I stepped from Plank to Plank
A slow and cautious way
The Stars about my Head I felt
About my feet the Sea.

I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch -
This gave me that precarious Gait
Some call Experience.

Emily Dickinson, c. 1864

Sunday, December 29, 2013

The way we were

Elementary school picture
I have had this picture in my possession for a long time, but I don't know how I came to have it. Did my mother give it to me long ago, or when both of my parents were gone and we were going through old pictures, did I ask for it? I'm one of the little girls sitting on the ground in front, eighth from the left, cocking my head to the side, much like I do in pictures today.

Although it was more than half a century ago, I still remember some of these children, who must have been my playmates. The girl in the front on the extreme left was a tomboy and never wore dresses. She was shy but strong minded, I remember. The girl standing in the back with the coat and scarf on was one of my favorites, and I can almost remember her name. The little boy on the ground, third from the right, was always teasing everyone, and you can see it in his demeanor. I wonder what happened to all of them. Probably the teacher is no longer living, and I would guess that several of us are also gone by now. But some of us are still around, I'm sure. There is no way to find them. We were all military dependents attending elementary school at Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield, California.

In our journey through life, we change so much from year to year. I couldn't have been more than eight or nine in this picture, I'm guessing, but still the essence of me shines through. My memories are more intact for this school picture than makes any sense to me. It's interesting to note that the school buildings behind us were all very temporary, even though at the time I didn't notice. Another thing that I observe is that not one child is overweight, in comparison to a school picture taken of children today: you would more than likely see several who are fat, even some morbidly overweight. What has changed?

Well, we all know part of the answer to that question: our diet has changed drastically over half a century. I remember we carried lunches to school in paper sacks or lunch pails, a white-bread sandwich with (for me anyway) usually peanut butter and jelly or maybe bologna. Maybe an apple or banana and not a bit of vegetable anywhere to be seen. A homemade cookie and a container of milk rounded out my lunch. Not a lunch I would be willing to eat today, but it was normal for the time. The difference is that nothing in my lunchbox was processed, other than the white bread and the jelly. I'll bet the jelly was sweetened with actual sugar and not high-fructose corn syrup.

Today's kids are fed pizza and tater tots, and soft drinks. I learned recently that even milk has sugar added to it, to make kids more likely to drink it. I remember that there were a few days, not many, that I bought lunch from the cafeteria, but I know for sure it was nothing like what is served to kids these days. Processed foods have taken over every aspect of a child's life. Boxed cereal, usually filled with chemicals and very sweet, starts the day, and it goes downhill from there. No wonder there are so many kids who don't even know what a vegetable looks like.

I recently learned about food deserts. They are defined as urban neighborhoods and rural towns without ready access to fresh, healthy, and affordable food. Instead, there are only fast-food restaurants and convenience stores that offer few healthy, affordable food options. I feel fortunate to live in a place where I can buy locally grown veggies at the Farmers' Market. It's closed at this time of year, but if I am willing to pay a higher price I can buy greens during the winter months that are shipped from California. They may not be as tasty, but certainly better than having to rely on Taco Bell for my dinner. Fast food may be cheap in the short run, but in the long run it's really bad for your health.

How did I get off on that topic? I intended to write about how much we change over the course of a lifetime. I was once a little girl, then a young mother, and now an elder looking at a decade or two of living still ahead. Time is not a linear trajectory, but we think of it that way because we can remember who we once were and imagine who we will become. Pictures give us something like a time machine, looking back and projecting who we will be in the future. But in reality, all we really have is this very moment. Last night I dreamed of my son Chris again, and he was, as usual, a teenager. It was as real as me sitting here in my bed with the laptop, but when I woke and I returned to the reality of this actual moment, I realized that Chris has been gone from the world for a long time. But not from my own individual reality. He will always be part of me.

That little girl in the picture will always be part of me, too. When I first looked at that picture and studied the faces, the memory of that time long ago came back to me as if it happened yesterday. It is a mystery to me, how time and memory work inside my internal world. If I were able to imagine myself frozen in time, what/who would I be? Certainly not that prepubescent creature in the picture, and not the young mother, or the secretary and administrator who worked for so many years. Not the senior citizen I have become today, although there are aspects of them all who make up this person composing on her laptop. When I think of the expanse of my life, I'm all of them, but I am unable to pin down to any single moment when I stopped being one and morphed into the next.

