Where Seventeen Went

January 31, 2014

As Sarah begins her last semester of High School and as I cherish memories of my grandson’s recent visit, I thought I would re-post a favorite piece I wrote a few years ago about the journey of the generations.  

As I sat down last Sunday at the table in my parents-in-law’s dining room, I couldn’t help but think back to the first time I had ever pulled a chair up to their teak wood table. I was just seventeen years old.

Seventeen. Was I ever that young? 

Because now as I find my place again at that table, I am thirty years past seventeen.  How did that happen? I am a mom. My parents-in-law are grandparents.  My son is bringing his girl friend to eat at that same table where the generations have visited and revisited and the years have taken flight.

Truthfully? I’m not sure that I’m ready for all this generational shifting. I’m not sure that I’m ready to acknowledge that I’m no longer the seventeen-year old, the new kid at the table, the daughter-in-law-to-be, the young girl on the brink of the rest of her life.

Somehow I have morphed from seventeen into forty-seven and no one even told me it was happening. No one told me that I would go to sleep a few times, cook a few meals, change a few diapers, travel a few miles, and wake up a few mornings later to discover that thirty years had passed.

Seventeen-year old kids should be warned about that.

Seventeen-year olds should be told, Don’t take Thursday afternoons for granted. Or Tuesday mornings. Don’t wish for the day when you’ll be eighteen. Or twenty-one. Be happy that you’re seventeen because one day you’ll turn a page on the calendar and you’ll be forty-seven and you’ll wonder where seventeen went.

You’ll wonder where the wrinkles came from. You’ll wonder how you survived the heartache that life brought with it. And you’ll wonder why you didn’t always treasure the joys that were birthed out of the heartaches. You will be well aware of the fact that you made a few mistakes and learned a few lessons as you glance in the mirror and see a face that is no longer young. And you will ask, “Why didn’t I know all this at seventeen?”

Seventeen doesn’t last forever. But neither does forty-seven. I know that the next time I blink, I’ll be seventy-seven and looking back thirty years at today. The generations will have once again regenerated and I will be the gray-headed lady at the dinner table whom everyone is calling Grandma.  I’ll remember the days when I was seventeen and I’ll remember the days when I was forty-seven and I will be ever so glad for those lovely days.

And yet I wouldn’t ever choose to go back, because seventy-seven will be a good age. Just like forty-seven is a good age. Just like seventeen was a good age.

In fact, you know what? Every age is a good age. Every age reminds me that I’m still alive, that I still have gifts to give, that I still have adventures to experience. And even when hard times come, the seasoning of the years will remind me that I can always find pearls in the pain.

I am very much aware that the days I’m living now will soon fade and that the calendar leaves will soon fall. I know that in some nostalgic moment down the road, I will look back at this sweetest of all generations when Nathan and Sarah’s laughter still fills our home. I’ll think of how I was so aware that the winds of time were blowing harder and stronger and that one day they would blow those children right out my front door and take them to meet the loves of their lives and they would have children of their own and put their feet under their own tables in their own houses.

But happily, beloved children who go away also come back to visit. And the day will come when Nathan and Sarah will bring their own children home; they will sit at our table and look around and say, “I remember when I sat here when I was seventeen.” They will feel sad about it. They will feel happy about it. And then they will count their blessings and hug their mamma and go on living.

But you can’t see all that at seventeen. And that’s how it should be. One of the things that age carries with it is those kinds of special secrets, imparted only to those who make the journey through the mazes and the miracle of the years. 

Nathan and Sarah will arrive at forty-seven and they’ll find that it’s really not so bad hanging out in the land of the middle-aged. And my hope is that by the time they get there, I will have set a good example, paved a straight path, and done everything in my power to infuse their journey with joy.

In the ongoing reshaping of their years they will find each day and every decade inhabited by new faces, new lives, and new stories. And one day, in one of their houses, at one of their tables, someone will turn seventeen–someone who will be on the brink of the rest of her life.

And a generation’s journey will begin again.


22 responses to Where Seventeen Went

  1. Love this. Oh, I don’t want my littles to grow up!

  2. Beautifully written. I have my parents’ kitchen table in my house now and I hope to hand it down to my kids when I downsize. This post reminds me to stay present and enjoy the time I have now and how fleeting it is. Stopping by from SITS. Really enjoyed this.

    • Beth,

      Kitchen tables are the best things to hand down because they’re full of such memories. And staying present is ALWAYS the challenge, isn’t it? Those down-the-road years will arrive soon enough!

      Thanks so much for stopping by.

  3. Beautiful! I’m turning 46 this year, and my oldest son is turning 18 in June. Changes are just a few years away.

    • Barbara,

      He’ll turn a few years older and will be asking “where 17 went!” Those years go so fast–as those of us in our 40’s and 50’s can attest to!

  4. Love this! I don’t think if anyone told me that life can be really great when you’re “old” I would have believed it. I guess that’s one of those things that you have to learn for yourself! Thanks for sharing!

    • April,

      Yes, when you’re 17, you think that anyone over 40 is ancient but when you get over 40, it’s amazing how young you still feel!

      I’m like you–I never would have believed that life could still be good when you’re “old.” 🙂

  5. As a considerably older person than you, I still enjoyed your perspective on turning 50 when you wrote it the first time, and even more now. Can you imagine Sarah now that she is the age you were being in the same position? How did your parents feel about you marrying at such a young age?

    • Liz,

      That’s a great question. I’ve often thought of how alarmed I would be if Sarah wanted to get married at 19. Can’t quite imagine it!

      My parents were very supportive of Steve and I when we made our announcement that we were engaged; if they had doubts (which I’m sure they did) they kept them to themselves. They could no doubt see the gold in Steve and knew that I would be in good hands. Thirty-two years later, they were right!

  6. Hi Becky,
    Love the retrospect!

    I am turning 50 this year. I am thinking… Where has the time gone? The years have flown by! So many things have happened since I was 17.

  7. Brooke Robertshaw January 31, 2014 at 1:01 pm

    And what a gift from God that you get to say “When Sarah is 47..” What an absolutely beautiful and miraculous gift from God.

  8. Enjoyed it this much around as the first time around. Thanks for the reminder.

  9. I remember when you wrote that post , found it lovely then and even more so now as I am 57! and just entering the empty nest phase of my life, wondering where the last 30 years have gone….how could my kids be grown up and living 1100 miles away, how can I be in a strange state where I know no one, I miss those days of diapers, playgroups, family dinners, holidays together, girl talks,countless movies with my son, I remember when my kids were little and I was so tired sometimes and my mom always said “Hold on to these days, these are the best days ever” and they were! I tell my kids now too, slow down, enjoy this time, don’t always be looking for the next stage….

    • Dale,

      I’m sure the empty nest is even more challenging for you since you’re so far from your family. I’m glad you have the happy memories of the past to cheer you up but still doesn’t make the “now” any less difficult, when you miss your family so much. Hugs!

  10. Beautiful! Loved it then and love it now. You are a very gift writer, Becky.

    • LeeAnne,

      Thank you. I truly love words and putting them together in ways that make a difference. I appreciate your encouragement.