My husband and I were shocked this spring when his 83-year-old mother told us she was going with my husband’s brother on a trip to Ukraine. This is a woman who has vowed she is too old to travel anymore, yet she jumped at the chance to see her husband’s family and homeland, a place she’s never been. Although it is close to her own homeland of Belarus, she has never been back to Eastern Europe since she left it as a young woman during World War II. We were proud of her, though we wondered if she could even imagine how long a trip that was going to be. It meant she has not given up on life and is not simply existing until death visits her door.
It reminded me of my father. My dad, just like my mother-in-law, never stopped looking to the future. He took up watercolor painting when he was 81 and bought himself a new car and a new computer. He had a screened in porch put on his house just a year before he died. Several times during his last ten years, he tried to get me to let him pay for braces so I could get my teeth straightened. They don’t tell you that you must wear your retainer for the rest of your life, so my teeth had shifted over the years to the point that I was self-conscious and wouldn’t smile with my mouth open. My dad knew this, even though I never said anything, but I kept declining his offer, saying I was too old to bother with braces again. He couldn’t understand that attitude. His philosophy was that life is meant to be enjoyed, and you do whatever it is that makes it enjoyable, no matter how old you are. You only go around once.
After my mother died, my dad began inviting my husband and me over to dinner. He enjoyed making meals from scratch, something he never attempted while my mother was alive. She was a fabulous cook. Often, he tried recipes gleaned from Mom’s old cookbooks. He would serve us a delicious meatloaf. “Betty Crocker,” he’d proudly proclaim, as if Betty were on par with Julia, “but I added some of my own seasonings.”
Dad had a cupboard full of seasoning and spices, most of which were granite-hard and lacked any pungency in their little jars or tins. I asked Dad one time, “How long have you had these spices?”
“I don’t know. Your mother bought them.” Mind you, Dad had been a widower for nine years by that time.
“Dad, you really need to replace these. They’re only good for a year at the most.”
“But they’re more than half full. Who could possibly use that much allspice in a year? If they expect you to replace them so often, they should give you smaller portions and charge less,” he said. I had to admit he had a point. “I think that one year rule is just a ruse by the spice companies to make more money,” he continued. He was a child of the Depression.
That Christmas I bought Dad all new spices. It cost a fortune. But I didn’t throw all the old spices away. I kept one—the allspice—to remind me that the spice of life that is in us must be savored every day or we become dried up and stale.
By the way, Dad, I got my teeth straightened. See my beautiful smile?