There are two things that I look forward to about becoming a Senior Citizen in Ohio.
1) The Golden Buckeye Discount: According to the Ohio Department of Aging, Ohioans have saved over $2 billion using their Golden Buckeye Cards since 1976. That’s a lot of dough.
2) Unconditional love.
Aside from the road rage you occasionally see encircling the 1996 Buick Century driving 25 mph on the freeway, most people adore the elderly. I suppose I may be lying about “most people” but I know that at least I do. Old people are odd, I’ll give them that, but in a way, it’s incredibly endearing.
There was an old man who used to come to the restaurant I worked at every other Sunday, like clockwork. His name was Mr. Smalls. He smelled like cigar smoke and peppermints, insisted on sitting in the same spot (table 55 near the door) and ordering the same thing. Every single time. He was grumpy and rude, and acted like he knew better than you did about anything and everything. But the thing was, 9 times out of 10, he probably did know better. And he was old and lonely and from time to time said something hilarious like, “In my day, women weren’t allowed to wear slutty clothes like that” as he pointed to a possible hooker at the host stand. So, because we found all of those things simultaneously annoying and adorable, we served him with a smile, jumped through hoops to make his dinner as perfect as possible and always had table 55 waiting .
Of course, he was also an ESD (Elderly Single Diner). Those are a rare and depressing breed. They brave the pain of solidarity and widowerism for that one meal that they just cannot live without, though of course they bring their newspapers and their paperback romances to keep them company. Those ESD’s, they always, without fail, tug at my heart strings.
I may be alone on this, but I just genuinely get a kick out of old people. Maybe I hold a special place in my heart for the aged and wrinkly because I spent the better part of my toddler years following one around like a puppy dog. Or maybe it’s because I watched Darkwing Duck escort one too many old ladies across a busy street before flying off to save the world. Whatever the reason, I love me some old people.
On the ride to my grandpa’s the other day, I passed an old couple waiting on the bus. I was stopped at a red light right as the bus pulled up to the curb. The old man stood and reached to help his wife to her feet. She bobble a bit and fell back on the bench, laughing hysterically. The old man hitched up his pants by the belt loop, adjusted his horn rimmed glasses and tried again with two hands, a huge grin spreading across his face. Again she fell back on the bench, tears rolling down her face in amusement. Finally, a young man with a skateboard gave a helping hand, but their laughter never stopped, even as they slowly hobbled onto the bus, canes in hand. I grinned the entire way to my grandpa’s, in amusement, in jealousy and in admiration. Of both their love for life and their enjoyment of each other.
Not two days later I passed a police car parked up on the grass. I did the obligatory speedometer check and sighed in relief as I braked at the stop sign. As I slyly peeked out my window at the cop I noticed in bright orange letters painted on the side of the car: “Volunteer”. Inside sat a man who couldn’t have been younger than 80 ( and who, I might add, was a dead ringer for Jack Nicholson), eyes wide, both hands on the gun, tracking speeds that flashed in warning beside him as the traffic pushed towards home. There was no doubt in my mind that that was a check mark on that man’s bucket list.
I suppose that’s what being old is really about; enjoying each other, fulfilling your dreams, putting things in order, and relaxing enough to make the 50 calendar’s worth of time spent working, worth while. Maybe it’s this peaceful agenda that makes those elder ones so endearing.
I really think that they are all generally alike, those geezers. Whether they have blue hair, black hair, white hair, grey hair, curly hair, straight hair, red hair or no hair, they are all generally the same. They take naps holding fishing poles, teach their grandkids ridiculous jokes, take too many vacations, cook the best cakes, let you lick the spoon, play bridge in their neighbor’s kitchen and cheer when they win a dollar. They tell their deepest secrets to their hair dressers and barbers, drink liquor straight up, keep all their receipts in filing cabinets in the attic, throw quilts on furniture that needs reupholstering, smell like tobacco and shampoo and grab you too hard when they want you to listen. And listen we should, because they have years of wisdom and hardship and grade A scotch behind those eyes. They know more than we will ever know. That is, of course, unless we listen.
So here is where I make a plug. Though, this isn’t a plug for me or for my blog or for a teaching job. This is a plug for the old, the tired (though this time not for the poor or those huddled masses).
Whether the elderly one in your life is your mom, your sister, your grandpa, your uncle or your dog, there is never a day so short that you simply can not find time for them. Of course they are odd, of course they are finicky, of course (most humans excluded) they drool. Of course they are going to lecture you to sit up straight, drink your milk and stop fidgeting. (And I’m sorry, this won’t even stop when your 54.) Maybe it’s inconvenient to stop by, or maybe you’re worried it will lower your self esteem 6 notches to be criticized, or maybe you’re just avoiding that big sloppy kiss that comes right before you leave. Whatever the reason, it’s inconsequential. Because these are the people who drove you to ballet, scrubbed the dirt out of your scrapes, can their fruit for you every fall, write you checks every birthday, buy you sweaters that are hideous, donate to charities you love and always remember how you take your coffee. They love you unconditionally, and without pause. They adore hearing about your life, even if they can’t actually hear.
Of the roughly 39 million of people in the United States over the age of 65, somewhere around 5 million have Alzheimer’s. These 5 million still make their weekly trip to the beauty parlor, still buy their favorite cigars, still attend bridge parties, hold their grand babies, secretly break their diabetic diets, ride their bikes and still eat at table 55 every second Sunday. There isn’t a cure for Alzheimer’s (yet), but there is a mentality that you can subscribe to, and that is rooted in support.
You can support those little wise cracking, soup slurping, wrinkly old people who for years have taught you life lessons and lovingly pinched your cheeks raw, by taking a cue from Bing Crosby and trying a little tenderness. You can support them by taking them to dinner with their Golden Buckeye card, popping in with a jigsaw puzzle, joining them for their daily dose of As the World Turns, and paying attention.
Visit the old person in your life today, tomorrow, Maunday, Tuesday, Thursday, Wednesday. I promise you’ll have a good time and I swear that it will be riot, if you let it. Because like whiskey, people just get better with age.
You can find the 10 warning signs of Alzheimer’s here: