A fellow named Bill from just outside St. Louis is a regular correspondent. But he doesn’t send emails, tweets or post messages on Facebook.
He writes letters. In block print. With ink from a pen. On lined paper. Then puts them in an envelope with a stamp on it and mails them.
Bill is an old soul with a young sense. He’s 93 now, but marvels at “the amazing recall” in his brain. He can tell the stories as if he still smells the red hots at Sportsman’s Park while the St. Louis Browns play baseball.
Which is a gift because his granddaughters — as granddaughters often do — nagged him into writing some of it down.
They had heard him tell stories of that exotic world that included the Great Depression, World War II and his experiences serving in the Pacific, and all the rest between then and now.
“Then” began for Bill in 1923. Think about that.
In 1923, Warren G. Harding died in office and was succeeded by Calvin Coolidge as the 30th president. Houdini was performing his escape act, and the moving pictures didn’t talk. Adolf Hitler was a two-bit German radical arrested for his failed, almost comic, “Beer Hall Putsch” in Munich. Lou Gehrig hit his first home run for the Yankees, while teammate Babe Ruth was still four years from hitting his record 60 in a season.
Women only got the vote three years prior, and in the year of Bill’s birth, the attorney general of the United States advised that it was legal for women to wear trousers anywhere.
Bill has got a lot of fodder for those stories.
In his most recent letter, Bill advised me about a curiosity in reaching 93, at least for him.
“It is amazing,” he wrote, “to watch and feel your body naturally deteriorate.”
He didn’t mean that to be maudlin or self-pitying. Just an observation, like the weather or politics. And a lesson in looking at things faithfully no matter the age.
Bill is comfortable in his skin. If things go a bit south, he just gets on the bus for the next stop on the pilgrimage. He takes it all with humor and grace.
There’s a 17th-century nun’s prayer for aging. It was probably not written in the 17th century, and it was probably not written by a nun. But it’s fun. It says in part:
“Lord, keep me from the fatal habit of thinking I must say something on every subject on every occasion … Make me thoughtful but not moody; helpful but not bossy. With my vast store of wisdom, it seems a pity not to use it all, but Thou knowest Lord that I want a few friends at the end ….
“Seal my lips on my aches and pains. They are increasing, and love of rehearsing them is becoming sweeter as the years go by. I dare not ask for grace enough to enjoy the tales of others’ pains, but help me to endure them with patience …. Keep me reasonably sweet … a sour old person is one of the crowning works of the devil.
“Give me the ability to see good things in unexpected places, and talents in unexpected people. And, give me, O Lord, the grace to tell them so.” Amen.
Google “17th-century nun’s prayer” for the full text. Or have your granddaughter do it.
Bill ribs me about my aging complaints — as he considers me just a kid — and keeps his own to himself. I’m grateful for him.
He always teaches something.
“I get a kick out of my granddaughters ‘dreading’ the day I die,” Bill noted in ink on paper in his latest letter. “I remind them that I hope it’s the ‘happiest’ day.”
Old Bill is more than reasonably sweet. He’s a good and faithful man.
Robert P. Lockwood writes from Indiana.