Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Not Ready to be the Older Generation

Over the past few years, my cousins and I have said goodbye to most of our parents and aunts and uncles. My mother had five brothers--one still lives. She had five sisters--two are living. My father had three brothers--all have died. He had two sisters--one remains. My parents died within two years of each other. Out of eight uncles and seven aunts, I now count only one uncle and three aunts. Also part of the families were the spouses of all those aunts and uncles, because every single one married and had children. Only three spouses remain.

None of this is surprising, none of this is actually tragic, because most of these dear people lived long and interesting lives. (We lost a couple of them too soon.) But our goodbyes grow increasingly frequent (one last autumn and two since the new year) and the day is coming when my cousins and I will be the "elders". That is going to be a very lonesome day.

I am not ready to be the "older generation".  I don't suppose anyone every really is.

But I have an on-going project that is helping me work through these sad moments, and I highly recommend it. My father filmed many, many family gatherings over the decades from the 1940's through the early 2000's. Along the way, he switched from movie film to videotape, and we have an amazing archive of our family's celebrations and vacations. My project involves converting videotapes to DVDs, using a device my father bought about 10 years ago when he intended to do this very thing. Isn't it fitting that I'm able to convert his videos through a device he purchased? I think so.

As I work through the stacks of videotapes (all clearly labeled in my father's beautiful printing), I can look once again at the beloved faces of my family members, watching them smile and laugh and "carry on" as they so obviously enjoy being together. When I finalize the DVD and then watch it to check its quality, I can also hear the voices of these dear people. This is actually quite wonderful, and although I miss them all so very much, these DVDs bring me such comfort when I feel blue.

Just being able to hear my father's and mother's voices again, whenever I want, is solace beyond compare.

I am making copies of these DVDs for my cousins, for my sister and brother, and for my own children, so that we all can cherish the glimpses of people and days gone by. In that sense, I suppose, I am already one of the "elders", preserving our family history and trying to pass it on to those in the next generations.

Perhaps I am more ready than I thought!

I would encourage you to start projects like this one while you still have most of your families together. Those films and videotapes will eventually degrade and will be lost forever. You will enjoy your trips down memory lane so much, and so will the rest of your families. Then, when you become the 'older generation' in your family, your sorrow will be lessened a bit.

Monday, May 4, 2015

My Brush With Everest

The recent tragic events in Nepal reminded me of my own little connection with Mount Everest. Those of you who know me can't even imagine any association between that mountain and me, but one actually exists. Remote, but true.

Two summers ago, my daughter and I went to France to follow the Tour de France for a week in the French Alps stages of the race. She and the rest of my family gave me this holiday to celebrate my 60th birthday, and she had arranged everything so that all I needed to do was enjoy. We stayed in Grenoble for a week, using it as our headquarters.

This was our first experience using AirBnB, and our host proved to be interesting beyond our wildest imaginings. His name was Jack (pronounced as though it was Jacques) and he worked in HR for a well-known computer firm in Grenoble. We listened to his stories with amazement. (He had lots and lots of stories!)

The most amazing stories concerned his preparation for and climb to the top of Mount Everest the year before. Yes, one day he apparently just up and decided that the next challenging adventure of his life was going to be the ascent of Everest. And by golly, he did it. (He said the whole experience cost him $50,000. Wow!) We saw his photos and heard the nearly step-by-step description of the trek and climb. Who could have imagined that we would ever meet someone who had stood at the top of the world?

But that's not the connection I wanted to tell you about. The day after our arrival was not a race stage, so my daughter and I planned to spend the day exploring Grenoble and its environs. I wanted to try using walking poles, thinking they would be handy when we were hiking around the alpine roads, so we asked Jack if he had any I could borrow. He was delighted to lend me a set, and as he handed me the poles he casually remarked that these were the poles he had used on Everest. Really. I was going to hike around using poles that had been used on Everest. That qualified as pretty cool.

Off we went, as I clutched the poles tightly. We headed for the center of Grenoble (we had a rental car and I was having a very intense practical immersion experience in driving in France), parked, and took the cable car up to the fortress (La Bastille) which had protected Grenoble for many previous centuries. We toured around and had a little snack, and then it was time to descend. Instead of returning via the cable car, we decided to walk down, because there seemed to be several good routes and it was a beautiful day.

Thank goodness I had those poles! The descent nearly ended my plans to hike all over the route of the bicycle race. The vertical distance was roughly 250 meters (750 feet), and the paths zig-zagged down the face of the mountain. My daughter and I think we might even have made a couple of wrong turns! At any rate, my poor old knees would never, ever have survived the hike without my Everest poles.

We finally reached the bottom and restored our energy with a tasty lunch along the banks of the Isere. As we sat at our outside table, I looked back up at the fortress. I just couldn't believe that I had hiked down from that height! Must have been some 'Everest magic' in the poles, because I didn't experience any problems the rest of our time in the French Alps.

Considering how ill-prepared I was for the physical demands of this particular outing, I think my successful descent from La Bastille in Grenoble qualifies as my hiking/climbing achievement of the decade. Not an Everest ascent, but as close as I'm going to get!

I took those poles with me every day as we followed the bike race.