Tag Archives: aging

Punctuated Devolution

(Purloined and/or penned in memory of my doggerel-writing mother;
posted on what would have been her 105th birthday, August 22, 2022.)

Long ago, when I was a child
My parents said to memorize
A set of poems, some tame, some wild,
About the way time often flies.

I’ve never mastered, ’til today
The longest verse that they suggested–
About the “deacon’s one-hoss shay,”
In days when roads were less congested.

Per Wendell Holmes, the deacon tried
To craft a carriage with strengths so even
It never would just lose a side,
For years could remain fit for driving.

The shay survived through heat and storm,
Through varied owners, steeds, it roamed,
Providing rides in stellar form
‘Til at the last, per Mr. Holmes:

“There are traces of age in the one-hoss-shay, 

A general flavor of mild decay,

But nothing local, as one may say.

There couldn’t be,—for the Deacon’s art

Had made it so like in every part

That there wasn’t a chance for one to start.

For the wheels were just as strong as the thills—

And the floor was just as strong as the sills,

And the panels just as strong as the floor,

And the whippletree neither less nor more.

And the back-crossbar as strong as the fore,

And spring and axle and hub encore.

And yet, as a whole, it is past a doubt

In another hour it will be worn out!

. . . . . 

You see, of course, if you’re not a dunce,

How it went to pieces all at once,—

All at once, and nothing first,—

Just as bubbles do when they burst.

End of the wonderful one-hoss shay.  

Logic is logic. That’s all I say.” 

Some days my bones ache,
Other days they feel brittle.
Some days my head hurts,
Other days it’s my middle.

Some days I feel fine,
Other days I wither,
Some days I’ve a clear mind,
Other days I dither.

May specific ailments give punctuation
To my inevitable disintegration.
As age advances, I hope and pray
I won’t go like the one-hoss-shay.

I’m not sure which of my parts will break
I hope some may be left to harvest.
May no internist unbeckoned make
Repairs to keep me from my last rest.


Eighth Decade Beginning Inventory

Eighth Decade Beginning Inventory    —by Jinny Batterson

Eyes:  sometimes rheumy, not quite as sharp or quick to focus any more; still capable of seeing beauty around me.

Teeth: ditto about sharpness, not as firmly rooted as before; still capable of chewing the fat.

Ears:   prone to sunburn, hearing less acute; especially deaf to husband’s complaints or criticisms.

Nose: runnier, more often stuffy; still inquisitive. 

Gait:  slower, plodding, even, on uphills; still fond of exploring.

Lungs:  clear and easy most of the time; more sensitive to smoke, pollen, other stressors than before.

Heart:  ditto.

Sleep: easy to start, occasionally wakeful and restless toward morning, more memory of dreams; seems more natural to take naps.

Soul:  more aware of happy times, more grateful; still needs work toward being inclusive.

World: still full of controversy and conflict, still a little dangerous, sometimes tragic; still also full of adventures and joys waiting to happen.

The Double 9’s Festival and Aging

The Double 9’s Festival and Aging  —by Jinny Batterson

One rainy Saturday in September during our year of teaching in Sichuan province, a Chinese friend enticed us to return to a nearby tourist village, a reconstruction of 19th century agricultural life, now mostly dependent on tourist revenue rather than income from raising crops. She said it would be a special day in the life of the town. Getting there required a combination of crowded busses and taxi rides, threading our way along winding mountain roads. We arrived in one piece, grateful to have avoided both accidents and car sickness on the twisty journey.  We spent a couple of hours wandering the cobblestone streets, sampling local foods and crafts. Then, about mid-afternoon, we gathered with a crowd of umbrella-wielding foreigners and locals in the central square of Shang Li Ancient Town for a special presentation.

Dancers, magicians, singers, and storytellers entertained us for nearly an hour.  We didn’t get much of the dialogue, but our friend translated the basics—this was a festival honoring elders, the “double 9’s festival.”  I’ve since learned that the holiday has not always been elder-centric. It originated much further back in Chinese folkloric history as an attempt to counter the excessive “yang” (masculine/outward) energy of two successive supremely “yang”  numerals, nines. It was thought that on this day, climbing mountains, drinking chrysanthemum wine, and spending time outdoors would help to reduce yang, keeping it in balance with its corresponding feminine/inward “yin” energy. Starting in the late 1980’s, the Chinese government tried to rebrand the holiday into one honoring elders. “Double 9” or 99, represents a ripe old age in any culture, and the ninth day of the ninth month of the Chinese lunar calendar (falling in late September or early October) has since incorporated homage to elders in many Chinese locales.

Until a generation or so ago, there were not many elders in China. Dynastic upheavals, civil wars, famines, and natural disasters limited the life spans of all but a fortunate few.  Recently, improved public health, more political stability, and better economic conditions have substantially improved the odds of making it to a Chinese ripe old age. China is now one of the fastest-aging countries on the planet. Some experts estimate that by 2030, nearly one fourth of China’s population will be 65 or older.  The Chinese government is scrambling to catch up with this demographic time-bomb. Chinese culture, likewise, is trying to adapt as more and more adult children live in cities, far away from their aging parents and the traditional multi-generational compounds of the villages in which they grew up.  A “double-9’s festival”  is a small sop toward dealing with a potentially large problem.

During various visits in China, I saw different approaches to coping with a looming plenitude of elders, including various schemes to retain aging workers in basic urban services—light landscaping work, street sweeping, commercial child care. Elder-friendly housing compounds and “granny flats” are an increasing part of the housing stock. Plans are afoot to relax existing one-child policies for “double single” couples (in which each spouse is an only child).  Such policies, in place since the early 1980’s in urban areas, have stemmed the growth of China’s huge (1.3 billion) population, but also contributed to the rapid aging of its population as a whole.  Medical and pension systems are under review, with an aim toward improved governmental support.

It dawns on me, as I get somewhat closer to double 9’s myself, that elders can be, like those in any age group, both a burden and a blessing.  In the area of the U.S. where I now live, our proportion of elders jumped substantially in the years between the 2000 and 2010 censuses, so our local and state governments are trying to cope with this population shift as well. I hope that China, a country I’ve grown to love, can craft better policies to help elders continue to contribute, to be accorded and to earn respect, whether on “double 9’s” day, or any other.