C.W. Gusewelle is away this week. His regular column will return. In the meantime, here is one of his favorites.
I have reached the stage in life when it is rather expected that a man will make himself ludicrous by his pursuit of much younger women.
Never mind his previous tastes, manners or a lifetime record of probity. Upon achieving a certain age, he is apt to begin affecting velour shirts unbuttoned to the navel and go prancing through the drive-ins on cloven hooves, ogling silky teenage waitresses.
No one whom I know has ever actually done this. But the probability of it has become a part of the popular social mythology.
For myself, I can say truthfully that I am not much interested. The problem is not glandular. Nor do I mean any slight to those who have just passed from girlishness into the first full bloom of womanhood. Their freshness is engaging and they decorate the world. They have wonderful teeth. But the fact is that, as the years have passed, I have come to find more attraction — and more that is genuinely fascinating — in women who have lived long enough to display a moderate amount of weathering.
What has called this subject to mind is the fast approach of yet another birthday in these, the reputedly dangerous years. But what has helped clarify my feelings on the matter has been, oddly enough, a newfound amateur interest in the lapidary art — the search for beauty in stones.
On a trip recently we spent several hours gathering pebbles along the shore of Lake Superior.
That region of our continent is especially ancient. By at least one geologist’s account, it was among the first masses to be thrust above the primal, planetary sea. Suffice that those pebbles came from very old stock — just as, relatively speaking, do we.
There is no saying how long, how unimaginably long, they have been washing and shifting in those waters, little changed in any way except for some slight rounding over the millennia. Until finally they are rolled up to the margin and are picked from the water by some passer’s hand — an event that, after all those ages, may be likened to a kind of birth.
Fresh from the water, they are wonderfully bright and varied in color. But that first attraction quickly fades. Let dry in the sun, they grow dull and disappointingly alike. A careful eye can detect certain blemishes and other character marks. But these suggest only faintly the virtue that might be hidden inside the stone.
To discover it, one needs a machine called a tumbler.
The pebbles are put inside, many of them at once, and the barrel of the tumbler turns, driven by a small motor — endlessly, as the world turns, for weeks on end. In the barrel with the rocks are abrasive materials, grits whose textures vary with the hardness of the stone and the luster sought.
The process cannot be hurried. In revealing beauty, there is no substitute for time.
But when finally the pebbles are taken from the tumbler and cleaned, they are found to be lastingly transformed. Drying does not dull them any more. Their luster is permanent. Fractional layers have been ground away. So that what seemed, at the first, to be minor imperfections are accentuated and made cleared, becoming now lines and swirls arranged in patterns of considerable beauty. And the attraction is reliable — it will never change.
I see in this a possible explanation for the particular — the superior — appeal I find in women of a certain maturity and visible experience with life. We have been in the tumbler together and have been worked on by the grit that fills all our years. Layers have been worn away and our characters, for good or worse, are exposed the better to be seen.
I suppose it is possible that I may yet make a fool of myself, though I feel no hint of it coming on. Dogma and conventional humor hold that to be in the nature of older men. But I can say with fair confidence that it will never be over some bright trifle found glittering, untumbled and untested, in the deceptive shallows of a remembered youth.