This quote, attributed to Mark Twain or “unknown,” is one of my favorites. I think of it often, including whenever people complain about growing older in youth-obsessed cultures and even those that have traditionally revered and respected the elderly. To find examples of people who were denied that privilege because of illness or accident, look no further than my extended family.
My paternal grandmother, Elizabeth Lovan (Baldwin) Ashwill (1899-1933), died at the age of 34 of appendicitis because she was a Christian Scientist who refused medical treatment. It took her five days after Christmas 1933 to succumb. My father turned nine a a couple of days after she was laid to rest. (In a strange and cruel twist of fate, a variation on this historical theme would repeat itself a few months after I turned nine.)
My paternal grandfather, Thomas Eli Ashwill (1898-1956), had just stepped off the bus near his home in North Olmsted, Ohio on a chilly New Year’s Eve in 1956 when a drunk driver hit and killed him at about 6 p.m. 58 at the time, Grandpa Tom was nearing retirement after a long career with Standard Oil of Ohio that begin after he graduated from high school and resumed after his service in WWI, a retirement he would sadly not get to enjoy. He would have celebrated his 40th anniversary with Sohio on January 16, 1957. For some reason charges were never filed against the man who killed him, according to my Ohio cousins. His wife, Grandma Gertrude, died in 1989 at the age of 87.
My father, Richard Edwin Ashwill (1925-1967), was the victim of corporate murder. (This is the best way I can describe his sudden and premature demise.) A Carnegie Tech (now Carnegie Mellon University)-trained chemical engineer and research scientist at Houdry/Air Products with a number of patents to his name, he died in late July1967 of lung and brain cancer at the age of 42.
In October 2009, my younger sister, Patricia Alison Malcolm-Pierce, her husband, and their son were killed in a horrific auto accident in southern Delaware. They were 50, 46, and 12 going on 13, respectively. (By the grace of God, my niece survived.) Such is the fragility of life. It can be snuffed out in a split second. Even another day is a privilege denied to too many.
What I would give to have met my paternal grandparents, been able to spend more time with my father, and still be able to visit with Alison, Brett, and Jimmy during my annual trip to my home state of Delaware. Everything I know about Grandpa Tom and Grandma Lovan comes from others’ memories, newspaper clippings, and my own genealogical research.
It is for this reason that I have never regretted growing older. Life is short, a fact I was forced to learn at a tender age. Unlike my peers, I never had any fleeting youthful illusions about immortality with the exception of occasional lapses along the way.
We should be grateful for every day and every spin around the sun. Let’s live in the moment and do our best with the time we have left. We will all leave the physical world soon enough.
Happy Birthday to me, born in the Year of the Dog! 😍 🎂 🥂 🐕
Shalom (שלום), MAA