“The game of life has been enjoyable and rewarding, and I have competed to the best of my ability.”—from The Game of Life by Rosalys Buckles Thorndyke Wilson
A long life, as Rosalys “Rosie” Buckles Thorndike Wilson looks back upon it, is like a basketball game. It’s played in four quarters (a sport she learned growing up in rural Indiana, where all you needed was a was a hoop on a wall and a ball that had some bounce) with a little time-out in between.
Rosie’s first quarter started out on a small, 20-acre farm near Etna, Indiana. Baths were taken once-a-week in a galvanized tub in front of the kitchen wood stove. There were the requisite chores including chasing down dinner (which, on a fried chicken night, involved catching and decapitating a hen before dipping it quickly in boiling water and then plucking off all its feathers). There was a pony named “Beauty”; “Fluffy” the long-haired cat; “Spot” the rat terrier; “Fuzzy” the baby raccoon and “Duke” a horse retired by the U.S. Cavalry.
Marriage, four children, a master’s degree in special education and a teaching career all shaped Rosie’s second quarter. She marks all the major milestones, but it’s the little detours into her recollections that she takes that give The Game it’s charming humour. Following her divorce, during her “short time-out in the middle” of the game, Rosie took up cycling. Touring Europe by bicycle was both exhilarating and a good way to get wet. Discovering she’d packed two pairs of rain pants and no jacket, she improvised with a “fashionable trash bag” until the sun came out again.
Rosie’s third quarter, and some of the fourth, she shared with Roger Wilson. During an interview in 2017 with a group of students from a nearby high school, Rosie was asked if she’d ever experienced a perfect day. “I think I’ve had many of them,” she replied. “I’ve lived a long time.” But if she had to choose, she said it would be the day she met Roger—“…strong, athletic and fearless …at five feet six (or five) he was the biggest small man I’d ever met.” They kept pace with each other through more than 25 years of marriage and could laugh in life’s worst moments (Roger, with his heart condition, hemorrhaging horribly on a toilet seat one night thought it might be a good time for a wink and a flirt: “Lookin’ good, kid,” he smiled at his nightgown-clad wife while she mopped up around him).
There is wisdom here, values learned through experience: that a frugal life can lead to great riches; that forgiveness “is important, and it is hard” and “…if you never speak up, nothing will change.”
“Nothing bad can happen to a writer,” says Philip Roth. “Everything is material.” Rosie’s material is sometimes sad, often funny and uniquely admirable. A slim volume of a life well-lived, a game well-played.