Tuesday 24 November 2015

An Essay on Turning 70

I reached a milestone birthday on the weekend by turning 70. Although not life-altering by any means, it was, to me at least, a significant event.

Many people reading this will already have passed this threshold and no longer be all that impressed. But those of us who get this far still only reach the day once. I have two sisters who went passed the age some time back. Our parents never made it, so for us it is a bit more eventful.

I have to say this one snuck up on me. It seems like it was only a short time ago that my wife and I were in our thirties, busy renovating a home, raising a family, attending kids’ hockey games and parent-teacher meetings, and generally doing all the things younger people do and enjoy. Now I have grandchildren the same ages as our children were those many decades ago and their parents doing what we did.

There is a very old saying, the origins of which apparently lost in history: Time and tide wait for no man. A similar phrase appeared in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales – The Clerk’s Tale – in 1478: Ay fleeth the tyme; it nyl no man abyde (Ever flees the time; it will wait for no man). In that passage it had to do with a man considering marriage, though, not turning 70! Seventy, for goodness sake!

Time does seem to go exceedingly faster these days. As I said, this particular birthday seemed to come on very quickly. Did we not just celebrate my 60th? And 50th? And what about that big party we had for my 40th? For this birthday we had a quiet dinner out: just my wife, two of my sisters, a brother-in-law and my daughter who flew in especially for the occasion – and me, of course. Our dogs helped marked the day by not getting me up at five in the morning for their first constitutional walk; they waited until 5:30!

Being 70 offers a different perspective on life. We are certainly slower of foot, stiffer of joint and less patient with things like shovelling snow or mowing grass. We are no longer saving for retirement. We are there! Although I am busy every day, doing such activities as this – writing a blog post – I am no longer employed (or “employable” as I like to joke). These days I am engaged mostly in genealogical pursuits: ancestral research, writing, editing and assisting others. Older people like to have hobbies to keep busy. This more than qualifies.

Travel just got a little more complicated as insurance companies will now want to be more assured about my health than they would have demanded last week. Apparently they are more concerned, in just one day, that I am not going to collapse on a trip outside the country and they will have to cough up for medical expenses. (Isn’t it funny that they are the ones who now want more insurance?) I am quite confident that none of my ancestors ever had to think about this aspect when they picked up and moved from England, Scotland and Germany to faraway places in North America .

It has struck me that birthdays themselves are a big part of family history. We look for specific dates on which our ancestors came into the world and, of course, those dates as well, when they departed. We often consider, and compare the ages that people reached in the past, perhaps in some morbid fashion wondering how close we might be to the end ourselves. Yes, I have gone back into my files recently to see how many of my direct ancestors made it this far. The news is good; a large number of them lived well into their 80s. Maybe I’ll analyze that in another blog post.

I am happy to have made it this far. I will celebrate it, not just for myself, but also for those family members who did not achieve this age but who would have been pleased that I did: my mother, my father, my little brother, all of whom I have written about here before (Mother’s Day, My Mother’s Scrapbook, A Special 100th Birthday, My Parents’ Wedding, My Brother Jimmy). And I will particularly hope that my descendants all enjoy at least 70 years of life – in good health and with as happy experiences behind them as I have had.
Wayne, 65 years ago!

Wayne Shepheard is a volunteer with the Online Parish Clerk program in England, handling four parishes in Devon, England. He has published a number of articles about various aspects of genealogy and is the Editor of Relatively Speaking, the quarterly journal of the Alberta Genealogical Society. Wayne also provides genealogical consulting services through his business, Family History Facilitated