Nothing motivates the desire to find new friends like running out of stories to tell old friends. They’ve heard them all before, and say so.
Since I’ve been around for almost 90 years, I happen to have stories about any topics and circumstances; my problem is that everyone I know has heard that story at least once and shies away from hearing it again. Family members are particularly eager to stop you on the second word with “you told me that already.”
The students in my OLLI classes, however, are very polite. Sometimes I have the impression that even if they haven’t attended the class before, they have heard the story. Old members pass on the good ones and warn new members about the others.
I still remember the story our English teacher in high school told every year about picking blueberries in the snow. Word gets around, and once repeated, sticks with you for life. Everyone has encountered the life of the party who tells canned jokes with punch lines you’ve already heard or can guess. He always says, “Have you heard the one about …?” and when you murmur yes, he tells it anyway.
Writing a column has the built-in hazard of repeating a topic you’ve already covered. The advantages, however, are two-fold: first, no one read that column so you can repeat it and second, they didn’t get it the first time around.
Did I tell you about the time my alma mater celebrated their 150th anniversary by publishing a book profiling 150 of their graduates they thought had made a difference, and that thy included me? I told them, rather modestly, that I had had a very ordinary life.
When they sent me a draft copy, it began with these words: “Audrey said she was ordinary but …” Indignant, I called the author and protested. I didn’t say I was ordinary; I said my life was ordinary.
That conversation has haunted me for years. How could an uncommon person have a self-declared common life? When you are on your last legs, that’s an important question, and I’m pretty sure I haven’t told you that story before, partly because I try not to brag about being one of 150 most memorable graduates of the oldest university in Minnesota.
Since we all are inclined to wonder what we’ve done with our lives, it’s time to contemplate what it means to have ordinary lives or be ordinary people.
Since I’m a list maker, here are some thoughts. Since I was born in 1930 and came of age in the 1950s, ordinary meant that certain things were expected and done, such as supporting the WWII war effort by collecting tires and metal and buying savings stamps; cooking dinner every night of the year except on our wedding anniversary and the ritual Christmas shopping; baking bread once a month; disciplining our children if they got in trouble in school; creating menus before we grocery shopped; pretending husbands were in charge of the finances; drinking a lot of coffee while watching preschoolers in the yard; attending PTA, serving in Scouting and accompanying paperboy sons on stormy days; mending torn clothing and ironing 17 shirts a week; attending church and teaching Sunday School every Sunday; darning socks and changing collars on white shirts; birthing and nurturing two to six children.
We thought of ourselves as uncommon if we involved ourselves in politics; darned socks with knots in the heels; inserted white collars cockeyed; wrote stories; joined the League of Women Voters; managed the family budget; worked part- or full-time; gave the freshly baked bread to neighbors and best friends; carried a briefcase in public or joined Toastmaster’s Club.
After thinking it over, and in context of today’s world, my life (and yours) seems quite extraordinary and it occurs to me that it was I who was ordinary. That is not to suggest that my life was full of high adventures or that I am normal, but I had friends who thought I was nothing out of the ordinary and that’s a comfort. At this stage, there’s nothing to write home about.