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Starting at Forty

Me, 6 years old in front of childhood home

17 days from now, I will be turning 40 years old. For as long as I can remember during these years, the Grahams have been either on the road or talking about being on the road. I was 6 years old when they retired in 1982, making them free and unencumbered from the day to day, routine of a monotonous, punch clock job, where you weren’t your own boss and you find yourself questioning exactly what am I doing and how did I get here? Ok, I may be projecting my own feelings about a “job.” I know the Grahams didn’t feel that way about their work. Both my grandparents enjoyed and thrived throughout their careers, as a postal worker and as an educator. I know that my grandfather’s daily walking during his postal routes is the reason why he is in excellent health for a man 89 years old. Just as much as I know my grandmother’s passion for knowledge has allowed her to continue to have a well-exercised brain for a woman a few days shy of 91 years old.

Pennants on wall in basement at the Grahams

Last weekend, I went to the Grahams because my aunt and uncle were briefly in town. They headed north from Georgia to visit one of their sons (one of the awesome threesome) at the end of his freshman year in college and help with some of his belongings. My other aunt joined them because it also happened to be the Penn Relays that weekend, which is a big time event that they decided to attend. With a full house, it only made sense that I head over there too once I heard my parents were going to swing by. While I was there I did my usual look around. I normally do a lot of thinking about the documentary for the obvious reasons while I am there, but now I am starting to dig a little deeper, below the surface. Here I am at a home that they have lived in for over 30 years, where not much has changed. It dawned on me that the basement has inconspicuously been a travel memorial. Behind their bar at this house and the last, they have had their travel pennants proudly on display. I do not know if this is something a traveler could purchase today; I don’t recall seeing them. All the old, warn, felted postcards of the places that they had once visited wave in a silent breeze.

One of two cork boards with travel photos in office at the Grahams

Tucked away in the office are the walls embellished with pictures that span decades and generations; faces I know and those that I have only met by their gaze. On the main wall hangs two cork boards that are mostly occupied by the precisely square Polaroid pictures of their travels, specifically, they are mostly pictures of the Grahams standing in front of the state signs from the course of their travel. For the last 30 years I have looked vacantly at these with my eyes wide open, without grasping the true treasure of these images. How could I see the pennants and pictures my entire life and it not have had any influence on my interests or my perception of my grandparents? This is what I was used to and it never seemed unusual.

The Grahams

As I embark on this milestone birthday, I have mixed emotions. First and foremost, I am grateful for the most apparent reason, I am here. After the tragic loss of a dear childhood friend in my freshman year of college, being here is something I will never take for granted. There will never be a time that I won’t think about her and how she will never share these moments. The issue that causes me some angst is that I have been slightly infected with ideals of the old model of a linear life path that is clustered with things I should be and do at particular benchmarks. Four decades and what do I have to show for myself? I am not married, I have no children, no home, no humongous savings account and no lifelong “career,” but somehow, I couldn’t be more enthusiastic about my future or feel more confident about who I am, what I want and where I am going. Don’t be fooled, yes, I am freaking out but I say all that to say that I know I will be perfectly fine. As much as we all want to be the driving force of defining who we are and what we are going to become, I am starting to believe that it is not solely in our hands. Timing, being present, environment, influence and those that came before you have more of a say to the direction of your life. Much like my parents and paternal grandparents, the Grahams have subtly molded my path and it taken me this time to realize it and I surrender. If this is only the start at 40, I don’t mind waiting.

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