The assignment was to write a story, a reflection, an observation about life. In six words, a type of six-word memoir.
The room was full of mostly seniors, attending a talk about the art of the story and storytelling. Their response: a collection of gems, treasures that reflected their wisdom. What made these so special was their perspective: lessons about life that are often only garnered after years of growing, experiencing and maturing. They reflected a wisdom of age.
Some were observations about life perhaps only someone with decades of life could capture.
"Sixty years. Good morning kiss. Smiles." -- Carol H.
"A ticking clock, a calming heartbeat." -- Linda R.
"How smart, how kind, old folks." -- Chuck M.
With age, a special insight and perspective is born and shared.
"I still think of drinking everyday." -- B. D. (24 years sober)
"Grandchildren arrived, learned to play again." -- Susan H.
"Learning to dance in rain ... again." -- Debbie M.
Others share a keen savvy and tease our curiosity. You want to learn more about the circumstances, you want more details, a potential page-turner.
"Oh God, I'm pregnant, why me?" -- L.V.
"Nursing home, reaped what you sowed." -- Gail W.
Some stories are complicated with multiple layers, especially about death and honest admissions about life.
"Gnarled hands, softened, by life's end." -- Margo D.
Margo explained the literal meaning: For years, severe arthritis caused her mother's hands to slowly tighten and close. As she passed away, her hands gradually opened and relaxed. As a writer, I ask: What was the relationship between mother and daughter? Was the mother's life filled with challenges and struggle so that her tightly clenched hands mirrored life? But wonderfully at the end, the mother and daughter found peace. The hands opened.
I'm not sure of all the details; I was catapulted into thinking about life, just as a great story inspires.
Perhaps because they are closer to death, the seniors grant themselves license to explore the topic.
"What if I live too long?" -- Mary P.
"Nancy died, no one told me." -- Bobby R.
"Death shuffled in on scuffed slippers." -- Phil F.
And because they've participated in decades, time carries a different meaning.
"Young friend. Soldier. Early death. Memory." -- William S.
I couldn't help but want to know the age of the soldier, what war, what remembrance? But like a good story, the author leaves much to our imagination.
An older generation had a very different relationship with nature. Consider how dramatically farming has changed in the lifetime.
"Cows are heaters on winter mornings." -- Richard A.
I needed Marcy, my wife, to explain this to me -- she grew up around dairies. On cold mornings, when you milked a cow, you can lean against them, their body radiates heat. Nature's heaters during early morning chores.
Many find solace in nature, along with memories.
"The bare ground, waiting for action." -- May B.
"Peach farmer shares his life's fruit." -- Susan P.
"Poised with hoe, snake slithered away." -- Elaine B.
"Old black walnut tree stands guard." -- Byron C.
"Cat making the sun look warm." -- Marilynn S.
We also forget that modern agriculture creates unanswered questions that defy logic.
"How do you grow seedless watermelons?" -- Merle K.
How wise to ask such a question!
Age also creates a type of freedom and unexpected renewal.
"Kids gone -- lonely, quiet house. Yipee!" -- Nancy B.
"Dad wasn't there, now not needed." -- Carol
Love at any age brings a rush of emotions. Love, looking back over decades, arrives with the baggage of tangled memories.
"She waved. He didn't wave back." -- Shirley M.
"See's Candy -- 50 years. Two kids." -- Pat B.
"Marriage was not good for everyone." -- Rich B.
"High hopes dashed by a look." -- Joy
And love in the senior years brings a certain sweetness that youth may not understand.
"Warm hands held just before sleep." -- Marilyn M.
"Second love precious as first love." -- Jerri Y.
"Dogs -- wagging tails find a home." -- Dee D.
Family figures prominently in many of our lives, in both positive and critical ways.
"My family saves me, every day." -- Lee
"Son always chooses easy way out." -- L.B.
"I understand my mother's vanity now." -- Kathy M.
A keen writer can sometimes leave the reader guessing.
"Selfish sister in law, wonderful wife." -- L.P.
My question: Is this about the same person or in-laws?
Finally, because many of the authors were old, their aging was bittersweet.
"Aging is necessary but not fun!" -- Mavis T.
"I dream of a better time." -- Ray D.
Yet one individual added a very surprising (and possibly unintentional) image, a wonderful way to end storytelling.
"Too old, but I can watch." -- Donald N.
A life story told in six words. Thanks for all who participated at the Fresno State Osher Institute gathering. We listened to stories, laughed, cried and grew old together. (And thanks to Smith magazine's inspiration for "Six-Word Memoirs.")
Award-winning author and organic farmer David Mas Masumoto of Del Rey writes about the San Joaquin Valley and its people. Send email to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.