LESSONS LEARNED TOO LATE IN LIFE

        In the here and now, time confuses me. It seems to creep by in the here-and-now, while the past flies in my memory.

A trip to Pennsylvania pushed this thought to my mind. There the back roads meander through well cultivated fields while tidy historic homes and moderate suburban housing developments break the monotony of greenery. If I recall, the Pennsylvania landscape, the environment, is the product of only about 300 years of man’s presence.

Then I remember I’m connected to five generations myself. My grandfather was born in 1897, my younger grandson in 2011. That’s more than a century, the equivalent of five sets of generations in this amount of time. So a relatively small number of generations separate me from the beginnings of contemporary civilization in this country. Time doesn’t just fly, it zooms.

The strange juxtaposition in my thoughts comes from thinking how I’ve missed my opportunity to gain information about my family.

I knew my father had lots of stories because he told us some of them. One frequent narration concerned his hanging on to backs of trucks to joy-ride when only three. What I don’t know, because I never asked, were details like: was he with a brother? Did his parents find out? Was he punished?. Most likely. I think perhaps he was very like my second grandson. Always ready to try something risky, always laughing with a full body guffaw. I remember my dad this way in my childhood but not after I grew up. Then he seemed gruff, even angry. After seven children, a divorce, the rebellions of those children, the failure of a business, he surely had enough reasons to be frustrated and angry. But why didn’t I ask more questions when he was still here? Now I never can capture these details or get to know him as a person, not a father. This is my first lesson learned too late in life.

Then I think about our country. Three hundred years ago, pristine waters and air, burgeoning plants and animal life crowded the continent. Of course if we’d halted any development at that stage, I wouldn’t be here. But comparing my idyllic view of the past with the crowded, frantic, even destructive landscape I see now, I shudder for our future.

In one area of Pennsylvania, a pipeline has been proposed to carry high-pressure natural gas. This development would go near lots of residents and businesses. According to a homeowner, there are no methods available to individuals or local government to question the proposal or insist on safeguards. Once the pipeline’s in place, like any other creation, it might be destroyed or explode, endangering locals.

This isn’t a fantasy. In Colorado, just last year a house explosion killed two. This was caused by odorless gas seeping from a cut-off underground pipeline into the house through French drains and a sump pit. The pipeline was too close and not regulated enough to prevent the accident and subsequent needless deaths. New legislation will, I hope, rectify the situation. Too little, too late.

Is this the case in Pennsylvania example, too? I don’t know. All I know is that some opportunities don’t reoccur. Over and over and over we’re told development and growth are “progress.” We’re told we must sacrifice landscape, native flora and fauna, even human safety for improvement. In less than 250 years, since the establishment of the U.S., we have managed to make human presence felt everywhere

Is continuing in this manner wise? Will this become another lesson learned too late in life?

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Breathe in, breathe out, move on. Moving right along.

The past month’s a blur for me. After more than 30 years in the same house, we decided to move. First the chaos of house-hunting swamped us. In the metro area where we live, house costs have run mad. Prices double, triple overnight. Even when you find an appealing residence that you can afford, competition from other searchers often eradicates the prey from the hunt before you even learn of its availability. Or you’re subject to bidding wars with other hopefuls.

We found a place we liked and were lucky enough that our timing and offer were accepted. I thought we’d gotten through the hard part. Naïve, naïve me. The biggest challenge lay ahead: sorting, packing, discarding, moving, discarding more, unpacking, organizing, cleaning, and, yep, discarding even more. The detritus from a lengthy residence accumulates without your consciousness. I thought I’d been rigorous in my regular purgings, shedding baby items, then kids’ and teens’ things, donating massive amounts to charity yard sales, ruthlessly setting out objects regularly for the library used book fests.

Little did I know my efforts were minuscule. I hadn’t made a dent in our belongings, a fact highlighted when we carried in boxes and found only one-quarter of the storage we needed. In my regular rants against consumerism and avarice, I never counted myself among the bad guys. I was complaining to a friend when I realized the problem wasn’t too little storage, it was too many possessions.

How am I to decide what to throw away? It’s true I’ve rarely bought, stolen, or been gifted items because I coveted them. As I look over my piles, seems to me each thing has a memory, a dear person behind it. The wooden pencil holder crafted by my son when he studied shop, the needlepoint doily handmade by a Bulgarian woman that reminds me of the millions of anonymous women with artistic talents, even the mass-produce glittery figurine given one Christmas by my late mother-in-law. How can I give any of these up? When I survey my effects, I’m cushioned by all the emotions that accompany them.

This move has enabled me to re-discover memories long-gone as I unwrap and touch my stuff. “Aah, here’s that photo of all the family’s babies from forty years ago!” “My gosh, I thought I’d lost velvet jewelry box from my mother!” If I abandon my belongings, I lose my connections.

Another plus. “Moving is good for you,” I tell myself as I burrow among the debris. Psychology informs us that change opens you up to new insights and emotions, people, experiences. I’ve noticed as I age, change is more difficult to deal with. I might as well embrace it and improve myself as I go along.

Some things mysteriously have disappeared, never to be recovered as far as I can tell. Those who believe in the paranormal might credit inexplicable forces. I blame the movers. The most critical right now consists of half my shoes in a black duffle bag. I have the right shoe from one set, the left shoe from another. Unfortunately they don’t match. Also gone, my summer sandals, my black snow clogs, and one and a half pairs of slippers. Who would steal those? And how could a bag that heavy simply vanish?

I own too much in some cases (shoes, books, art), too little in a few others (shoes, also a steadfast mixing bowl used with all recipes). I must make some decisions, but how? I’d like to ponder these imponderables, but I have a bigger problem now. It’s ten at night in the middle of chaos, and I can’t find my corkscrew.