“We traveled to school in the snow. We only had one pair of shoes between us. And we liked it!”

Senior citizens have a way of remembering. As a historian, I’ve learned to filter this. It’s something I teach my students when we examine primary source interviews. We identify perspective, spin, propaganda, and agenda–all the things that go into churning out the butter from the whey. We need to get to the truth.

Our memories are never concrete. They’re malleable, they morph over time. We rewrite them. We change them. We temper events. We remember them as we must in order to enhance joy and minimize pain. After a time, they become a series of storybook fables weaving into the fabric of a lifetime.

In my 20’s, I wrote an article interviewing a respected senior citizen on the topic of martial arts. It was one of the first public things I ever wrote. I discovered this man invented the spinning back kick and was amazed to be in the presence of such a person. “…invented…the…spinning…back…kick.”

It was the cover article.

“What the hell is this?” Turns out, the spinning back kick has been present in every martial art since people started beating on each other and taking their stuff in the beginning of time. Thousands and thousands of years. Every martial artist who read the article knew this. I’d been had.

Verify facts. Corroborate twice when interviewing seniors. The man wasn’t lying. The story was part of the fabric of his truth, woven together with other stories, superimposed on facts, melded with legends, and faded with the passage of time.

A valuable lesson for me… Never trust the source. Look deeper. Always…look…deeper. Even if the source is my own mind. I’m getting older, too.

Time’s passing quickly. It was my birthday again. I’ve lived 4.3 decades. Every year I marvel that the last birthday was just in my back yard. Seemed like yesterday, the cliché says. As I get older, I know it’s true.

I know I’m getting older, because I’m never bored. Kids are bored. Old people always have too many trivial things to do. Paperwork. Errands. Trips to the doctors. And taxes.

Will I be one of those senior citizens who remembers things the way I need them to be so I can be as happy as possible? Will I hike up my pants and get stuck in my ways, letting my formative decades define me, or will I be that progressive, ageless classy older lady who always seems to have wisdom to impart and a smile for the world? I wonder…

I get simpler as I get older. I realize life is about the important things. Happiness. Growth. Helping others. My birthday week overlaps with the time in the Farmer’s Almanac where I need to plant potatoes, onions, carrots, and leeks. I stop and marvel at how things grow. The leaves and buds on the trees. Some garlic and chives. Me.

My students made me a cake for my birthday. They are so kind. I tell them I’ve outlived my life expectancy if we were in the Middle Ages.

“I’m getting older, I could die at any moment, do your homework.” It works. Truth is, I’ve outlived my life expectancy for many time periods in history and geographical locations in the world today. I consider every year a particular gift, and every spring that holds the anniversary of my birth a chance for renewal.

I hope I’ll use the time wisely, because it passes more quickly with each candle on the cake.

There’s a lot to do before the candles get blown out.