Finding balance in the second half of life

Life Goes On

In Community on March 19, 2011 at 10:42 pm

Our local, small-town newspaper has downsized a bit. Not surprising, I suppose; more surprising, perhaps, that it’s managed to stay in print for nearly 120 years in spite of being sandwiched between two larger city newspapers that publish daily and include more substantive news.

The downsizing, while making me sad, introduced a feature I like: The back page now reprints news from a hundred years ago:

  • Mrs. Charles Meek of Grand Rapids is spending a few weeks with her father, A. Rynbrandt.
  • Denn M. Bos made a business trip to Grand Rapids last Wednesday.
  • Dr. Masselink purchased another fine driving horse from King Brothers of Grand Rapids. It’s a six-year-old.
  • Peter Roon visited at the home of Mr. and Mrs P. DeWitt Sunday.
  • George Aldering was the guest of George Bos Sunday.
  • The singing school of Drenthe was entertained at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Telgenhof on West Main Street last Thursday evening. After the singers rendered some fine selections, refreshments were served and the merry crowd returned home at a late hour.

Why do I love to read these? I don’t know the people, of course, since the year is 1910. I can only speculate about whose grandparents or great-grandparents they might be, since many of the surnames are still familiar in this area.

Every line is a short story, so there’s plenty of what Anne of Green Gables would call “scope for imagination.” Try this one, for example:

  • Notified by residents in Robinson township that John Beukes of Holland were begging from the farmers in that vicinity, Sheriff Andre [Sheriff Andre? Who could make that up?] sent his deputies out and had the pair picked up. As there was no charge which could be held against the young woman, she was released, but Beukes was taken before Justice Hoyt at the Haven, and sentenced to 65 days in the House of Correction at Detroit for vagrancy. Beukes is an odd character, almost 70 years of age, but though indigent, was married to a young Allendale woman last November in Grand Rapids. Since that time he has been living in Grand Rapids, but has done nothing in the line of work. His young wife, who is about 24 years of age, will return to the home of her parents, who are now living near Coopersville.

Aside from that one sad example of the wages of… I’m not sure what, it sounds like a leisurely, civilized life. People paid calls and made their own entertainment. They moved at a more reasonable pace—and shorter distances, too.

Fortunately, I happened to read, at the same time these newspapers started to arrive, a collection of essays published by the local historical society. The essays reminded me that if I lived in 1910 I could also be maimed by polio, killed by tuberculosis, or bleed to death after having my leg amputated on my own dining room table.

I guess that means they didn’t actually have a simpler life. I’m tempted to think that living life on a smaller scale would be easier, somehow, but I see that’s illusion. There are enough tragedies surrounding us even with medical advances: aneurysms, tumors, enlarged hearts. Not to mention earthquakes and tsunamis.

This downsized newspaper of ours, I realize, isn’t publishing the whole story. They haven’t, so far, chosen to republish the obituaries or the legal notices. Sort of like Facebook status updates that feature only the happy parts of our lives.

Which, come to think of it, is perfectly okay with me. It’s sufficiently hard to miss the difficult parts; I don’t need reminders. I sometimes do need reminders that we can choose leisure, that we can live in community with others. That life, however ordinary, goes on.

–Lois Maassen

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