Satchel Paige asked, “How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you are?” For my friend Veda and others born on Leap Year Day, they get to count birthdays in base 4.
Because I work in a university with young people for whom Desert Storm is history as removed as World War II, it is difficult to escape the consciousness of the generational divide. Somehow we do not get older; it’s the undergraduates who are just getting younger.
And yet others senior to me have seemed everlastingly young. Today’s mail brought a card in memory of Bing’s great-aunt, Yettie Chew, who passed away on February 10th at the age of 89. Somehow she will always be a spry 60-something in my mind, chatting with me at Kathy’s big San Francisco Chinatown wedding reception. Every Christmas since Bing died, Auntie Yettie has written to me, the wife of the deceased grandson of her sister-in-law. I could count on her card warming my heart, telling me that she missed seeing me at the annual Chew family holiday party, how glad she is to hear what Akemi and I are doing, what a good job I was doing in raising Akemi. I don’t think I’ve ever stopped being surprised at how inclusive his extended family has been to me.
The card her daughters crafted in her honor included this quote from e.e. cummings, something of a favorite of mine:
you shall above all things be glad and young
For if you’re young, whatever life you wear
It will become you;and if you are glad
Whatever’s living will yourself become.
In what base will you count your birthdays?