"We seldom get into trouble when we speak softly. It is only when we raise our voices that the sparks fly and tiny molehills become great mountains of contention."
- - Gordon B. Hinckley
February 26, 2015
Forever Young
by Hannah Bird

The recent Oscars gave us all an opportunity to view some of the less attractive aspects of our societyís determination to never get old. Shiny skin was pulled over synthetic facial features. Gaunt bodies were topped with fluffy bosoms and apple cheeks. Lips were so full that ďbee-stungĒ has given way to ďheliumĒ as the look of the hour.

Because who wants to get old? Old is grey and stooped. Old is unsexy. Old is one step closer to gone.

It isnít only the affluent who fall prey to the siren call of youth. Average everyones dye the silvery bits. If anti-aging products had any effect, the average age in our nation would be 8 Ĺ. We look anxiously at extending and improving our years. We take vitamins to extend our days and stretch muscles to make the extension more comfortable.

The truth is, we want to stay. We want to still matter. We do not want to get old as we fade bit by bit and then die.

I have two grandfathers. That will not be news to you. That is the nature of forefathers. There must be two sides of my family line. It is often news to me. I forget I have two grandfathers. I often forget I have two sides to my family.

Family has always meant my motherís family. ďGrandpaĒ has always only meant her dad.† If I close my eyes, I can still smell aftershave and hair dressing and alfalfa and engine oil. That is what sitting next to Grandpa smelled like.

He was handsome. I interviewed my grandmother once for a class. She told me all the girls were talking about a boy who looked like Tyrone Powers. He did. He was a spiffy dresser. He was a farmer but he was a sharp dresser. I knew him many years after the girls were talking about the movie star lookalike. I still thought he was the handsomest man I ever knew.

He was a cowboy. He loved horses. My children eat every meal under a print of a painting of my grandpa on his favorite horse in front of his favorite mountain. He was the kind of man that had a favorite mountain. There are nearly 50 grandkids. Most of us have that picture.

He stood for things he knew to be right. I lost him many years before I was smart enough to have those kinds of conversations. But I knew he loved his country and the land. I knew we were expected to behave.

And somehow, I knew never ever to talk back to Grandma. I was about as bratty and lippy kid as there was in that family and I never talked back to Grandma. There was something in Grandpa that made me sure I never would.

My kids came along years after he was gone. They can tell you stories about him. He has shaped their lives in quiet ways. Our heroes are cowboys. When my son comes back from ranching in the fall, brown and lean and full of wild stories, I can see my Grandpa smiling in the picture. When I see my handsome cousins I can see Grandpa. Sometimes when my brother turns his head just so, you can see Grandpa in his eyes.

But I have two grandpas.

My other grandpa looks like my dad, I guess. Or like my dadís brother that I met three times. Probably more like my dadís brother. But I canít picture it. My other Grandpa had a lovely deep singing voice but I canít imagine this grandpa singing. I have tried to imagine him speaking. For some reason I have always thought heíd sound like Thurston Howell the Third. I am not sure.

This grandpa probably went to a job. I think he was a pharmaceutical salesman. My mother mentioned that once. So basically he was Thurston Howell and Willie Lohman. He came from a family that had once been rich and powerful. I think.

I donít know what he cared about. It was not the wife he divorced or the two sons he terrorized and then ignored. The only thing I know that he cared about was drinking. It was his lifeís work.

I didnít miss out on knowing him because he passed away. He and I shared the planet for nearly as long as my grandpa did. In that time one grandpa made a mark that will last generations and one did nothing at all.

I did try. I was pro-grandfather. At one point I realized my cousins all had two. Two. It was an embarrassment of riches. I wanted to have two as well. So I wrote to Grandpa with help from my dad.

Dad tried to warn me that nothing would come of it. But I was cocky. This was back when I was still cute and could appear well behaved for brief stretches of time. My other grandpa took me to town and bought me root beer floats. I had confidence in my charms.

He never wrote me back.

I donít tell fond stories of him. I donít know any. There may not be any anyway. I think I might get my paper-colored skin from him. My thick inelegant wrists donít come from my motherís side. I tried the drinking thing with as little success as he had. I was smarter. I quit.

But with the exception of the odd genetic calamity and the view of him as a boogeyman under his own sonsí beds, I have no sense of who he was.

It didnít matter how long he lived.

I got a second grandpa. I married my husband and gained another sweet grandpa. He had perfect white hair and twinkly blue eyes. He was one of the happiest surprises of my adult life.† My kids know his stories too. They irrigate the ground he irrigated with his daddy.

I wouldnít want to live forever. It would be so tedious. But I am not going to kick against the grey and wrinkled pricks. I am busy living. My time here is brief. I want instead to be immortal like Grandpa. I want to be a joyful memory on a terrible day.† I want to be a story that gives courage. I want to be someone that distant someones know. I want to leave love and hope for them.

Grandpa died while I was in junior high. He has been gone for a long time. A few years ago my grandmother went to catch up. My husbandís grandpa too. But when I look for them in me they are hale and hearty. And so beautiful.

Someday my children will decide which one gets the picture of Great Grandpa. Their children will eat breakfast beneath the painting. And then their grandchildren. In a hundred years, people will remember that he was the kind of man who would have a favorite mountain. Forever handsome and good.

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About Hannah Bird

I am me. I live at my house with my husband and kids. Mostly because I have found that people get really touchy if you try to live at their house. Even after you explain that their towels are fluffier and none of the cheddar in their fridge is green.

I teach Relief Society and most of the sisters in the ward are still nice enough to come.

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