This is, of course, true of anybody who thinks about life's trajectory from birth to death. But still I am fascinated by it all, wondering about the miracle that brings us forth, aware of ourselves, and grateful for the journey that is life. For it truly is a journey, isn't it? I'm glad to be here right now, today, writing this and thinking about you, my reader, who joins me on my path today. Be well and I'll see you next week. Most likely, anyway.


Mersad said...

I agree with you about food today. And even vegetables are infected with pesticides. It's really hard to get your hands on organic food.

Mersad Donko Photography

Sandi said...

As usual, your Sunday morning post is truly a reflective one, DJan, leaving me with thoughts of the way I was.

I don't know if it is simply the coming of the new year, and the retrospect that brings about the past, or the recent birthday that pushed me further into the 60's, but I'm often in a contemplative mood these days.

These thoughts have been percolating their way into a blog post . . . I hope!

You left many things to consider. Thanks for sharing!

Mel said...

I love looking back at old photographs, like an archaeology expidition, looking for clues or to stir forgotten or misplaced memories. I also wonder about both how little and how much I've changed over the years.

It's funny, but I can't think of you as a senior citizen. You are younger in heart, mind and spirit than most anyone I know, of any age.

It's nice to have happy dreams of lost loved ones, although so bittersweet when you wake up. I hope the dream was a comfort to you.

And I think a lot about how much food and access to fresh healthy food has changed, especially for those in urban areas on limited incomes. I have a farmer friend who won't eat the wtaremelons he grows because they are tasteless and genetically designed for shelf life and stackable shape. It's plain stupid what we're doing to ourselves.

Hope you have a great week. I alway enjoy stopping by to visit with you here.

Meryl Baer said...

A couple of weeks ago went to a holiday parade in Florida. Several school groups performed. I could not help notice how many of the baton twirlers and majorettes were overweight - you would think these girls, in particular, would be slim and trim. A sad commentary on today's kids.

Anonymous said...

My elementary school class photos show skinny kids, too, much like yours. There were very few obese students back then. As a 67 year old, I am now considered obese -- not because of diet and sedentary lifestyle -- but due to medication, which has slowed down my metabolism considerably. In the past, I would burn my calories by just sitting down. Now, I don't burn it. However, I have decided to take up hula again, starting in January. Hopefully, that will boost my metabolism.

Jackie said...

Your gift of putting feelings into words has always amazed, me Jan. It is what initially drew me to your blog. I thought, "How can someone put words on paper and touch a heart the way she does and do it so effortlessly!" I know that you have that gift. You are blessed with that...and you bless me by sharing it with me.
Thank you for the many many posts that you have shared...as you share your life's moments....past and present.

Far Side of Fifty said...

I enjoyed your old photo! Kids played outside back then...neighborhoods were safe, neighborhood parks were safe, everyone watched out for everyone elses kids. Now many people do not know their next door neighbor, kids staying inside is a relief to some parents.
They made cookies with lard back then and drank milk straight from cows and eggs right out of the coop. I will get off the soap box now.
Times have changed and I can see both good and bad.
Hope you have a good week, I know the holiday in the middle of the week will throw you off again:(

Linda Reeder said...

Your, as usual, wonderful Sunday morning post, has me thinking too about my childhood and all that has transpired since then. My sister gave me copies of several family photos taken at Christmas many years ago. I think I'll have to work up a post about them. I was just thinking about those photos the other day when other bloggers were posting old photos, and serendipitously, there they were in my hands yesterday!

Rian said...

DJan, it's funny how your mentioning the transition from child to adult to senior was done and yet although the physical has changed, the real *you* never has. This is something talked about in Dr Dyers book. I'm not recommending it, only commenting that this part struck home with me. Our human bodies constantly change, but the real *you* was there before you were born and will be there after. Just something to think about...

Glenda Beall said...

In the past few years my body seems to be failing me in many ways - ways no one else sees, but it bothers me that I can't open jars, grip well and I often drop things. I get tired more quickly than I once did, and I know I am in my "third act" of life.
But inside I am still the same person I once was, only better.
Every day is new and I can fill it with whatever I want.
Your blog is one of my favorite places to go and enjoy. Best wishes for a wonderful new year, Djan. Thanks for visiting my blog.

Cynthia said...

