Wednesday, March 30, 2005

An Aging Saga

Age is a funny thing, isn't it? On one side of the hill, we can hardly wait to be considered an "adult," and will try to appear older than our birth certificate claims. The years march on, along with life, and there is a point at which age becomes irrelevant. Our friendships are not always defined by age mates, but by shared interests, which can jump generations. We mark all those "significant" birthdays with black balloons, or in my case, a Red Hat. I have two coffee cups which pretty much summarize my whole attitude regarding age. One I purchased myself, which reads, "Age is an attitude." The other was given to me on my last "significant" birthday by a friend, and reads, "If things get better with age, then I must be approaching magnificent."

The scourge of my youth, perennially oily skin, has been my blessing in cronehood, holding off most wrinkles save the laugh lines, of which there are many. Genetics gave me a head of hair that has yet to be touched by coloring agents--unless you count that one horrific experience with "highlighting" in my 20s that left me looking somewhat like a woman with a skunk skin atop her head. Though I don't have the runner's lean muscle mass I once did, it could be a lot worse.

So, with these attitudes and blessings, age for me really is a relative matter. Not so for every member of my family, my mom.

Our understanding of the ages of our parents was thus: Dad was born in 1928, Mom in 1926, making her two years older than Dad when they married in 1951, shortly after Dad graduated from the University of Minnesota School of Engineering. This was the long held understanding of Dad, too.

Until a fateful day about nine years ago. I have a cousin, Diane, who never married. Instead, her gift to the extended family was exhaustive geneaological research which actually turned up an entire branch of Mom's family from her grandfather's first wife. Diane was visiting on this fateful day, at a time when my brother Fritz and his wife Sharon were expecting their third child. Diane had spread out the family tree she'd constructed, and Fritz and Sharon thought it would be fun to look for baby names among the branches. Fritz found his name on the tree and began working backward, but he didn't get very far when he exclaimed, "Hey, this thing's wrong!"

Diane couldn't imagine this to be true, as the database she'd used was one of the most respected tools in geneaological research.

"What do you mean, it's wrong? It can't be!"

Fritz traced back to our parents.

"Well, Mom's birthdate is wrong. It has her down as being born in 1924. It should be 1926."

The room fell silent and all eyes went toward Mom. Finally, she had to say something before the tension caused everyone to crack.

"It was bad enough being TWO years older than your father in 1951!"

The truth came out, almost fifty years after the fact. Dad's response?

"I want an annulment."

Mom's response?

"Can't! You're not Catholic!"

As the shock wore off, little bits of other stories became clear. There was one about Mom making arrangements with the clerk of court to get the marriage license without "worrying" about Dad. The clerk was a childhood friend and bent the rules. Things like that.

At a time when May-December romances seem the norm, Mom's fears seem ridiculous. I asked her if she had lived the lie long enough that she'd just plain forgotten the truth. She never really had.

I'm so glad there are folks like my cousin Diane who are interested in geneaological research. Look at the great stories such research can unearth, not to mention true stories, a family gem.


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