tish and her husband Bill also celebrate 50 years of marriage.  I feel so young!!!

This exercise in looking back, in putting Mary Ann’s and my journey in a larger context began this afternoon when I put on a DVD titled “Celebrating North America’s Steam Railways.”  The series was done for Public Television.  It was a premium for making a donation.  It was long but very engaging.

As I watched it, I remembered my first years in college in 1961-3, when my folks would drop me off at the train station in Aurora for the trip to Union Station in Chicago.  There I got on the train to Milwaukee.  The transition from steam to diesel had come not so long before that time.

I remembered Brother Dick heading back and forth in the 1940’s on the train to school in Ft. Wayne, Indiana.

If I am remembering this correctly, my Dad said that he had not ridden the train.  He was born in 1901.  Horses were the means of transportation in his little country town.  He did fly in jet airplanes and enjoy some cruises later in life, but skipped the trains.

His Dad was born in 1860, not long after the steam trains began to be commonly used.  His Dad’s Great-Great Grandfather, Abner, fought in the Revolutionary War, before trains.  Abner was a Revolutionary War hero whose sword has been passed from oldest son to oldest son until it resides now with Brother Dick and his Son, Tom.

The historical context puts into perspective the challenges Mary Ann and I live with at this point in our history.  Abner lived through many battles and ended up losing a foot after his feet froze on his homeward journey to the six hundred acre plot where the town of Trumansburg (formerly Tremaine’s Village) now sits.  The name was misspelled in a post office record.

My Grandfather owned and lost what came to be known as the Gold Coast in Chicago.  The Depression took its toll.  He ended up a virtual hermit, separated from my Grandmother, who, rumor has it, lost either a sister or an aunt in a scandalous series of events resulting from an early version of priestly misbehavior.

My Mother and Father lost their first two children.  Glen Raymond died nine days after a premature birth.  There was no mention of Glen in our family until after Dad died, and Mom was in her 80’s.  When that death was finally revealed, she said that they just never talked about it after it happened.  Their second child was Lon Raymond.  He died of peritonitis caused by a ruptured appendix.  He was five years old.  He died on Christmas Eve. I cannot even begin to imagine the intensity of the pain they suffered.

Dad and Mom went through the Depression.  Dad lost his job, but they had managed to hold on to a a house that had been converted into apartments.  Whoever could pay a few dollars rent kept them going.  People would share commodities with one another.

One of my sisters cared for a husband with brittle diabetes for decades.  Another of my sisters cares for her husband who is diabetic, suffering from Dementia, incontinent and very heavy.  She just got out the hospital and rehabilitation after major back surgery.

Somehow, when placed in historical perspective, our circumstances seem unworthy of terrible lamentation.  Many who have gone before us have endured struggles far beyond anything we have yet experienced.  It is just our turn to live the life that has come our way.

Of course we feel sorry for ourselves at what has come into our lives and shaped them into something we could never have anticipated.  Parkinson”s is a devastating illness.  Against the backdrop of what those who have gone before us have suffered, we can hardly feel sorry for ourselves for long.

As have those who have gone before us, we are simply living our lives as they unfold.  We don’t decide what comes our way, but we live through what comes day by day, experiencing life fully wherever it takes us.  Somehow looking back and looking around, puts our situation into perspective.

It may not be the life we would have chosen, but it’s our life.

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