Studs Terkel was a pioneer of the art of oral history, getting people to talk on a given subject and compiling their stories into a book. The first of his books that I read was” Working”, the last was his final book “Will the Circle be Unbroken ? Reflections on Death, Rebirth and Hunger for a Faith ( 2001). As always , a wonderful read.
In it, the very first reminiscence is that of a retired Brooklyn firefighter who tells about the time he was sixteen years old , walking with a group of friends in Prospect Park. They came a cross a bearded man , who looked to be in his early forties, sitting on a park bench , sobbing. They went over to him and asked him ” What are you crying for ?”
He said ” I just lost my mom.”
They asked ” How old was your mom?”
” Sixty four.”
They started laughing. ” Sixty four — that’s old ! She lived a long time. “
He looked up and said ” Listen , it doesn’t matter if your mother’s sixty-four or a hundred and four.When she passes away, you’re going to miss your mom. Don’t forget what I’m saying,”
Reading this story, I remembered the time when my son was in second grade and was telling us about his teacher. ” She’s o-l-d.” he said .
“How old ?”
” I don’t know … thirty five ?”
To get back to the firefighter’s story: I’m sure that some of you who are reading this ( particularly those who are getting on in years ), said to yourselves ” Sixty-four ? That’s not old.”
It’s all a matter of perspective .