The Age of Marie

Space shuttle.  Photo by Callen Harty.

Space shuttle. Photo by Callen Harty.

On Friday night I was watching television when I suddenly noticed flashing red lights on the walls of my living room. I turned and saw an ambulance across the street, a fire truck parked a little further down, a police car in front of another neighbor’s house, and emergency personnel outside the house of the 96-year old woman directly across the street. My heart sank. Marie was a stubborn, long-lived woman, but I knew she had not been well the last couple years and I somehow knew immediately that this was it for her. As I was looking a second ambulance pulled up, and two more police vehicles and it all seemed very serious. She passed away a short time later.

When we first moved into our house Marie was one of the first to greet us. She was a former school teacher and former real estate agent and was already retired by then. She had been living in her little house across the street from us for many, many years and she immediately made us feel incredibly welcome in her neighborhood. Over the years we did a lot of errands for her, although in the last several years the younger couple who moved in next door to her sort of took over that role. She only called us for help on rare occasions when they were not available. As I ponder this now I realize that pretty soon we’re going to be the old folks in the neighborhood. My friends and relatives who are my age or close to it are now the ones battling cancer, surviving heart attacks, and in other ways showing the wear and tear on aging bodies.

You know when someone is as old as Marie that they are not going to last forever, that their time is limited. What most of us don’t realize is that our time is always limited. Not everyone takes advantage of all the minutes and hours they are given because they refuse to acknowledge that inevitability. Marie did. She knew she was getting older and more frail, but she didn’t let that diminish her capacity for life. She was an incredibly active woman, gardening into her early nineties, active in her church, watching out for the neighborhood, keeping socially active. It was only a few years ago that I helped her with her shoveling–meaning I did what I could as fast as I could while she was also shoveling. Until she had her first bad fall just a couple years ago she still drove all over the city to visit friends, do volunteer work, and more. Apparently the day before she passed away she talked to our neighbor about wanting to get her license back again. She lived fully in the present day with an ever-present eye on the future. I didn’t see her look backwards very often. Mostly she talked of things she was doing, not what had already passed.

It’s mind-boggling when I think of all that she lived through at her age. She lived through two world wars, the Korean War, Vietnam War, two Iraqi wars, Afghanistan and others. She lived through the Great Depression and the boom years of the mid-twentieth century. When she was a child there were no radios, televisions, or computers. There were no microwave ovens, no video recorders, or Internet. There were scant few cars and airplanes were still new. Rockets and space travel were crazy dreams. Nobody had cell phones; few had telephones at all. When she was born women were not allowed to vote. There was actually no sliced bread to compare subsequent inventions to until she was about ten years old.

What I realize when I think about all these changes (and more) during Marie’s lifetime is that technologically we live in a fast-paced, constantly changing world. In my lifetime I have lived through some incredible discoveries and witnessed many new and exciting inventions and innovations. But there are some things that don’t change, and these are the things that are important. Being kind to one’s neighbors is one of them. Loving one’s family is another. Giving of oneself as part of a community is yet another. These are the things that defined Marie, that made her someone we all cared for and respected. And these are the things that will last. Long after the last skyscraper has crumbled to the earth an act of kindness now could still be reverberating generations hence. For people like Marie there is no mortality. She will live on in the memories of those who knew her and in the ripples of her heart through the body of our earth.

About Callen Harty

Originally from Shullsburg, Wisconsin Callen Harty is the author of four books and numerous published essays, poems, and articles. His most recent book is The Stronger Pull, a memoir about coming out in a small town in Wisconsin. His first book was My Queer Life, a compilation of over 30 years worth of writing on living life as a queer man. It includes essays, poems, speeches, monologues, and more. Empty Playground: A Survivor's Story, is a memoir about surviving childhood sex abuse. His play, Invisible Boy, is a narrative with poetic elements and is also an autobiographical look as surviving child sex abuse. All are available on (and three of them on Kindle) or can be ordered through local bookstores, He has written almost two dozen plays and 50 monologues that have been produced. Most of them have been produced at Broom Street Theater in Madison, Wisconsin where he started as an actor, writer, and director in 1983. He served as the Artistic Director of the theater from 2005-2010. Monologues he wrote for the Wisconsin Veterans’ Museum won him awards from the Wisconsin Historical Society and the American Association of State and Local History. He has also had essays, poems, and articles published in newspapers and magazines around the country and has taken the top prize in several photo contests. His writing has appeared in Out!, James White Review, Scott Stamp Monthly, Wisconsin State Journal, and elsewhere. He has had several essays published online for Forward Seeking, Life After Hate, and The Progressive. Callen has also been a community activist for many years. He was the co-founder of Young People Caring, UW-Madison’s 10% Society, and Proud Theater. He served as the first President of Young People Caring and as the Artistic Director for Proud Theater for its first five years. He is still an adult mentor for the group. In 2003 he won OutReach’s Man of the Year award for his queer community activism. OutReach is Madison, Wisconsin’s lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender community center. He also won a Community Shares of Wisconsin Backyard Hero award for his sex abuse survivor activism work. He has been invited to speak before many community groups, at a roundtable on queer community theater in New York City, and has emceed several events. In 2016, Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault named him their annual Courage Award winner for his activism, writing, and speaking on sexual assault.
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7 Responses to The Age of Marie

  1. marcea0k says:

    No I don’t have your email….how about this? You email me at work, then I will have your email address and can then email you from my private account. My work email is (were I you) – – so switch your name with mine and we should be connected and both maintain a bit of privacy. My last name has not changed from our days at SHS. Hope this indirect method is alright?

  2. marcea0k says:

    Callen, you once called me the Queen of Poland. And if you recall I was the daughter of a photographer. Also quite a long while ago my sister had said you’d been searching for me. I do not know what she ever communicated back to you. I did drag my heels with getting wired up, but I’ve started to dip a toe into the digital void. I have been reading your blog off and on and your story of Marie touched me and I thought I’d tell you that, and hope that in this way, we might reconnect after so many years. From your former Cribbage challenger…..M

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