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Peggy Keener: Numbers, the tally of my life

On the occasion of my 83rd birthday, I am updating a column I wrote five years ago. It’s my favorite.

Unquestionably my most notable number was when I pushed to life three children, only to learn with great humility that it was they who had given life to me.

Eighty-three times I have met hot sticky summers. There I’ve witnessed tiny green cheeky things explode their way out of unlikely sources—packed dirt, cement cracks, twisty sticks, and desiccated pods—each determined to show off their glory. And every time I have been their willing slave.

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

A ring was slipped onto my finger only once. It has remained there for 63 years. I like it. I like the guy who gave it to me. It will stay. So will he.

Dozens of times I have welcomed a dog into my heart, each time wondering whether I have a generous soul 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 advanced stage I think I have at last accepted the inevitability—or the unwillingness—of altering my bulk.

How many coats have I owned? And shoes? Flat-footed, tied sensibles to ridiculously spiky high heels—and back again to flat-footed, tied sensibles. What about girdles … and bras? Unnatural stiff-pointed, twin-peaked cups to who cares? 32A to 36 long.

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 getting married surely must equal the latter. Twice I’ve written a book. There remains in my head a restless untold inventory of at least two more. Okay, twelve!

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 hold 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.)

Innumerable times my garbage can has been emptied, each time by a hefty worker who cleaned up—vanquished!—the detritus of my life. Currently I am grateful to Thompson Sanitation. I should pay them more.

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 of which I hold off. 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, sped 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 fussy babies 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 precious moments on such ridiculous lamentations.

Surgeries? Eight, each time completely entrusting myself to total strangers who made me right again. Gratefully I have paid them a lot. Even more than Thompson Sanitation.

I regret the times I failed to practice the piano, frittering away what talent I may have had; never giving it a chance to bloom.

It’s impossible to count the hours I’ve spent organizing. Some say it’s a waste of time, but I would argue. My reward is contentment and a security in knowing where things are. Okay, call me a nut, but messes left undone are an assault on my tranquility. Tidiness is my serenity. I should have been a Downton Abbey butler.

Fifty-five. The tally of countries in which I have traveled and lived. All were wondrous, interesting and tasty, but anymore I have pretty much everything a girl like me could want right here in Austin.

Eighty-three times I’ve tingled over Christmas, blown out birthday candles (now a challenge to extinguish), renewed my patriotism on the Fourth of July and been overcome with complete placidity on Mother’s Day.

Four times I’ve shrieked with joy over the arrival of a grand—three boys and a girl—my chance to mother all over again.

83 x 365 are the times I have lain upon a mattress with the knowledge that no king in the history of world—despite his riches — ever experienced a more comfortable pad than the remarkable one I have under me each night.

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

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 words do I wish that I could snatch back and replace with something more constructive; more solicitous?

Will there ever be an end to my “I wish I hads” and “I wish I hadn’ts”? And is there a finite number of ideas that will get my engine revved up all over again? How many more mornings will I awaken to a day that I know will bring me something gloriously new that I’ve never heard, tasted, thought about or experienced?

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