Octo Observations: Summer Treats

As the end of August approaches and thoughts turn toward school, college and resumption of fall schedules, it “squeaks” to shift gears. Having returned yesterday from a glorious week at our mountain timeshare cottage with our oldest of four married offspring, my mind resonates with treasured thoughts. Summer treats nourish our souls and refresh our bodies. 

Each of us has an individual definition of what makes summer vacations special. For my husband and me, it is spending quality time with family members, catching up on their lives, their thoughts, their experiences and their dreams. Because our allotted week was later than normal this year, it interfered with return to college, job commitments and challenges. We were blessed, however, that our older daughter could escape the rigors of her consulting career and spend ten wonderful days with us “old guys.” Not since she was married and living in Boston could we have her to ourselves for ten days…it was frosting on the cake: a rare and delicious treat.

Long lingering dinners, rigorous walks to the top of the mountain and through “bear territory,” absorbing vistas that take one’s breath away, marked our beautiful week. A relief from the oppressive humidity of the city. Cooler breezes helped us sleep better. Refreshing rain showers and father/daughter sessions creating hubby’s first lovely watercolor were perfect distractions. We agreed that Pop Pop has artistic ability, and like Grandma Moses, he can indeed embrace a new hobby! At age 84, his favorite activity of golf has ceased, due to advanced degenerative disc disease. As the old saying goes, “when one door closes, another opens.” Yes, indeed… another summer treat.

After weeks and weeks of oppressive heat and humidity, it felt simply scrumptious to walk for miles without melting. With our daughter as an inspiration, I followed suit. Nearly each day, I looked forward to playing “mountain goat.” Our group of timeshare cottages is built up and down and around steep mountain roads. Not for the faint of heart, and a whole lot of exercise. As I passed hikers along the way, it occurred to me that for sure I was the only 81 year-old in sight! YAHOO…Never being an athlete, but always a dedicated walking enthusiast, I secretly felt slightly smug that I could negotiate the hills without expiring. Truth be told, our long time beloved personal trainer has always insisted that “if you don’t move it you lose it!”

During the serenity of early morning, it was a treat to listen to families as they sat on their screened porches. Snatches of conversations wafted to my ears. How endearing to hear a grandmother encouraging her little ones to “try it again. You are doing a good job.” One could only surmise that the grammy was teaching her grandbaby to roll a ball or practice his/her walking skills while mom and dad had a chance to sleep or dash out for a fast 18 holes. Lots of laughter, happy noises, and even occasional tears of an overtired or overstimulated toddler. I was reminded of the years when our nine grandchildren were small, and we gathered into two houses for raucous, wonderful family reunions. Cousins played endlessly, adored each other completely. Activities were plentiful, and meaningful memories resonate. We have been richly blessed.

Being a grandparent is beyond special. Even if we can’t see our grandbabies frequently, we can dispense a unique kind of love. We do not have to worry about the day-to-day upbringing of our little ones, yet we can influence them in a way that no one else can. My husband is convinced that his happiest childhood memories revolve around spending several weeks each summer in Maine with his maternal grandparents. They taught him values that he will never forget. They loved him without reservation, and they gifted him with a sense of confidence and security forever embedded within himself. 

A unique aspect of aging into our eighties is that we take nothing easy or enjoyable for granted. We know that each good day is a gift from Above. We know that with our far-flung family, we savor each chance to be together. Just the month before we had a super solo visit from our youngest grandson, now a senior engineering student in an eastern Washington State University. In early August we spent four days with four of our six granddaughters. Two from Connecticut and two who have recently moved to Virginia. Even our professional ballerina granddaughter traveled from Washington, D.C. to spend one night with us, her sisters, and cousins. How I loved listening to the girls, ages 22 to 13, as they resumed their long-time connections, mostly formed during those long-ago timeshare reunion weeks. No one minded sleeping on an air mattress in my office, or sharing a queen size bed with her sister. Nirvana for my soul. I watched my husband ignore his chronic back pain and rise to the occasion. He was the beloved Pop-Pop that our girls have always adored and admired. I loved how we can still make them glad they came to visit us, and how we can giggle and enjoy so many things together. Those days were treasured treats.

