Old or young or in between?

My teenage son, who runs cross country, shrugs and cringes slightly when I invite him to run with me these days. Once a junior Olympian and collegiate runner myself, I'm no slouch, but there's no denying that my speed and my cool-ness have faded with time.

When I look in the mirror, I sometimes see my 18-year-old self with endless energy and a mischievous grin, but sometimes, I imagine I see one of my grandmas - shrunken, crotchety and glowering back at me. It's hard to see myself clearly now - am I old or young, full of life or falling apart bit by bit?

It's easy to bemoan what once was, wondering if now is when I ought to resign myself to extra pounds and lackluster hair. But who wants to see crotchety Granny in the mirror? Not me. The good news is that my other grandmother, Granny Rea, inspired me daily with her joie de vivre. Here's what I loved about how she lived life:

Granny Rea didn't sit still. She liked to "get up and go" and would ease herself into the bucket seat of Cousin Glo's Trans Am for a quick dinner at Jack in the Box or bingo at church. She loved to visit with people and see the world.

Granny Rea would say, "Well, hello to you!" with a smile and a sweet southern accent when she greeted me at her door. She'd bake a cake frosted with fudge in honor of my visit, and then we'd eat it together, savoring each fudge-y bite, while we talked and laughed and enjoyed each other's company.

Few activities were off limits due to age according to Granny. When she'd come for a visit, she packed an ugly rubber spider that she'd hide in the sheets of one of our beds for a laugh. She'd play badminton with my brothers and me in our backyard, lunging for the birdie and serving it up with confidence and style. We loved that she got in the game.

Granny had bronchitis often and when we'd play cards and make her laugh, she'd start a coughing fit. She'd smile while coughing, tears streaming as if we'd just told the best joke ever, and then, when the spell subsided, she'd carry on with her turn, as if her bronchitis was all just a part of the fun.

When I think of her, I know aging doesn't have to be my albatross. My son and I still set out together on a run occasionally, though we rarely stay together. I hold out hope that I might catch him sometime, so I push forward, defying gravity with each step.

I am a little bit old, and a little more young, but mostly I'm laughing and loving, exploring and relishing the road ahead.

- Carol Wittemann of Hinsdale is a contributing columnist. This column was first published on Sept. 12, 2019.