Books of words.  Without meaning, they're just "words."  (pictures by Marylin Warner)

Books of words. Without meaning or context, they’re just “words.” (pictures by Marylin Warner)


Is perseverance at the top of your list of goals, or nearer the bottom of your list?


What does Irish mean to you if you're Italian?

What does Irish mean to you if you’re Italian?

Think about all the words we read, write, see and hear that have general definitions but also a variety of personal meanings and interpretations. Marriage means different things to different people. So does Love, Hate, Innocence, Guilt, etc. Without personal context, words are often just words.

One of my favorite examples is the four-word comment on age by the actor George Burns: “Young. Old. Just words.”  In 1977 Burns starred in the movie OH, GOD! He was 81. For years, he and his wife Gracie Allen did comedy routines and a sit-com together. Gracie died in 1964, 32 years before George died at the age of 100.

My parents had enjoyed the “George Burns and Gracie Allen Show.” When George died in 1996, a tribute to both of them was on television. I remember my parents watching solemnly. Mom said George and Gracie had been apart a long time, and now they’d be together again. My dad said an emotional “Goodnight, Gracie.” Dad’s mother had died of spinal meningitis when he was a very young boy, and her name was Grace. Unfortunately, by the time his great-granddaughter was born in 2003 and Molly named her Grace in honor of Dad’s mother, Alzheimer’s had begun fading his attachment to the word Grace.

Two weeks ago I was with my mother in Kansas, and when we celebrated her early 96th birthday together, I knew the truth of Burns’ quote about young and old being just words.

Because of her dementia, Mom’s concept of now doesn’t mean as much to her as then, especially when the “then” is life as a child growing up on the family farm in Missouri with her brothers and sisters. To her, I am not so much her daughter as I’m “just the nicest girl” who comes to visit. And my brother isn’t her son but usually Sam, who was her brother. And that’s okay. Mom is calm and content with those memories, despite the confusing words that are often used to try to explain things to her.

Satchel Paige was a major league baseball legend in his own lifetime. He asked an important question that we each should answer for ourselves. “How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you are?”

Young. Old. Are they just words for you?

Satchel Paige (1906-1982)  (google sportcard via Rich Klein article)

Satchel Paige (1906-1982) (google sportcard via Rich Klein article)

George Burns in the 1977 movie OH, GOD! (wickipedia)

George Burns in the 1977 movie OH, GOD! (wickipedia)



Filed under Different kinds of homes, lessons for great-grandchildren, life questions, special quotations

75 responses to “JUST WORDS

  1. Carol

    Very moving

  2. juliabarrett

    Beautiful. Yes, just words, in and out of context. I think we are one age. I’m not sure how to explain it, but I do believe we are one age, from birth to death, it’s just that we don’t know it until we die. And then again before we’re born. I love the name Grace. If I’d had one more daughter, she would have been Grace.

    • I’d been teaching about 23 of my 30 years when a student I had in sophomore honors English and Writing to Publish, as well as had coached in Mock Trial gave me a porcelain coffee mug. It was filled with chocolate kisses, and the message on the outside was this: “You already know the secret to a winning life ~ choose an age you like and stay with it.” Numbers were printed all over the mug, but when I saw the 37 I knew it was my number. My daughter Molly is 36 now, and she says it’s really awkward that I still claim 37 as my age!
      Grace is one my favorite names, too. Our granddaughter sometimes gets called Gracie, but mostly it’s Grace.

  3. Marylin, my mother, who just turned 75, always tells me that she still feels like the same person when she was 16. I feel younger than the lady in the mirror too. It’s what we believe and think more than the number of years that count. Thank you for sharing your family with us.

    Blessings ~ Wendy ❀

  4. I have mentioned before ( I think) a wonderful book called the ACB with Honora Lee. It is being broadcast on our radio at the moment. If you are able to listen to some of it, I think you will find it very pertinent to this post and to your mother’s situation. http://www.radionz.co.nz/national/programmes/thereading/20140707 As to your question“How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you are?”; most of the time I forget how old I am. Does that make me ageless or forgetful? 😀

    • Thank you so much for this link, Gallivanta. It has wonderful stories that are filled with ideas for helpful activities. I loved the ACB example about the girl creating the alphabet book for memories… I’m going to go back and read earlier entries.
      As far as answering the question, I’d say that it’s a healthy, contented answer that most of the time you forget how old you are–and I vote for that making you ageless!