You may question the purpose of this rambling. Let me enlighten you: Aside from relating the delights of “summer treats,” it is imperative to say how very, very important I believe it is for each of us to look outside ourselves. To reach out and try to touch the heart of a loved one or a stranger. One night last week, during dinner with our first born, we chatted about how it feels to be an Octogenarian.  Never being recalcitrant, I offered this: as I see this world devolving into a void of criticism and anger,  internet and media fury, an era where people lash out at each other for their right to express personal thoughts and beliefs, I find myself retreating into a place in my heart that insists I do all possible to project the love, wonder and awe of being alive. I refuse to compromise my core values. We make our own happiness. Others can enrich it. However, only we have the power to determine how we will adjust or embrace the changes time inflicts.

Life is simply too short to spend it negatively, to rant and rave about things or people over which we have no control…. To spend precious minutes vilifying another person. Life is too precious. A near death experience forces us to realize that we are each finite. (My husband and I have both experienced a sudden onset nearly lethal illness. But thanks to the miracles of modern medicine we were spared.) We truly believe there are no guarantees in this world.  Any minute life can be snatched away from us. Any minute we can be diagnosed with a life-threatening disease, an unexpected accident or a devastating loss of a loved one. And if we are lucky enough to survive many decades, then we owe it to those younger and less seasoned than we are to live a life of optimism and positivity. 

That does not mean that we aren’t allowed to disagree, to feel disappointment or disgust. Instead it means that we rise above it and concentrate on the wonders of life. Perhaps as we spread JOY, others will follow suit, and little by little we can influence those whose lives we touch.

One of the most salient features of last week’s Summer Treat in the mountains of Virginia was the opportunity to observe again the inherent kindness of those born and raised in that beautiful yet humble area. How refreshing for me. A gentle reminder that it takes far less energy to smile than to frown. How heartwarming it is to be with people who hold a shop door open after they have walked through it. How lovely to be treated with genuine respect when buying a small plant or six ears of freshly picked corn; the old gentleman who thanked me for my patronage of his wife’s flower shop; the stooped man who opened my car door for me as I carried six ears of corn in a plastic bag; the spontaneous smiles from the check-out clerk at the local super market; and the nostalgic tales of a former Navy vet’s travels all over the world. “I served America in eight different overseas countries, but I never found anywhere as beautiful as right here where I was born.” Moments adding up to more summer treats.

I am so grateful to be me and to be alive. And I realize more each day that gratitude is a gift we give ourselves. It is a summer, autumn, winter, springtime treat. Gratitude has been defined as “showing appreciation for all the good that you have in life…a positive perspective is everything in life, and if you truly are grateful for your family and friends, and all the good around you, the rest is easy.” 

And if you are among our younger generations these days, with a whole lot of living yet to do, perhaps you will consider these words by a now deceased motivational speaker named Zig Ziglar: “Gratitude is the healthiest of all human emotions. The more you experience gratitude for what you have, the more likely you will have even more to express gratitude for.” And as the ancient philosopher Marcus Aurelius once said: “Dwell on the beauty of life. Watch the stars, and see yourself running with them.”

And lastly, as we consider the end of summer 2019, Lewis Carroll, the author of Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, wrote these words that resonate loud and clear….

“I wonder if the snow loves the trees and fields, that it kisses them so gently. And then it covers them up snuggled, you know, with a white quilt; and perhaps it says, “Go to sleep darlings, till the summer comes again…” 

Summer treats never leave us, they just make us richer and happier. Carry them close to your heart always, and make each day a bit brighter and happier for someone else.

Joy Nevin is the author of Joy of Retirement – Live, Love, and Learn. Click to buy on Amazon.