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Learning what it feels like to grow old

I asked my grandpa what it felt like to grow old. I knew my question would take him some time to answer, so I said nothing. I let him gather his thoughts.

When I was a boy, Grandpa once complimented me on this habit. He told me it was good that I asked a question and gave a person silence. And being that any compliment from him was few and far between, this habit soon became an integral part of my personality.

Grandpa stared out the window and looked at the empty bird feeder that hung from an overgrown tree. He used to fill up the feeder each evening, but he stopped doing it last winter when walking became too difficult.

Without ever taking his eyes from the window, he asked me a question: “Have you ever been in a hot shower when the water ran cold?”

I told him I had.

“That’s what aging feels like. In the beginning of your life it’s like you’re standing in a hot shower. At first the water is too warm, but you eventually grow used to the heat and enjoy it. But you take it for granted and think it’s going to be this way forever. Life goes on like this for some time.”

Grandpa smiled and winked at me.

“And if you’re lucky, a few good looking women will join you in the shower from time to time.”

We laughed. He looked out the window and continued on.

“You begin to feel it in your 40s and 50s, though. The water temperature declines just the slightest bit. It’s almost imperceptible, but you know what it means. You try and pretend like you didn’t feel it, but you still turn the faucet up to stay warm. But the water keeps going cold. One day you realize the faucet can’t go any further, and from here on out the temperature begins to drop. You feel the warmth gradually leaving your body.”

Grandpa cleared his throat and pulled a handkerchief from his flannel shirt pocket. He blew his nose, balled up the handkerchief, and put it back in his pocket.

“It’s a rather helpless feeling, truth told. The water is still pleasant, but you know it will soon become cold and there’s nothing you can do about it. This is the point when some people decide to leave the shower on their own terms. They know it’s never going to get warmer, so why prolong the inevitable? I stayed in because I contented myself recalling the showers of my youth. I lived a good life, but still wish I hadn’t taken my youth for granted. But it’s too late now. No matter how hard I try, I’ll never get the hot water back on again.”

He kept looking out the window with those eyes that had seen 91 years on this Earth. Those eyes that lived through the Great Depression, those eyes that beheld the Pacific Ocean in World War II, those eyes that saw the birth of his three children, five grandchildren, and seven great-grandchildren.

He had indeed lived a good life.

“And that’s what it feels like to grow old.”

Kitsana Dounglomchan, a 12-year Air Force veteran, writes about his life and times for Clovis Media Inc. Contact him at:

[email protected]