  5. and sometimes it’s just best to let people live in whatever time they are the happiest… And I have a granddaughter named Grace

    • I’m with you on that, for sure. My mom is 96, and some days she’s in the memories of when she was a mother of growing children, and other days she is a young child herself, happily playing with her siblings on the farm. Those are very happy times for here, and I’m glad she can return to them and live in those times.
      (Just between us, isn’t having a granddaughter named Grace wonderful?)

  6. I sometimes think ”Young’ and ‘Old’ are words we use towards other people or words other people use towards us in description since I find it hard to wrap my mind around the concept of being old. My mind seems to function as always with the thoughts being those of the person I’ve always been. Yet, when I meet and talk to a contemporary it’s often easy to inwardly refer to them as older older based on looks.
    Your Mom’s thoughts settle at a time where she was happy and which she can reference. She still feels the love for you she always did but now perhaps in a different context, as that sweet visitor. From our point of view it’s sad she can’t reference things and people as being of today, but we can’;t begrudge her the joy her mind brings her even when it hurts us a bit.
    Your stories of your Mom are such a delight Marylin it’s easy to see they come from a place of love.
    xxx Gigantic Hugs xxx

    • Thank you, David, for the wonderful way you describe my mother’s love for me in a different context. You said it beautifully.
      Like you, most of the time I find my mind functioning with the thoughts of the person I used to be and still am…the person I’ve always been. Sometimes that’s a good thing; other times it reveals things I need to work on.
      Gigantic Hugs to you, too!

  7. You are so right, words are just words , what a beautiful post . As to aging I like your idea of staying at one age…. I would choose 55 .
    Your mother loves the nicest girl just as much as she loved her daughter.

    • I hope so, Gerlinde, and you’re probably right. Especially since my mother has always had a great capacity for loving everyone.
      Now three of us have weighed in: Julia chose 19, you chose 55, and I chose 37. For me, though, there wasn’t anything earth-spinning that happened when I was 37; I just like the feel of that age.

  8. Very moving is spot on. I often reflect on my mortality for a variety of reasons. I have no fear of it. Perhaps the ‘how’ but not the inevitability. If I could choose an age I would be 29 again. Just before my father died. The last time the 4 of us were happy together. I am the last man standing. Just about. Yes, 29 would be very acceptable.

    • As the last man standing, Andrew, you are the keeper of the memories of the final year before your father died, when the four of you were happy together. Twenty-nine is a wonderful age to treasure for those memories.
      Your words are as powerfully expressed as your photographs, Andrew.

  9. So thought provoking as usual. It’s only when I find I’m too stiff to do something that I feel my age, or if I unexpectedly pass a mirror:-)

    • When I woke up this morning, you’d think that 8+ hours of sound sleep would make me feel energetic and ambitious. Instead, I think I slept too long on one side or something, because I had aches and pains…and when I got up I hobbled and limped until I could work out the kinks.
      Very carefully, I avoided walking past mirrors until I felt better!

  10. Beautiful words, Marylin! Most days, I don’t feel 48…soon to be 49. However, when it’s time for my 6 week infusion, I feel very old…but then I feel young again! 🙂
    Our thoughts and how we view ourselves can be just as powerful as the words…think young! xo

  11. Claudia

    Been feeling all my years lately myself!
    Love the name Grace.

    • I’ve been feeling the years lately, too, Claudia, so I’m trying to get back into my writing project that’s been pushed to the back burner by all the demands I can’t ignore. I want to “lose myself” in the project until the old age feeling passes.
      My granddaughter is starting middle school soon, and watching her bravely forge ahead with high hopes inspires me. She’s my amazing Grace.

  12. Hi Marylin, I used to feel like I was always 21 no matter how I aged but I don’t feel that way so much these days. This period of my mid 50’s is really causing a shift in my thinking- mainly that I am accepting my older body (and its wrinkles and fanny pack!) and leaving behind the body and mind of my younger self.
    It’s a relief in a way to settle in to this new thinking about age. I hope to live a while longer 🙂 and in doing so, I’m obligated to take better care of myself physically and mentally. I’m not doing a stellar job but it’s a work in progress.
    xo Joanne
    PS. I loved OH GOD! I was a huge (and still am) John Denver fan.

