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WOSTER: The ups, downs of growing older

The upside of growing older is being alive. The downside is parts wearing out on a body that long ago outlived the warranties that accompanied it into the world.

Almost every day recently, I've had moments of reflection -- sometimes early in the morning, sometimes in the middle of a discussion at work, sometimes late in the night when sleep is playing hard to get -- during which I'm almost overwhelmed at the simple fact of having been allowed to live as long as I have and of having known the joys of a large family and a few close friends. I think of those moments as my "recognizing good fortune'' periods, and I'm not ashamed to tell you they sometimes take my breath away.

There is much to be said for living with an attitude of gratitude, especially for one who has much about which to be grateful. My better nature understands and appreciates that.

I offer those serious thoughts to set up my reflections on the business of outliving the warranty on the body. I've outlived two shoulder joints already -- and a prostate, if you count having had it removed during cancer surgery an instance of a part wearing out. (That surgery, by the way, was 19 years ago this month, and I've had not a hint of recurrence.)

Perhaps what I'd like is one of those extended warranty deals I'm always offered when I buy a new car. The vehicle comes with some kind of crazy X-years, X-thousand miles warranty on a bunch of stuff, but a buyer can pick up some additional coverage for some additional cost. Sometimes, a few years after I've owned a vehicle, I get a flurry of letters offering me the extended warranty again -- or some version of it. I've never compared those offers to see if they're at all like the original. I only know they're telling me to sign up and continue my coverage for another bunch of thousands of miles.

I never do that, although Nancy and I are probably just the kind of car owners who might actually benefit from extended warranties. We tend to drive them forever, once we purchase them. My current pickup is 10 years old, and I'm hoping it will outlast me. But since there's no warranty on my parts, I'm not extending the warranty on my truck.

About the only thing we keep around longer than our vehicles are our kids. We've had three. Each of them came new, straight from the factory, and we kept each around for 20-plus years.

None of the kids came with a warranty. Had we known then what we learned during our time of having kids around, we might have considered an extended warranty against broken hearts and bruised spirits.

Unlike our vehicles, none of the kids came with an owner's manual, which actually might have been a good reference book for a couple of new parents. Think of it. You go to the hospital for a day or so, and they send you home with a newborn baby. "There you go. Have a great life,'' they say as they smile you out the door.

When I closed the deal on my current pickup, the sales guy, Marv, wouldn't let me drive it off the lot before he had me sit in the driver's seat while he ran me through a mess of the features in some detail. He also assured me that everything he was telling me was also in the owner's manual (which he made sure I knew how to find there in the cab.)

To be fair, when we had our first child, we went out and bought a sort of do-it-yourself maintenance book written by a guy named Dr. Spock. It had some pretty good information, but it didn't have all the answers. The best thing we had going for us was Nancy's nursing education. She knew a lot, and that made up for me not knowing anything. The kids turned out OK.

I guess the real upside of growing older is being around as those kids grow older.