The acceleration of age during Thanksgiving

Time is passing. Stop and taste the celery.

click to enlarge The acceleration of age during Thanksgiving - Jeanne Meinke
Jeanne Meinke
The acceleration of age during Thanksgiving

Do not go gentle into that good night.

Rage, rage, against the dying of the light.

—Dylan Thomas, "Do Not Go Gentle"

We were crazy when we were young, it's hard to remember why. Today, just after dawn, as we were passing Lassing Park on our daily walk, the lovely voices of the Bruderhof group rang out with "Morning has broken / Like the first morning" — hymn #464 in my mother's Presbyterian hymnbook, which now sits on our old Kimball upright. We could hear Lenore's soprano notes soaring off their front porch toward Tampa Bay and the rising sun. Jeanne pressed her hand to her heart. I waved, and we paraded slowly by.

When I was young I never walked. I ran, trotted, biked, hitchhiked. I was in a great hurry. "Slow down," my mother would say. "Digest your food."

My mother was a piano teacher and I gave her a bad time. I seemed to be bored and over-excited at the same time. Young people feel time drags by like it does when you're raking leaves: you rake and rake, and never get anywhere. The wind blows, the rake has broken prongs, the leaves fall and swirl around, your parents yell, "Aren't you done raking those leaves yet?" You lean on the rake, thinking This day will never end...

The young are always waiting for the good times: Waiting to graduate, waiting to drive, waiting to drink, waiting for the mystery of sex, waiting to leave home, waiting to marry, waiting to know what the secret is. All of this is just around the corner, but always seems far away — until it arrives. Psychologically speaking, youth is spent in a holding pattern: everything seems to take forever. When will the movie start? Will this class ever be over? When I had a hundred days to go in the Army I made a reverse calendar, tearing off one slow day after another, waiting for life to begin, 99, 98, 97, 96...

For older people, it's the opposite. Everything's rushing by, happeningatonce: it's always garbage day, always WMNF's Pledge Drive, the weekend's here already, didn't we just go to the dentist? Our friends, like us, are cantankerous people in their 70s, and one of the few things we agree upon, besides Barack Obama, is that time sweeps by as if on those jet skis none of us has ever been on.

And so it is with Thanksgiving. Last year the Meinke clan gathered in neutral territory, a working farmhouse in Amish country, near Lancaster. It was a celery farm. We'd never heard of a celery farm, but it seems like just yesterday we were standing in the snow outside their barn, chewing on the best celery we've ever tasted — called "Penn Crisp," and developed at Penn State University. People were driving from all over, some in horse and buggies, to buy celery for their Thanksgiving dinners.

For a long time, I thought in our "declining years" we'd wind up — at least for celebratory occasions, if we didn't live there permanently — in New York, London or Paris, sharing red wine, onion soup and crème brûlée; but here we were, chewing on celery in Mannheim, Pennsylvania, not very far from Mount Joy and Intercourse.

That was a year ago, and now, it's Thanksgiving again (already!), and we're wondering where we can find celery half as tasty. It was paler and sweeter, we all agreed, and less stringy than regular celery, the labor-intensive trick being that they bury the full-grown stalks in trenches during September, digging them up a month or so later. "Basically, they're all heart," our hosts told us. We liked that.

Our children this year are gathering with us in St. Petersburg, which is good. But the strange thing is, though I can't remember what we did Tuesday, much less last month, I can still see vividly the tiny kittens at the Mannheim farmhouse, farm kittens living outside in the cold under two red and green benches on the side porch, facing the celery barn, and how our grandchildren would run and gather them up like beanbags when we went outside.

As much as I hate to admit it, it was as good as Paris.

So, in the fullness of time, we seem to have moved from the rage to live fiercely urged upon us by Dylan Thomas (who died his painful alcoholic death in New York at age 39), to a smaller, less adventurous view of life, closer to Robert Browning's Rabbi Ben Ezra. Although I don't feel entirely comfortable, time has rubbed a lot of the edges smooth. Bring on the turkey, find a decent celery for the stuffing, watch the children run and get to bed early. The secret will wait. Happy Thanksgiving, everybody!

Grow old along with me!

The best is yet to be,

The last of life, for which the first was made...

—Robert Browning, "Rabbi Ben Ezra"

It's no secret that Peter Meinke will be "Distinguished Writer-in-Residence" at Converse College, Spartanburg SC, during Winter Term, 2010. His website is

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