    • September is the big transition birthday for me, Joanne; sixty-five is an age I truly do not feel, but the math says my daughter’s age and my grandchildren’s ages make me exactly the age I don’t feel.
      I think of Grandma Moses, who proved that with age comes both wisdom and immense artistic creativity. She’s my age role model.
      Like you, Joanne, I loved OH GOD! It was a great combination of talents with George Burns and John Denver together.

  13. So, yesterday in important conversations both “persistence” and “Satchel Paige” were discussed. “Persist and persevere” has long been my theme song.

    And my grandfather batted against the great Satchel Paige in the 1930’s (who was known for striking just about everybody out). And Grandpa got a hit! (Guess from whom I learned a lot about persistence?)

    This is a lovely, thoughtful, wise post, Marylin.

    • You contributed a truly amazing detail, Tracy: your grandfather got a hit off of Satchel Paige in the 1930’s. WOW! That is so cool. It’s also a poetic parallel; your life proves you have the same strength, spunk and determination to go up against huge odds.
      Now, as the granddaughter of the man who batted against Paige, how would you answer Satchel’s question, Tracy? “How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you are?”

      • That’s a question I don’t know how to answer. Because one’s “age” is a combination of physical, mental and spiritual, characteristics, capabilities and experiences. Youth is characterized by innocent wonder, vigor and resilience. By mid-life we ought to be around our peak of mental power, and as seniors we ought to have accumulated some wisdom.

        So how could I ever put a number on it? My answer would have to be: “Ageless.”

        (P.S, — a woman my age, who recently met me briefly a couple of times, was talking to my husband yesterday, and he told her to guess my age. She thought mid-thirties. I’ve been feeling pretty spunky for the past 24 hours).

      • Ageless is a profound answer, Tracy. Excellent.
        The the woman who guessed your age was correct, right? 😉

  14. Sensible quote: Age is just a number and young is an attitude.

    Silly quote: Age is just a number. Yeah . . . and a weed is just a plant.

    I’ll accept my age – I’m younger today than I’ll ever be, so I’ll make use of it for the sake of tomorrow. Great post, great photos as usual!

    • A weed is just a plant is a terrific example to prove that no, if we’re honest, age is not just a number. But I really applaud your philosophy, Marian; today you’re younger than you’ll ever be, so you make use of it for the sake of tomorrow.
      (I do hope you have a perfect place to put that in your writing!)

  15. Apparently I’m quite old, according to my passport. Mostly I feel as if I’m waiting to grow up.
    Very thought provoking post as usual Marylin xx

    • Jenny, I have a friend who recently got a call for some paperwork at her doctor’s office. They recited her stats for verification, and when they came to her age the secretary said, “And you’re 69.” My friend argued with her vehemently that no, she was only 68. She was embarrassed to do the math and admit the secretary was right, but she said they both laughed about it.

      A passport is not to be argued with, Jenny, but you can focus on the places you’ve been and want to go, and turn a blind eye to the age! Or, as a friend who is in her late 70s told me, she’s always on the lookout for crimes so she can be an important witness to convict the culprit. Her plan it to go into the Witness Protection Program with a new name, a fresh start, and the age of 58! What a plan: do a good deed and become younger!

  16. Yes, I am feeling my age and I have fun with it, especially when I’m with young people. But the number doesn’t discourage me. I don’t welcome the physical part of aging, but it helps for me to focus on this: Every year added to my age brings me one step closer to being in heaven with my Lord. Bring it on.

    • Young people do make everything more fun, I agree, and unless they insist on playing a pick-up basketball game or flag football, I actually feel better and more energetic with them. But I especially love where your heart is on this whole aging question, Darla. Bring it on!

  17. Very perceptive, Marilyn. You can be old in your 20s or 30s if you let your mind and body stagnate. You can be young in your 70s, 80s and 90s if you embrace life with enthusiasm and still have that get up and go.

    Since I’ve been in my 30s, I generally do not tell people my age. Some folks automatically slap a label on you and think that’s all you have to offer. Their perception is confining and unfair to the person they’re judging.

    I also loved George Burns and Gracie Allen. They were among my parents favorite comedians. 😉

    • I hate to admit it, but once we reach a certain age, some people do look at us more as the number than anything else, Judy.
      I knew a wonderful, feisty poet in Pen Women, and she sold her poetry up until a few years before she died at 84. When she received a contract or was entering a poetry contest and there was a space for her age, she wrote in N/A. And she was right; it was not applicable. I loved her spunk.

