Dancing in the Streets

Last Winter (2011)

“I’m a really great dancer.” Grandpa said, rubbing his nose.  “They have dancing at uhh that place down the road that I like to ride my bike to.”

“Hithergreen?” I asked, already knowing the answer.

“Yep.”  He settled back, adjusting his hat.

“Well let’s go sometime Grandpa!” I smiled.  “I’d like to see these famous moves you’re always talking about.”  I did a few disco finger points and laughed.

“Well…I can do this one.” He was up out his chair, shuffling around in his socks.

I leaned against the counter, laughing.  It looked more like he was forming bumble bee mating patterns on the kitchen floor than dancing a waltz.

“You do a one-two.  A one-two.” He directed me, moving his socks along the floor, one toe peeking through a hole.

I clapped a bit as he did a turn, catching his balance mid-way on the counter.

“And ohhh…what is this one called.” He threw his arms up and took a few deep, long steps with his head thrown back.  The moves of the senior citizen tango.

“The tango.” I laughed.  “There isn’t any music though!  You have to have dramatic music for the tango Grandpa!”

“Not when it’s in here.” He patted his chest where his pace maker was as he lunged off into the laundry room.

Bob would have loved being a part of this: Senior Citizen Flash Mob

The Great Grandpa Capers

There’s a scene in the Romantic Comedy “You’ve Got Mail” where Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks are trying to guess what the “152” stands for in a mystery man’s screen name.

 “Mr. 152 Felony indictments…152 insights into my soul…He’s a hundred and fifty-two years old…He’s had one hundred and fifty-two moles removed, so now he’s got one hundred fifty-two pock marks on his face…”

Their random guessing using such vague clues mirrors the way my mom and I guess at what my grandpa’s trying to say, do, eat.  What are his motives?  What is he thinking?  If he is carrying around a bottle of ranch dressing, what is he really thinking?  It’s white, it’s from the fridge.  He probably wants a glass of milk.  Sometimes our guesses are practical; food?  relocation?  water?  bathroom?  Sometimes they’re dramatic; Are you mad? In pain? Trying to tell me you hate me?  But more often than not, we find ourselves (and our wild imaginations) creating a story that helps us with how he is behaving.    Whether as an explanation or self medicating with laughter, our versions are interpretations of my grandpa – based on years of (grand)daughterhood.

And so, as a twist away from the norm (because what is really normal these days) I give you Bob’s thoughts on the events of Wednesday, October 25th as interpreted by my mother and myself.

*BOOM*CRASH*BAM*
“Shit.  That had to have woken the dead.  Annnnnnnnnnd there’s blood.”  The right side of Bob’s body felt like it was made of cast iron, hot and heavy, weighing down his right leg, his words, his vision, his thoughts.

“Bob?!  Are you okay?” Destiny’s voice was tiny, faraway, hiding underneath the pain of the fall.

“Yes.” Bob grumbled.

“Did you fall?” He could hear her pressed against his bedroom door.

“Leave me alone.” He thought, collecting himself from the floor and trying to wipe the blood from his arm.  “NO.” He hollered back.  He was not going to let her see this mess.

The stairs creaked as she headed back down.  Bob slid through the door and hurried to the bathroom, locking the latch behind him.  As the water ran over his cuts he imagined Destiny finding the blood covered bedroom.  “Served her right.” He thought,  “Served them all right.  Why won’t they just leave him be?”  Sometimes, if he thought hard enough, he remembered why they were there.  Sometimes he couldn’t.  His left hand rubbed his bald head, the very thing he was trying to remember impeading his ability to do just that.

After 35 minutes his clothes were button, zipped and belted.

“Bob, let me see where you cut yourself!” Destiny pleaded as he entered the hallway.

He waved her away. “I’m fine.  I’m fine.” he thought, and stumbled past her.  “What a mess.  Are you hungry?  Do you want a cigar?  Time for bed?  I’m 85 – not 5.” he grumbled under his breath.

He could hear her on the phone.  Probably calling that man in the suits that keeps trying to sell him things.  He always comes over and sits in the blue chair and talks about options and choices and care.  “I don’t want to buy any of that.” Bob thought to himself.  “Gosh.” He said aloud.

