Age is a relative thing.
I was reminded of this at a family reunion near Underwood, Iowa, this past weekend. Besides the grand potluck, homemade strawberry ice cream, cherry picking, balloon toss and clumsy volleyball games there was the opportunity to share family stories and catch up with the wide range of relatives, many of them unfamiliar, that make up the family tree begun in 1920 when Jens and Ellen Andersen left Denmark to start a new life in America.
Prizes were awarded to those who came the farthest (my Uncle Harold, from Florida) and the oldest (my Dad, Jack, 87). That’s when it hit me. My Dad will never be the oldest in my family, at least not in my mind.
Though he’s lived longer than his own father by more than 20 years and my other grandfather, Jens, by a few years, he’ll always seem younger to me than either of them. For whatever reason, I see my grandfathers as old men, probably because they carried the unofficial titles of family patriarchs for all the years I knew them. My earliest memories of my Dad, however, go back to when he was a relatively young pup in his 30s.
I suspect this skewed view of the aging process is common when evaluating people we’re familiar with. For instance, my view of former president Ronald Reagan is one of a senior statesman while I see John F. Kennedy as a robust, energetic young leader. But they were pretty much contemporaries, having been born just six years apart. My view of them is doubtless tempered by the fact that JFK was just 46 when he was assassinated while Reagan was nearly 70 when he first took office as president. Consider, too, that Martin Luther King was nearly 12 years younger than Kennedy and never reached his 39th birthday.
Do you see your family tree in a similar way?
Larry Lehmer is a personal historian who helps people preserve their family histories. To learn more, visit his web site or send him an e-mail.
Photo: Jack, Elsie and Liz Lehmer at Andersen family reunion on July 5, 2008. Courtesy of lwlehmer.