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James McConnell

A Rural Perspective: How Old I Am

I’ve noticed over the past few years that many things change as I get older. I’m not just referring to the obvious stuff like gray hair, memory recall issues, more physical aches and pains or the need to shop for hearing aids. What has caught my attention is how differently I am viewed by the people around me.

It’s all very subtle and hardly noticeable unless you happen to be on the receiving end. Such instances as a heavy parcel dropped at the end of the sidewalk by UPS and a younger person telling me not to worry about that, they would get it for me. The same goes for climbing a ladder to clean roof gutters or helping with a truckload of hay. Strangers at the hardware store or Tractor Supply (the vast majority of them are younger than I am, as would be expected) seem quicker to open the doors for me if my arms are full.

Repetitions of the above experiences and many other little things recently, including the approach of the holiday season, have put me in a reflective mood. I still spend a lot of time looking forward since I am, after all, a full time farmer. My brothers and I, along with spouses and family and willing employees, still plant crops every spring and harvest them every fall. We make business decisions that progressively have more zeros attached to them. My wife and I still have vacations we would like to take and places we want to visit. Most importantly when thinking of the future, I have three adult daughters with husbands and six grandchildren whose futures are boundless and will be fun to watch develop.

I keep thinking of the quotation from Satchel Page that I have referred to before. When asked why he claimed he didn’t know how old he actually was and that it didn’t really matter to him, he is quoted as saying, “How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you was?” I know how old my driver’s license tells me I am. By that record I’ve already outlived my father by nearly seven years. He fought cancer twice and was old beyond his years. I can clearly remember watching my grandfather when he was my age still caring for his chickens and driving his tractor from his home to our farm. He looked old then and his failing eyes prevented him from being as active as he could have been. He lived into his 90’s and always had a sharp mind but he certainly looked old to me. I know my grandkids think I’m old all the time and some days I’m certain my daughters do also.

When I reflect on my years to date, whether they are the actual ones shown on my driver’s license or just how old I think I am, I’m reminded of an after dinner speaker I once heard. He was telling his audience how we should value every hour of our lifetimes and not waste it by assuming there would always be a tomorrow to make up for today’s mistakes and wasted time. He held up an hourglass with the sand flowing and the top half darkened to where it was impossible to see how much sand was left. He likened the hourglass to each of our lives.

I may have wasted some of my time through bad decisions or no decisions, but overall I’m satisfied I’ve done fairly well so far, and here’s the most important reason why I feel this way. My parents showed me there is value in serving our community and contributing some time and energy where needed. Without really trying, community involvement leads to a person’s name becoming known and hopefully their efforts being appreciated. When my daughters were younger, they were often greeted by strangers “Oh, you must be Jim McConnell’s daughter.” I think they were proud to be known as my daughters. Now, with their own families and careers, accomplishments and contributions to their communities, I’m am now recognized as Heather’s, or Elaine’s or Emily’s father and I couldn’t be prouder. Additionally, I’m looking forward to a time not too far into the future where I will most commonly also be known as Elizabeth’s, or Nate’s, or Ben’s, or Luke’s, or David’s or Braedon’s grandfather.

Regardless of how old I actually am or think I am, how gray my hair gets or bad my hearing, I have a lot more on my to do list to keep me looking forward. Happy Holidays.