May 3, 2018 500 AM
“Age is a question of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, age don’t matter.” – Satchel Paige “I guess it comes down to a simple choice: Get busy living or get busy dying.” – Tim Robbins (as Andy Defresne) in “The Shawshank Redemption”
Despite never possessing a driver’s license, my Aunt Carol Mae has visited significant chunks of territory. In spite of macular degeneration/diminishing eyesight, she retains a clear and focused worldview. As she approaches her 90th birthday (May 23), advancing years have neither dimmed her memory nor curbed her enthusiasm for life its ownself. During our weekly phone chats through the years, we seldom talk in the 8-5 hours, as Carol Mae’s assorted activities keep her in high gear and my job generally sees forward movement, although speeds vary. A few years ago, my sister Mary and I decided the gift of continuing education suited an octogenarian, so we supply tuition to Carol Mae’s Senior College, presentations on various topics conducted for several weeks each fall and spring in a town about 45 miles away. “If you don’t want to waste it on education, feel free to spend the money on the essentials, like smokes and whiskey,” I suggested. Instead, with a conservative approach of the future ingrained in Upper Midwest Scandinavian Lutherans, she always says, “Well, at least the cost is covered if I am able to go.” So far, so able, and Carol Mae has shared many sessions with accuracy incorporated with a storyteller’s flavor. During the final spring session, the speaker discussed the current Congressional standoff. “He compared it to a junior high dance, with the girls standing against one wall and the boys leaning against the other,” Carol Mae said. “Sooner or later, somebody will make a move and the dance floor will be occupied.” She combines her love of history and learning through a number of venues, most notably the Stevens County (MN) Historical Society. Recently, she was honored for 60 years of volunteerism, dating back to the 1958 Minnesota centennial celebration. Growing up on a Douglas County farm during the Depression, Carol Mae has observed a myriad of change, and she remains a reliable source of historical background. She shared information for a column I once wrote about outhouses, noting that walking to the facility barefoot in darkness as a youngster provided unexpected adventures. “Halfway there, a snake crawled across my foot, making the rest of the trip unnecessary.” In turn, I have kept her posted about my travels and in appreciation for her recollections, sent her a few stories of mine, including meeting the Vatican organist and listening to a Schindler’s List survivor’s story. I have told her a few other stories as well, but merely recalling the punchlines reminds me that I strive to keep this column PG. Same goes for a couple of local history tidbits of which she was previously unaware. We swapped tales of a local barber from days of yore, though. In my account, the Scandinavian Lutheran was cutting the parish priest’s hair, when his scissors slipped and nicked the Father’s ear. As the barber apologized profusely, the priest slyly asked, “Is it the alcohol, Lars?” “Why, yes, Father,” he replied, “It makes the skin very tender.” Carol Mae remains open to adventures, including joining my mother on a motorcycle ride at Mom’s 90th birthday party. As Mom climbed aboard on my friend Dave’s bike, Carol Mae, then a mere 83, gestured to her nephew, Corky, also with a two-wheeler, saying, “Help me on, if she can do it, so can I.” Last summer, she sampled burritos for the first time, prompting her to recall her past travels via cuisine in her Christmas letter: “Black-eye peas on New Year’s Day in Texas, shrimp in the shell and oysters on the half shell when visiting in Louisiana, Crab Louis and fresh salmon in Seattle, canned mutton at (a) ranch in Montana, leaving the snow and cold behind and eating lunch at a drive-in in Los Angeles when on our wedding trip, fried sheefish and roast caribou in Kotzebue, Alaska, the traditional (Swedish) Midsummer meal of trout, picking wild strawberries on the (family) farm, and a five-course smorgasbord at (a) summer home in Sweden,” she wrote, also mentioning Bing cherries in Idaho and Havarti cheese in Vermont, along with assorted family members’ delicacies. As we concluded the most recent conversation, she reminded me to take some good photos in South Africa and Botswana, and I mentioned the possibility of a future trip to Mongolia. “For a smart-aleck kid from Erdahl, you’ve gotten around a little,” she laughed.
Steve Lang’s wish for Carol Mae borrows Neil Young’s lyrics: “Long may you run.”