'One starts to get young at the age of 60, and then it's too late'
-- Pablo Picasso
The other day I was paging through a book of quotes on aging someone gave me on my 50th birthday, or maybe it was my 60th.
Who can remember anymore?
The book -- entitled Age Doesn't Matter Unless You're a Cheese -- is a compilation of thoughtful and sometimes cheesy quotes such as the one in the title, spoken by famous old and now mostly dead people.
There was one in particular that made me pause and reflect. It was spoken by the American test pilot Chuck Yeager.
"Unfortunately," Yeager once remarked, "many people don't consider fun an important item on their daily agenda. For me that was always high priority in whatever I was doing."
Yeager's words resonated because I don't make time for fun anymore.
I was reminded of all that a couple of Saturdays ago when my daughter, Erin, asked if I could look after my five-year-old grandson, Jacob, for the afternoon.
"Sure," I told her.
But I needed to know it was OK to take him with me to a cemetery.
Spooky Elmwood Cemetery, specifically, because I had promised to drop by a community event where a group of arborists had volunteered to prune dead branches in hopes of abating the spread of Dutch elm disease in the century-old cemetery.
Erin had no problem with that.
She said Jacob already had some experience in the area of graves. He and his dad, Ryan, had buried his goldfish in the backyard recently, complete with a little stick cross, and later, just for fun, Jacob and his older brother dug the fish up to see what the maggots were up to.
Obviously, Jacob was good to go to Elmwood Cemetery.
I had decided before leaving maybe this was a good time to teach the little guy something about the importance of remembering family even if he had no memory of any of them. So I brought a bouquet of red carnations he and I would place under the headstones of his great-grandparents, his great-great-grandparents and his great-great-great-grandparents.
Later, as we were driving on Henderson Highway, heading for the Disraeli Bridge, I told Jacob to look at the rows and rows of graves. Jacob glanced out the window. Then he said this:
"You know the best thing about heaven?"
"What?" I asked back.
"You get to meet all your friends."
I didn't know what to say.
So I grunted something unintelligible and asked Jacob what kind of music he'd like to listen to.
"Not country," he said.
We settled on the hits of the 1970s.
And when the Village People's signature song started playing on my car radio, I explained that if he could see the singers they'd look like they were on the way to a Halloween party. And then I started singing along.
And Jacob joined me.
"It's fun to stay at the... YMCA. It's fun to stay at the... YMCA."
We sang that all the way across the bridge.
Now I was having fun.
And so was he.
When we reached the other side of the bridge, my plan was to take Jacob to the Dinosaurs Unearthed exhibit at the Manitoba Museum.
No, his plan was to go to McDonald's. Not for the food so much as the playground.
So we ended up there, with him climbing and crawling in the overhead tubing for most of an hour, wherein he declared himself "the captain" of the other kids. And I had to declare myself "the admiral" to finally get him home.
-- -- --
There was another quote from that book on aging that meant more to me after that afternoon with my grandson. It was from the actress, Ruby Dee, who recalled something that sounds like a parable.
"I read a story once of a group of Jews who were escaping the Nazis. They were walking over a mountain, and they carried with them the sick and the old and the children. A lot of old people fell by the wayside and said, 'I'm a burden; go on without me.' They were told, 'The mothers need respite, so instead of just sitting there and dying, would you take the babies and walk as far as you can?' Once the old people got the babies close to their bosom and started walking, they all went over the mountain. They had a reason to live."
I hope I'll live long enough to at least try to teach Jacob as much as I can about life. The way he's teaching me about how much fun it is to have fun again. Even when you're over 60.