“It’s ironic that we forget so often how wonderful life really is. Life is made up of moments, small pieces of glittering mica in a long stretch of gray cement.”
— Anna Quindlen
This past week I had the good fortune of visiting with one of my very favorite people, a 90-plus-year-old woman named Susan, who is stylish and sharp and still drives where she wants to go in her classic Mercedes, but she tells me her favorite place to be is right back at home on her farm.
Years ago, Susan was among a select few women in this area to achieve her pilot’s license. The father of my boss is the man who taught her to fly.
“I really had no great, grand desire to fly, not really. But my husband had been a fighter pilot in World War II and all of his friends flew, and a part of me just knew ‘if I’m going to hang with this crowd, and hope to have any meaningful conversation, I need to do this’ — so I did it.”
Her eyes sparkle when she asks questions, and she asks lots of questions. She prefers Newsweek magazine over Hollywood fluff, and finds the contents of National Geographic to be so amazing and eloquent that she can’t bear to throw any of them away.
“I look at the photography and am in awe of the accomplishment … it is amazing, just beyond words, really.”
I asked Susan for words of wisdom as she looks back on her life.
“Well, you really need to make a lot of it up as you go along, you really, really do. And you have to be able to adjust to all sorts of things you never see coming. Ever. And if you can’t adjust, if you simply cannot accept some new thing that others throw into your path, know when to really stand up for yourself. You need to know when to say, ‘Enough!’”
Susan, who would argue it, has led an interesting life. She described her father as a man who found his passion in music, loving the big bands of his time, playing the trumpet. Her parents insisted Susan study music, like it or not.
“I think they wanted me to be a proper lady, but I always just wanted to be outside exploring. My husband was much more interested in fashion than I was, and he bought me the best, whether I wanted it or not,” she says with a wry grin.
“My father had no interest in the land or what made it tick, and would likely find it puzzling how much I love the farm. I have friends who are coaxing me to move into town, but I simply can’t imagine it. I don’t even try to explain it to them, because they just don’t get it.”
She enjoys watching the wildlife on her beautiful farm, and told me about seeing “the cutest little skunk” the night before.
“No more food for the wild animals … I don’t want that cute little skunk to like me back!” she says with a raised brow.
She speaks of planes she has flown, and can name the planes of her husband’s lifetime experiences. His World War II stories, however, remained largely unspoken, though if the right person asked, in just the right way, he would offer a few answers.
He passed away earlier this year, and much of his wartime stories went with him to the grave.
I find the lives of those who walked before us infinitely interesting. I could sit and talk with Susan for hours. She finds my interest surprising, and waves an arm at me when I tell her this. As she gathers her keys and her jacket, she turns back to tell me one more thing.
“Also, stay interested. Find joy in learning new things, always. You never know when something learned will save you, in some sense of the word.”
Susan’s lifetime experience has been filled with deep sorrows tempered with incredible joys. Considering no one knows what is coming next, Susan’s “make it up as you go along” echoes as infinitely good advice.