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Produced & Maintained by Idaho Mountain Express, Box 1013, Ketchum, ID 83340-1013 
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Copyright © 2002 Express Publishing Inc.
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For the week of February 26 - March 4, 2003

Opinion Columns

A family thanks
the community

Commentary by JoELLEN COLLINS


An ad in the Jan. 22 edition of this paper greatly moved me. It was placed by the family of a woman I have often encountered in Ketchum, Helen Tompkins. The gist of the ad was in the form of a thank you to the "wonderful people of Ketchum (especially Perryís Restaurant, Atkinsonsí Market and Chateau Drug)" for being so "kind and friendly to Helen over the years." The Tompkins family also informed the readers that Helen has moved to a senior citizensí home in Twin Falls, where she will make "many new friends."

I thought it remarkable that a family would spend the time and money to so publicly thank some of the businesses we patronize. Our small town is, indeed, a haven for many, a place where most of us comment on the sociability of the people at the market, the post office and other gathering spots. I have written about this before and wonít belabor my gratitude for the feeling of belonging I get from so often recognizing friends while running errands.

What struck me, in thinking about the contents of the ad, was the image of Helen herself, a figure I often noted when I marketed. I was shocked to learn she was 90. She was always immaculately dressed and groomed, and I once commented to a friend on the coincidence of seeing her so often at Atkinsonsí. Surely, I surmised, if I saw her there so often she must be there more than I was Ö the law of averages supports that, although, perhaps she was thinking the same about me! A small town provides a spotlight on such things we would hardly notice in Los Angeles or New York.

Life is a stage, indeed, and we strut upon it, to paraphrase Shakespeare, in different locations and in different ways at each period of our lives. Helenís stroll on the Ketchum stage in the past few years was a graceful one, I think. She greeted her friends warmly, elegant to the last days in this town, and I think people treated her well also. I can certainly think of worse places to "hang out" as I grow older. So the newspaper comments of a month ago recalled to me the places I have chosen to spend my days, and have made me wonder where I will be when I am Helenís age. In short, my reading spurred some thoughts on how we age and what is in store for us.

Having just seen "About Schmidt," Iím a tad uncomfortable with my generation. I caught myself laughing at many moments in the movie, only to be caught up short when I realized that I was sharing the sense of mockery towards my own age group, almost as though I could be smug and make fun of older people because I was on the safe perch of youth. Instead, Iím probably closer to being "the old lady" that Jack Nicholsonís character is shocked to find next to him in bed.

I left the movie with a sense of disquiet: Do I share some of those annoying habits and attitudes of Schmidtís generation? I know I am persnickety about sharing my popcorn in the movies: I like to nurse a box through the whole show, and would rather that my companions have their own to gulp down before the previews are done! This is the very kind of quirk I find irritating in others. Iím sure I possess other behaviors that mark me as older or "uncool." I confess to keeping the remains of lipsticks until I can clean out the tubes completely with a lipstick brush, a sign of the frugality Iíve always possessed increasing exponentially as I age. But no, I say, Iím not a tightwad or old and crotchety like Schmidt and his friends. I donít see myself in that demographic, but Iím afraid I am.

I wonder if Helen Tompkins saw herself as 90. I still feel about 40 in a much older body. Life just slips away quickly. I would guess that most of us do not want to face the swiftness of time. We think that the stage of life we inhabit now will probably not be altered tremendously: Certainly we hope our health will not deteriorate. We keep fooling ourselves every day that the mortality we all are fated to experience somehow isnít very near. I have a hard time saying goodbye, but as at other times of passage I remind myself to love my day, to smile more at people I encounter in the places Helen walked, to cherish those I love. None of us knows our fate. At least I grew up in a time when I believed I would live a long life, unlike one young woman I know who suspects that the world will destroy itself before she ever gets to be my age. I remember imagining a lengthy span of time before me glimmering with promise when I was her age. Only now do I know how fast the days fly by. So, hats off to Helen (who shares my motherís name), for her vibrant spirit and the gratitude of her family and the support of her community. We all rest in the arms of the world around us. How fortunate we are that most of the time, at least here in this valley, they are welcoming.

 

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The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.