Rating System

            Late in his life, my husband, who was a thoughtful and also a sometimes whimsical man, one day announced, “I’ve concluded that I am just a utility model human being. I would very much like to have been a deluxe model or even a sports model, but that simply is not the case, I’m a utility model and that’s all there is to it.”

            My response was to laugh, because what flashed through my mind were automobiles that fit into each of these categories, and I instantly tried to match him to one of them.

            The first mental picture I had was of a massive vehicle once owned by some friends, a 1950’s era, top of the line Cadillac, shining with chrome, and sporting large tail fins. Over-voluptuous it certainly was, but in its day it represented luxury and affluence. My husband was right; he definitely did not fit into that category. Wretched excess was not his thing.

            The sports car I envisioned was a gull wing Maserati we had seen years ago in front of a restaurant in Santa Barbara. When the sides of this amazing vehicle majestically lifted up and two splendid-looking people emerged, I remember a feeling as surreal as if I were looking at alien creatures disembarking from a space craft. No again. My husband was a down to earth kind of fellow. Though he enjoyed novelty and inspected this unique car with delight, he would never have considered it his alter ego.

            And then there was my Uncle Ted’s quintessentially utilitarian Model T Ford, dull black, of course, which unfalteringly carried him every single day for years on end to his job at the wholesale grocery warehouse. Hmmm, well, yes, my husband, being half Swedish, was wonderfully systematic and dependable and he also possessed the same kind of endurance as Henry Ford’s all but immortal car; but against this, was the jaunty Bohemian half of his heritage which required, color and music and innovation and complexity to keep life interesting. No, he definitely was not a Model T type.

            “Listen,” I said, “you are in a class all by yourself, probably some kind of custom-built hybrid, but whatever you are, I have absolutely no intention of trading you in for some flashy new model. You still rank pretty high in customer satisfaction.”

            Sometimes self-evaluation can be a pitiless thing. We in the geriatric population are, I think, prone to be especially hard on ourselves when we look back, because we know that we have not accomplished all that we set out to do in life. People of our generation were likely to have been indoctrinated in Latin class with the heroic maxim Ad aspera per astra which roughly translates: reaching the stars through great difficulties. Many of us, as children, witnessed our parents doing exactly that as they struggled to give us the best life possible during the depths of the Great Depression. We were, in a sense, programmed to set lofty goals for ourselves, to leave behind us “footprints in the sands of time.”

            We older people were fortunate in that so many of our working years were spent during a long period of prosperity. This was a time when many of our dreams actually did come true, and against all reason lured us into supposing that by working just a little bit harder we could meet any goal we had set for ourselves.

            The most damning thing that could be said of anyone was, “He sure didn’t amount to much.” So, we aspired to making our mark in life, and it didn’t occur to us that there was an absolute limit to how many of us could become president of the United States.

            Come to think of it, my husband might have made a really great president. He was raised on a dry farm in Colorado where the whole family worked endless hours to eke out a bare living. The children in that family were admonished to: “Make yourself useful instead of ornamental.” Since that became the guiding principle of his life, it’s no wonder he concluded that he was “just a utility model human being.” Serviceable is a far better designation. He gave a great deal and he wore well. And he also touched the stars.


3 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Barbara Dabul on May 20, 2011 at 3:23 pm

    Great to hear from you and your husband as I knew him certainly shines through in this essay. Also, Happy Birthday!


  2. Posted by Meg on May 20, 2011 at 2:16 pm

    Enjoyed reading this one!


  3. Lucille,

    Once again, terrific! I am trying to learn WordPress and set up my website. It ‘ain’t’ easy! I admire your tenacity in sticking with it. Joanne


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