More Improbable By the Day

Yesterday in town I stopped at the feed store in town for chicken grain. I’d placed my order and was descending the front steps and there, coming toward me, was an old man. Not the same man I wrote about a year ago; this man was stouter, his clothes neater. Clean white tee shirt tucked into jeans. He moved in a stilted way, and slowly, as though in pain.

We exchanged the curt nods men tend to offer one another in greeting, and I continued outside to wait for my grain, standing between my car and his white Chevy pickup. The cab corners and wheel arches were consumed by rust, and the bed was empty but for the top link to a tractor’s three-point hitch. I stole a glance through the truck’s window; the bench seat was uncluttered. The truck had a manual transmission, and I imagined the man’s arthritic hand on the shift knob, guiding it through the gears.

I thought about how the year before when I saw the old man at the feed store, someone had just reminded me how I might yet have half my life to live, and how now, a year later, that possibility was lesser, and becoming more improbable by the day. Last year, I’d have had to live to 90; this year, 92. By next summer, it’ll be 94. At some point, the math stops working, though I guess it’s not really the math that stops working; it’s the body.

I considered waiting for the man to emerge from the store, if only to see what stories might be gleaned, but my grain had now arrived, and my day was full of tasks yet undone. So I got into my car and drove away.

20 thoughts on “More Improbable By the Day”

  1. Oh, yes! The feed store is one of the best places for people watching. Ours has varieties of folk from those like the two gentlemen you mention to ladies in riding britches and boots dripping with jewelry, to farm workers able to speak little English handing over their order scribbled on a piece of paper by someone else, to little boys racing to the back of the store weaving through the stacks of dog food and fly spray shouting, “Let’s go see if they have any chicks!” (That would be us.) Feed stores are a real indicator of the local culture. We will be moving within the year to property we recently bought. During the decision process, we always looked to see how far said property would be to a particular feed store (OUR feed store, now, which feels so good to say.) Have to have your priorities straight, you know. 🙂

  2. I so do that… linger with the hope of gleaning more story. I could spend my life doing that. But, responsibilities and tasks and all that. Plus, it would be creepy if I lingered as much as I’d like to. But I’ll be a pro people-watcher/story-catcher as an old woman, for sure. At least I hope to be… and it won’t be considered “creepy” then, I’ll just be “eccentric.”

  3. Thanks (again, almost always!) for this lovely moment. I remember clearly “doing the math,” and now am on the far side where it is impossible to compute. Now I think about how old I’ll be when my grandkids are _____ or what year was it when my mom and dad were as old as I am now. Mostly I’m grateful to be able to live in these moments, realizing that the more I am able to do that however long that series of moments ends up being seems less important. Curiously it both seems forever and an instant! Anyway, thanks again.

  4. ps Liz’s dad, nearly 98 and an inspiration every day, just had his annual heart checkup and beamed that his pacemaker battery would probably last another nine years.

    1. Hot damn. So now I’ve got ’til I’m 49 to imagine I might still have half to go. Thanks for the inspiration.

      I hope he’s around long enough to see that battery changed out


  5. My Dad made it to 98 so I figure I’ve got 27 more years. It isn’t fun realizing you are buying your last lawn mower or won’t see some Grandchildren get married.

  6. I’ve always thought it poignant to ponder the overlap. How one generation overlaps the other. They don’t see us young and we don’t see them old. It just makes the moment all that more precious.

  7. i understand you buying chicken feed, but what is the deal with all of the free range chickens in NH & VT? When I was in New England a year ago it seemed like every few miles I’d see chickens running loose in northern NH & VT.

    Free range chickens wouldn’t last long out here, as a variety of wild and feral predators would find them to be easy meals.

    My good friend, Bob, passed away in March at age 91. Bob was a WW2 fighter pilot, P-47s, a mechanical engineer by training, and a champion trap shooter well into his late 80’s. I miss our weekly coffee date at a cafe we called “The waiting room for heaven” because of the skewed age demographics.

    1. We north easterners like our poultry liberated!

      91 sounds pretty good. I’d take that deal. Pretty funny nickname for the cafe.


      1. I’m 61 and was often the youngest customer in the place. There was even a Catholic Priest there every Friday AM, which prompted me to remind Bob that since he was among the oldest people in the cafe, a member of the clergy being in attendance might come in handy sometime. Sadly, Bob went into the hospital and left in a box.

  8. Just found your blog & all your writings. Interesting & a fun read. I have stopped doing the math and just enjoy all my moments of time. I turned 80 this year. I hope there’s lots more, my Mother lived to be almost 101. Now, back to reading more of your blog. 🙂

  9. Mom worked in a feed store. It was the greatest fun to climb the stacks and pretend paratrooper, landing with a thud on the lower levels. The mixing and grinding was done by a jovial guy who once rode out a cyclone on a destroyer chasing the Japanese. The delivery guy sold eggs on the side and smoked a pipe. His pick up had burn holes on the bench seat. Now we order our fish food from Amazon and the dogs get chicken and rice The Child Bride boils for them. Our local feed store still survives though I seldom see more than a truck or two outside. And it sucks getting old. First the lower back went, then the gall bladder followed by neck, shoulder and now knees, both of them. Good thing Amazon sells the vitamins, pills and potions to ease into even older age too.

  10. Those are some morbid math games you’re playin’. I’m going to pretend I didn’t read that and go on with my plan for ‘living forever’ thanks.

  11. Last evening, just passed 5 PM and southeast of Bigfork Montana, I bicycled, loaded with four panniers and a tent, past a bleating roadside grizzly cub. What bad luck! What good luck! I was able to ride away, the whereabouts of the mother unknown. I dared not like a third time. There is bliss in being ignorant of an early ending.

  12. I’ve been doing that mental math for a few years now, and alternate between despair and gratitude. It’s a tricky set of thoughts to navigate in a sane manner….and part of why within days we will pay off a parcel of land just next to a nature reserve and build (finally: awaiting final surveyor to demarcate property). I have also often felt like Heather- as we get older, we are allowed our eccentricities. I just worry about staying on that hamster wheel for too long and missing out on life, because sadly, there’s no guarantee my 44 will become 45. That’s where the good part can come in- the get-to-it-already part of living the way you want to. So without incurring debt (wohoo!) we finally found land we like, where we like, that we can afford with what we’ve got and that makes me feel pretty damn optimistic. The kids are 100% on board too.
    I hope we all get a little more time to do the things we forgot we wanted to get done. Sorry for the ramble, as you often do, you hit a raw nerve (but in a good way).

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