Garry Shirts | Avenida Primavera
Photo Art Olson
I believe every stage of our life has a different set of challenges. Since I am now one of the old folks, I believe the challenges of this stage are more difficult and challenging than any other stage. I think I can best illustrate how Chuck responded to the challenges of old age by a couple of experiences I had with him.
Cozette came home one day after visiting Dorothy and said you’ve got to get over to Chuck and Dorothy’s. Chuck, who was over 90 at the time, is up on a ladder, he’s cut a hole in the wall the size of an orange and he’s doing something electrical. I’m concerned he’s going to fall and break his neck or get electrocuted.
I rushed over and sure enough Chuck was on a ladder. He said, “Oh good, you can help me.“ I said, what are you doing? “ I’m putting in a new light fixture in the hallway here so it won’t be so dark. I said, “Here I’ll help you”, and I took hold of the ladder so he could climb down.”“ No, that’’s OK” he said, I’ve just got a couple of things to do here and I’ll be through.
He took a pair of pliers and started cutting the wires that he could see in the hole. I said, “Wait a minute Chuck, are you sure you want to cut those wires? Maybe you should turn off the electricity at the main switch before you cut them. ”
He looked down at me as to say, “duh, of course I’ve turned off the main switch”
He cut the wires, attached them to the light fixture, pushed the wires back into the hole and then placed the round light fixture over the hole and started attaching it to the wall with screws. I said, “Let me help you do that.” “No, that’s ok I’ve just about got it.”
He finished attaching the light fixture with the screws and climbed down from the ladder. He said, “there’s a light bulb on the kitchen counter get that, and screw it in while I go flip the main switch.“ Dorothy, who was standing, by retrieved the light bulb for me, I climbed the ladder and screwed it in and waited for him to flip the switch. I checked my shoes to make sure I had rubber soles in case I was about to get electrocuted and felt my pocket to see if I had my cell phone in case I had to call the fire department.
In a few minutes, he returned from the garage and as he approached he said, “Ok, pull the string.” I pulled the string and the light came on. I sniffed to see if anything was burning. There were no unusual smells, There were no sparks or crackling sounds either. As I climbed down, he asked if I would put the ladder in the garage as I left. I went home and Cozette asked me if I got the light fixture installed all right. I said yes, and she gave me so many hero points I couldn’t tell her that my part of the project was screwing in the light bulb and putting the ladder away.
A couple of years ago when he was only 90, a young man, Chuck called me and asked me if I could help him plant a tree. I said sure. I went into our garage and got a shovel and a pick and headed for his house. When I got to his driveway he had slid this 8-foot-tall tree wrapped in burlap onto the lip of a hand cart. He greeted me with, “I could have moved this to the back yard myself but when I tip the the hand cart back, the tree tips forward. I need you to push the tree back so it will rest on the lip of the dolly. I said, “here, let me tip back the dolly it’s going to be really heavy when the weight shifts.” “No, that’s ok, when I bend the dolly back you push the tree so that it rests on the lip of the dolly. “
So he tipped the dolly back and I applied about 10 pounds of pressure towards the top of the tree and the center of gravity shifted It slid onto the lip of the dolly He turned around and started pulling the dolly backwards toward the back yard along the side of the garage and down the slope to the lower level of his lot. I said things like: “A little to the left, now the right, watch out for those branches.”
When we got to the lower level of the back yard, which was about 5 feet below the upper level, he had cut out a circular place about 8 feet in radius from the higher level so the tree could be closer to the house. He had lined the side of the cavity with a brick so it wouldn’t cave in and dug a hole in the bottom. He maneuvered the dolly next to the hole and we slid it into the hole. It fit perfectly.
Preparing a place and hole for the tree was a huge project, and he had done it all by himself. I picked up my shovel and pick and headed home.
“How did it go?” Cozette asked.” “Good it was a huge project but we got it done”.
Why are these stories important? Because it shows how Chuck dealt with the challenges of old age. He kept moving, he didn’t succumb to any of the traps of aging. He didn’t feel sorry for himself, he stayed positive, kept himself informed on local and national issues, he maintained a passion for life.
He had a great advantage, however. He had a wonderful companion who kept him anchored and supported him in the most loving way possible. Dorothy, who Charles fell in love with in high school and continued to love her until the day he died. Dorothy, who speaks truth to power. Dorothy, whose elegance and grace has stayed with her in spite of difficult physical difficulties.
For Cozette and I and most every one who knew them, their marriage was legendary. They continued to share concerts, excursions, family gatherings, the theatre, books, and friends in their 80’s and 90’s in a way that would have exhausted many younger people. And they were more romantic than many newly marrieds. Who would think to give his wife an anklet bracelet on her 80th birthday?
They went through some difficult times as they raised their family: experiences that would have weakened or destroyed many marriages, but instead those events strengthened it.
Some men are known for power, some for money, Chuck is known for his integrity. He appealed to our higher selves. We will miss him dearly.