  18. I’ve always felt older than my years in spirit – always been attracted to the wisdom of maturity – yet often I still feel like a child. So I suspect that how old I am depends on what I’m doing and how I’m feeling on a particular day – but it’s much harder to define what a certain age should be I think now.

    • Older in spirit and wisdom, younger in child-like wonder. Not a bad combination, Andrea. After remembering my elderly poet friend, I think that the age number I’ll refer to from now on is N/A…Not Applicable!

  19. Diana Stevan

    What a beautiful post, Marilyn. You brought tears to my eyes when you mentioned who your mother thinks you are when you come to visit. She is so blessed to have you and vice versa. Thank you so much for sharing your love and pain. Best to you and your family.

  20. My uncle (soon to be 80) gave a speech at my sixtieth birthday and commented that he woke every morning and set his goals for the next day and the coming year, always looking ahead.
    Yet, I know 40 year old friends who think their best years are past them.
    I think the answer to remaining young, even when we are old, is believing that we have a tomorrow.

    • Well said, Elizabeth. Before the dementia, my mother used to get up early in the summer mornings to weed her garden before it got hot. She said that a garden–and the early morning sunshine and breezes–were the energizers to face whatever the day brought…and be glad and grateful for it. She always seemed and thought and acted younger than others thought she was.

  21. As always the comments here are as great as your post!

    My mother cracks me up with her view toward old age: it applies to everyone her age (80) but herself.LOL!
    When we’re in the grocery checkout and some senior citizen younger than she is slowwwwwwllllllyyyyyyy counting every penny from her purse and dropping half of them, Ma mutters under her breath “damn old people..can’t they use a debit card?” She seriously cracks me up!
    Wierdly, when I was in my teens/early 20s i was very definitely an old lady with somewhat rigid thinking. It wasn’t until I turned 40 that I finally loosened up and started acting and feeling much more liberated and more youthful. (I think I may be aging in reverse?)

    • Your mother is a feisty 80, calling others damn old people!
      When I turned 40, I kind of loosened up, too. Suddenly a number didn’t seem so important any more, and that was kind of freeing.
      That’s quite a concept, aging in reverse.

  22. If young and old are just words why does your post bring tears to my eyes? 🙂

  23. Don

    I found your post deeply touching, Marylin – thank you.

  24. Glee Kracl

    I also was touched by your post. Words are only “just words” when seen in a dictionary, etc. Words take on emotion when placed in series that translates your feelings and your post made me realize how important it is to share “one’s words” with those we love, appreciate, and care about. When I think of your mom, I can only remember soft words that made me feel loved, cared about, happy to see me and make me smile words. I want to share some words that “Aunt Mary” most likely won’t remember from me, but Happy Birthday, Aunt Mary. I love you!!

  25. That quote by Satchel Paige is intriguing to me. What if one day you did indeed awake and did not know how old you were? Would your good health or bad health give you a clue and maybe it would be the wrong clue? Would a hangover make you feel awful so make you figure older than you were?

    This is what I know: a few years ago I got a bicycle. I had not ridden in decades. But I got a basket and now I do a lot of errands on it and take mile’s long cruises. I am telling you, I feel like I am 10 years old on that thing. So if I awoke one day and didn’t know my age, if I hopped on the bike you’d never convince me in reality I am pushing 60!

  26. You’ve found a fountain of youth in that bicycle, Laurie!
    Some objects, sounds, smells, tastes and feelings so transport us back to other times, and this bike zaps you back to being 10 years old. So if you woke up and didn’t know how old you were, Laurie, you could jump on the bike and set your own age!

  27. Beautiful Marylin and best for me, is that you guys let her be with her memories and where she thinks she is now even if it is some 70 or 80 years ago. A wonderful respect to your Mom.

    • Thank you, Mary. There’s not arguing or trying to correct dementia or Alzheimer’s, so I’ve found the best, happiest, and more loving thing to do is let her share the memories and just respond to them without correcting them. That’s what I’d want others to do if I were 96 and holding tight to memories from my youth.