Interesting thoughts to ponder.
I never really understand those who wish they could return to their college days, or whatever. When you move along, you carry all your past with you as a part of you forever, and the same "you" that had that experience is still you in the present.
It is so important to be present in the present moment, experiencing it with eyes and heart wide open.

Red said...

You have thoroughly enjoyed your life even though you've been dealt some very unfair cards. I like what you say that we are made up of a life time of experiences and that continues on. Photos seem to bring back all details of the day. Journals do the same thing. I kept a journal for about ten yeas . No matter how brief the entry , the whole day seems to come back to me.

Nancy/BLissed-Out Grandma said...

Our daughter Abby has become very committed to giving her family unprocessed foods as much as possible. Twice a year they do a whole month of clean food, and much of what the family learns during that time carries into daily life. Even the kids appreciate the benefits of unprocessed food, although when they come here they like our store-bought cookies and muffins.

Trish and Rob MacGregor said...

And you Sadges usually have the grasp of the bigger picture, both in this life and in the next one.Happy 2014 to you, DJan. You're a gem.

Rita said...

It's true that we ate differently and we were outside every chance we got back then. The food industry has changed so much and the kids grow up before screens. I can't blame them. I am always behind this laptop screen at some time of the day--even if I am just deleting junk mail--LOL! But I have met wonderful, interesting people like you while I sat behind this screen. And now they have smart phones and tablets and a seeming endless stream of devices. But there are so many wonderful things about how society has changed--along with the negative ones. As it has probably been for as long as man has been around.

I also have always felt like just me--inside. But I have lived so many different lifetimes within this one, it seems. I don't know that I could ever pick a time I would prefer other than today. Always today. Probably because it has taken a lot of work to get to each of my todays--LOL! If I had to pick--I think I loved being a mom when Dagan was little. He was such a joy!! (If you think I love my silly Karma...ROFL!!) Dagan owns a huge hunk of my heart.

Love your post. I tend to get very contemplative around New Year's, too. Such a special time--filled with nostalgia and hope! Happy New Year, Djan!! :):)

amanda said...

This is one of the neatest school photos I've ever seen. What a treasure!
We often discuss the change in diet and affect on today's children.. it's sad when I go to our kids' track & field day & see how many children simply cannot RUN.
Children are supposed to be able to run like the wind.

CiCi said...

You are recognizable in the school picture. Interesting you still have the same gesture.
The girl just above you could be me, looks like me when I was that age. In some ways we are all connected, age is not the most important thing, the journey is. Even through the harsh and hurtful times I have known with a certainty that I enjoy the ride in life. Like you, I have been the kind of person to jump in and give it my all. Even more so now that I am a senior. Diet is a huge subject with me as you know. I have thought many times about how much diet has changed in the past 50 years, and now that I am approaching 68 years on this earth I know I don't want any of the processed foods nor do I trust the grains that have been altered through the years. Very good post. I look forward to reading your wonderful blog for another year, and I hope this year is good to you.

Deb Shucka said...

What a lovely reflective piece. Something I could have written about my own life. I found myself thinking about my fifth graders as I read. Every day I get to see the rough outlines of who they might become. So often they become something other and even less than my vision, but the potential is always there. Even into our last decades I think.

As for the food thing, you're preaching to the choir there.

Sally Wessely said...

Very thought provoking. I was dusting today and picked up a book of photos of Julie that Keicha put together. Soon the tears were flowing. She is locked in time. Despite that, I am remembering her more and more for who she was and what she did. She is not as locked in time as I may think.

I like to hope that we are all still who we once were. I am hoping that some that I love will become who they once were. Sometimes, we get lost in life, but I think in the end, we come back to those basic traits that don't really morph that much.

Stella Jones said...

I found you in the picture. I saw it was you, straight away. You have such lovely hair. Aren't you lucky! I loved looking at your photo and all the people on it. I have been doing the same thing lately too, for me and for my memoirs to let my sons know who I was and maybe what I was thinking about and why. I know there are many people now who wish they had asked their parents questions when they could. Once the parents die, there is no-one to ask, is there. There are lots of things I would like to ask my mum and dad, but like yours, they both died at the age of 69. I'm 62 now and don't expect to live a long life. I don't think it's in my genes. We'll see. As you say, things are better now with statins and beta blockers and ace inhibitors etc. etc. I don't take statins yet and don't want to because I'm afraid they will make my joints and muscles hurt even more than they do already (LOL).Keep the reminiscences coming D-Jan. They are fascinating.