Superficial Blessings in Aging

October 20th, 2010 by Harrumpher Leave a reply »

leo“Our men don’t show their age,” said my mother, stunning me. There was a universe of interlocked family, culture and genetics in those few words.

Plus personally, when she dropped that a year before she died, I still had the mindset as the baby in my immediate family. The great-uncles and such she cited were so WWI and WWII. I have a single, older sibling and did not think I  had joined that fraternity.

Yet a few days ago at a routine physical, the nurse doing the vital signs and measurements for the doc took me back to that “our men” phrase. Something I said about bicycling and being 62 caused her to say loudly, “No.” She actually checked my chart and came back to add, “You sure don’t look it.”

My mother surely would think that was genes, Cave family ones. Maybe so.

I think of my favorite of the family, Leo, shown above in his late sixties, shortly before his death from a brain tumor. He was one of five brothers and as those who also worked at West Virginia Pulp and Paper (later WESTVACO) and lived in its town of Luke, Maryland, he got cancer, surprising none of us. Yet, he had long been a boxer and otherwise physically active, and never looked old, even with some silver at the temples. My youngest has Leo as his middle name.

We had overwhelming family reunions for the Virginia, Maryland and West Virginia septs of the family, variously spelled Kave as well as Cave. It apparently goes back to the Norman conquest of the British Isles and propagated throughout them. There were 100 or 200 folk who’d show at a reunion, with an elder, Roy Cave, closing in on 100, somehow remembering the names and faces of everyone, even we little ones he had not seen in five years or so.

In retrospect, I admit that my mother may have been onto something. I looked into memory, family albums, and even neighbors and strangers. Sure enough, “our men” were surprisingly smooth skinned and whether balding (my group) or hirsute, they bear little gray and other obvious signs of the decades passing.

From my early 20s, I showed that combination of the baldness gene and testosterone that makes for a shiny scalp. I can’t seem to totally finish the job and have a sort of yellow cotton-candy covering, but I have long accepted baldness.

Otherwise, I’m not sure beyond genetics why I don’t show the wrinkles and spots I should have. Lord knows, I’m out on foot and bicycle and ski in sun, wind and snow enough to earn them.

Up here as well as down South, we fairly associate hard aging with visiting and living on the ocean. I think of the apple-headed dolls my mother-in-law used to make, how the fruit withers into caricatures of elderly humans. Skin cancer risks aside, there are real drawbacks offsetting the joys of the sun and breezes on Cape Cod.

Yet, as with longevity and proclivity to various diseases, this surely has to do with the hand dealt us from conception. Some blessings are obvious, like a metabolism that does not slow and lets us chow down lifelong. Others are silent as in resistance to diseases. For the Caves, it seems to be looking OK later and later.

I did come to accept being one of “our men” although I would have not arrived there on my own. In my fifties, yeah, I was coming into the patriarch group. Yes, I have earned what rime interweaves in my temples’ hair. Looking younger than my years may not add a minute to my longevity or increase my health, but, heck, it’s something.

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