  28. That’s a very poignant question asked by Satchel Paige and really made me think. I read the results of a study recently that said that those who thought of themselves as not very healthy and ‘old’, lived shorter lives. I don’t think I ever heard my grandmother say she was old. I do remember her saying, when she was already in her late 80’s, telling me that she still felt like an 18 year old inside and had no idea how she could be the age she was! She learnt to swim in her 70s and made her first ever trip to North America to visit us when she was 89! I intend to write about that one day.
    I want to be like her! My mum’s the same. I love how you tie in the theme of ‘words’ with your visit with your mom and what words mean to her now and that she is comforted by those words she remembers.
    i do think that words are very powerful and we do need to be careful what we speak out. In that regard, I would say that I’m looking forward to my 21st birthday (again..and again…and again.) LOL! Seriously though, so long as I can retain some measure of childlike wonderment in life – which I have no intention of losing – then I’m okay with that 🙂
    Another beautifully crafted post with an excellent, thought-provoking message, thank you dear Marylin 🙂

    • Oh, I hope you do write about your grandmother’s first trip to North America when she was 89!! Wow, Sherri!
      You are so like both your mother and grandmother, heart and hands open to welcome every opportunity. Of course you’re going to celebrate your 21st birthday again and again–that doesn’t surprise me at all! 😉

      • I will, and thank you so much Marylin, what a lovely thought. As for being 21 again and again, it’s tough, but someone has to do it 😀

  29. Nancy Parker Brummett

    So true, Marylin. I find most days bring opportunities to feel both OLD and YOUNG! Thanks!

  30. It must be so heart wrenching to visit your mom when she doesn’t recognize you Marylin. At least Mary is reliving a happy time in her life… growing up on the farm.
    It’s such an honor to meet Mary’s vivacious, intellectual spirit every week via your writing. Thank you.
    Such inspirational words by George Burns: “Young. Old. Just words.” And, it’s so nice that so many agree with him. I feel 58 (almost 59) years old. That is my real age, but maybe I’ll quit aging soon…

    • It is hard sometimes, Theresa, but how she does see me–“Just the nicest girl”–assures me that we still share a special connection and she’s happy to have me there. Sometimes we appreciate every little thing.
      Your photography is keeping you young. You see the special beauty, the focus and importance that the rest of us miss, and your pictures reveal that. Anything that keeps us looking, watching and thinking will help us stay young, and you have that.

  31. My 86-year-old mother often takes the “old ladies” from her church shopping. 😉 For many years, I’ve thought of my age as 28. I’m not sure why, but in my head, that’s where I am. My birth certificate begs to differ, and there are many more days now where my body does as well. Where did those little aches and morning stiffness come from?! Being the “late surprise” in the family, I’ve often wondered if birth order or our exposure to people of different ages plays a role in our perceptions of our own age.

    • I love that you were a “late surprise.” I have two friends who were totally unexpected. One is an “aunt” to nephews older than she is! Both of them see themselves as much younger than the rest of us who are their ages, and maybe that birth order does have something to do with it.
      Whatever it is that makes you feel 28, hold on to it! 🙂

  32. Very touching thoughts. Your mum thinks you as the nicest girl who comes to visit her-this brought tears to my eyes. She is so lucky to have you and you are so blessed to have her. I think the concept of age depends upon our thinking and our perception of life, our surroundings and so much more. To feel younger is a blessing. Thanks for sharing such a lovely post with us Marylin. Take care and God bless.

  33. Molly

    Just words?? Hmmm….there are certain words that aren’t just words when they come from a certain someone – for example, when Grandma used to call me “Darlin” – now I long to hear that from her….When you call me “Mookie” and when Grace calls me “Momma”….these are all words that in any other instance would be just words – but when said by these people in the tone that they always use, and in their voice mean the world to me.

    I love this post Mom, it just “hit the spot”! Although I wasn’t able to get on to comment last week, I wanted you to know how much I appreciated it – and that’s not JUST WORDS!

    • When I was growing up, my mom didn’t use “Darlin'” a lot, but when I hear her say it now, it’s a special word that makes me happy. And because of Grace, now when I hear the hymn “Amazing Grace” it has a whole new, wonderful meaning.
      Special people do that to us… Love you lots, Mookie!

  34. Jane Thorne

    What a lovely post Marylin, thank you…..personally, I am young and still up for adventures and trying new things. I am with Molly and her words….words have meaning when said by a certain someone…I am the ‘Mothership’ to my Emily and she is ‘Plips’ to me, short for ‘Splendiforous Plonks’ .. ❤ xXx

  35. “Mothership” and “Plips”–I love your special names/words, Jane! And you are definitely still up for adventures and trying new things, so Mothership is perfect for you!

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