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Full Circle: Numbers, the tally of my life

Editors note: This is a reprint of a column that originally ran four years ago.


I will soon experience my 77th spring. Seventy-seven times will I again meet the balmy weather uncloaked, unmittened, unbooted. Seventy-seven opportunities to witness tiny green cheeky things explode their way out of unlikely sources—packed dirt, cracks, sticks, and desiccated pods—each determined to repeat a showing off of its glory for the next four months. Four months in which I will nurture them all as their willing slave.

More and more I realize my life is made up of numbers. My most notable are the three occasions in which I have pushed to life children, only to learn that it was they who had given life to me.

Twenty-eight times I have changed houses, learning that moving up is easy; down is not.

I have had a ring slipped onto my finger only once. It has stayed there 57 years. I like it. I like the guy who gave it to me. It will remain. So will he.

Once each I have spoken my final goodbyes to parents, but never to a spouse or a child which is something, even in my darkest moments, I cannot imagine. In my parents’ absence I have become the matriarch of both my and my husband’s families. Female Position Number One. Funny that I had not realized this until I just now wrote these words. Suddenly I wonder  … am I worthy?

More than three dozen times I have welcomed a dog into my heart, each time wondering — as I clean up yet another mess — whether I have a generous heart or an empty head.

A million times I have stepped upon my bathroom scale to either despair or rejoice over the fluctuations of its dial. And yet, despite my resolves, I have continually done little about it. Finally in this 77 year I think I have at last accepted the inevitability — or the unwillingness — of altering my bulk.

How many coats have I owned? How many shoes? From flat-footed, tied sensibles — to ridiculously spiky high heels — and back again to flat-footed, tied sensibles. What, for goodness sakes, about girdles? And bras, you say? All the way from stiff-pointed, twin-peaked cups to who cares? From 32A to 36 long.

At least 30 times I have owned a new and/or used car always adjusting myself to its seat, its controls—adding a folded blanket when needed so I could elevate myself to seeing the road.

How many times have I not sworn — but wished I had? Out loud!

I have never climbed a mountain, danced a ballet or bungee jumped, although I would have to say that getting married must certainly qualify for the latter. And although I am a fervent vacuum-er I have pretty much given up on dusting except for Christmas and when invited guests are coming. Uninvited guests are able to write their names with their fingertips on the tops of my furniture.

Twice I’ve written a book although there remains in my head a silent untold inventory of at least two more. Okay, 12!

New hairdos? Not so many, but they’ve gone all the way from shazam! to what was I thinking? Currently I am grateful to have enough hair to call it a “do.”

No treasure chest could possibly expand enough to contain my uncountable tally of friends. Blessedly, I am devoid of enemies who I can recognize as such. At least I think I am. (Please let me know if you are one.) (Or better yet, don’t.)

I cannot count the number of times I have emptied the garbage can, each time gratefully marveling at the realization that someone cleans up — vanquishes! — the detritus of my life. Lately it’s Thompson Sanitation. Because of them I can constantly start anew … world without end.

Is it even possible to count the times I have lamented over one of my body parts, wishing it were better, more glamorous? In my case it’s the jiggly thighs. If they’d only look good in jeans … in shorts … a display case in which I dared not ever show them. Then one day I finally got it; finally figured out what wonders my well-rounded thighs are. They have, after all, always assisted me in and out of chairs, across the room, speeded me up when I needed to hurry and allowed me to dance the night away at the old Terp Ballroom. For hours they have walked a fussy baby and seen me through travels in many foreign lands. They’ve dug my garden and shoveled my snow. Silly, foolish, trifling me wasting my life’s moments on such ridiculous lamentations.

Surgeries? Let’s see, eight. Each time I entrusted my very existence to eight total — but learned — strangers all of whom I called “Doctor,” and felt immeasurable thankfulness for their astounding skill in making me right again.

I regret the numerous times I did not, as a child, practice the piano. Lost are all the wasted minutes when I went unprepared to lessons, frittering away what talent I may have had, never working hard enough to unveil or recognize it.

Could I possibly count the hours I’ve spent organizing? Some would condemn such nonsense as a waste of time, but I would argue. For me it brings contentment and a security in knowing where the needed receipts are for my tax forms, where the screwdriver is and where the leftover Christmas cards are stashed. Okay, so I’m a nut about making my bed and cleaning up after dinner, but left undone they are an assault on my tranquility. To me tidiness is a serenity — a sanity — in my life. I should have been a Downton Abbey butler.

Fifty-five. That is how many countries in which I have travelled and lived. They were all (well, almost all) wondrous, interesting and tasty, but anymore I’ve also discovered that I have pretty much everything an old girl could want right here in Austin.

How many bejillion numbers of foods have I sliced, chopped, sautéed, stewed and souped? I have lived in a time when food was never more abundant and more delicious; when it was available right at my fingertips — upon my request! Think about it! Farmers, refrigerators and HyVee! Awesome. Burp!

Seventy-seven times I’ve tingled over Christmas, blown out birthday candles (now too many to extinguish in one puff), renewed my patriotic loyalty on the Fourth of July and been reduced to utter humility on Mother’s Day. Four times I’ve shrieked in joy over the arrival of a grand — three boys and one girl — who each gave me the chance to mother afresh all over again. 77 x 365 are the times I have lain upon a mattress with the unbelievable knowledge that no king in the history of world — despite his riches — ever experienced a more comfortable pad than the one I had under me.

77 x 359 = 27,643. This is the number of times I’ve changed my underwear, subtracting the six days I went camping.

I’ve voted since I was eligible, often in absenteeism when I lived on the far side of the world. From there my ballot didn’t arrive stateside in time to count. But I always did just the same. Willingly. As an appreciative American.

Who can count the number of times my heart has beaten? How many times faster for joy? How many times heavier for sorrow? How many times jaggier for disbelief or spikier for anger? And how many more beats do I have left?

How many babies have I rocked to sleep — never enough — and how many more chances do I have to smell their special delicious baby smell and feel their special exquisite baby softness, one that no velour fabric will ever match?

Will there ever be an end to my “I wish I hads” and “I wish I hadn’ts”? How many more ideas will I hear that will spark my brain synapses with their innovation and insight; that will get my engine revved up all over again? How many more words will I wish that I could snatch away and replace with something more constructive and solicitous? How many more mornings will I awaken to a day that I know will bring me something which I’ve never heard, tasted, thought about or experienced?

These are some of my tallies, my numbers squiggled on a page. What are yours? Use a calculator, fingers and toes or a yardstick, but count them. The sum will astonish you.