He stumbled past the ground floor bathroom, then paused.  The wood floor was creaking as Destiny came down the hallway.

“Oh Bo-” He cut her off, locking the bathroom door in her face.

“I’ll just shave while I’m waiting for her to forget that I’m in here.” He thought, scooping up his razor and a can of shaving cream.  He pressed on the lid of the can.  Nothing happened.

*KNOCK*KNOCK*KNOCK*

“She’s gonna break down my door!” He thought.  “One minute!” He called, looking down at the can in his hand.  “What’s this?” He thought, and rattled the silver tube near his ear, pressing on the lid.  White foam spilled onto the counter.

“Bob!  Please!  Are you okay?!” She was worried, he could tell.  But she should just leave him alone.  He was doing just fine.

The foam continued to spill.  On the mirror, the counter, the bathmat.  Filling the sink, coating the toilet.

“Bob!  I want to make sure you’re okay!  Please!” She called.

“Leave me alone!” He mumbled, spreading the white foam around.  He scratched his 5 o’clock shadow.  “I need to shave.” He thought, surveying the damage and spreading the cream with his fingertips.

“Bob?  Bob?” *KNOCK*KNOCK*KNOCK*

“Yes?” He poked his head out of the door.

“Are you alright?” Destiny asked, examining the visible parts of his body as quickly as she could.

Bob slid through the door and stumbled down the hall, smiling to himself as he heard Destiny discovering the foam mess.

It would be another hour before Destiny was free from the foam fiasco to check on Bob.  She found him sitting silently in the family room, proudly smiling in his alone-ness.

*a few hours later*

Bob stretched his legs out on the couch, pleased with the water he had poured on the kitchen floor, that distracted Destiny for the remainder of her stay.  As he did, he noticed a man fiddling with the locks on the door leading to the garage.

Bob stumbled to the kitchen.  His daughter and the brunette caretaker, Heather, were chatting at the kitchen table.  “What is this man doing?” He tried to say, but his words blended together.  He pointed furiously at the door.

“Lunch?” Heather asked cheerily.

Bob shook his head and turned the kitchen door knob back and forth.

“We are having them all changed to the same key, dad.” His daughter said calmly, as though she were expecting this to happen for years.

“Why!?” He wanted to scream.  What were they doing to him?  Why won’t they just leave his house alone!?  Every day they are taking something out, putting something in.  People are always here.  Always coming and going and smiling and cooking and helping and cleaning.

He stood in the kitchen, watching the man change knobs and locks and keys from hand to hand until Heather took him out to the porch, and convinced him to have a cigar.  She was always trying to change his mind about this that or the other thing.  When she wasn’t looking he tried the knob.  It wouldn’t turn.  He hurried to the kitchen and tried the knob there.  It wouldn’t turn.  The red key-chain wasn’t hanging from the door anymore.  He was trapped.  His mind became a blur.  Heather was saying something about keeping him safe.  That he needed to wait for her to go anywhere.  That he was too sneaky.  Sneaky?  He just wanted to go on a walk.  Alone.  He tried to door again then sat fiercely on the couch, waiting for Heather to leave.

She was mopping in the small room outside near the washer and dryer.  He had just enough time to remove the screen from the window.  “Where was it I wanted to go?” He thought to himself as he pulled on the screen.  He couldn’t remember.  To buy cigars?  The grocery?  The screen came lose with ease.  His hands felt along the frame for sharp parts.  Not finding any, he began to lift himself into the window, just as Heather came around the corner.

“BOB!” She shouted.  “What are you doing!?”

He jumped, and hit his head on the window frame.  “I just have a bit farther.  And then I can get where I’m going.” He thought to himself, tightening his grip on the sill as Heather pulled on his waist.  “Where am I going?” He thought.  He clung to the brick, pieces falling under the pressure of his nails.  “The park?  The store?  To get a shave?” He thought, holding tighter.  She was saying things about coming down.  Trying to change his mind.  He couldn’t tell how long he’d been clinging there, but the next thing he knew, the man with all of the suits that tried to sell him things was helping Heather pull him down from the window.

“We need you to stay here.” He was saying, wrinkles around his eyes.  He was more friendly than the last time he saw him, but Bob knew he was nasty.  What sort of man would try to lock a grown man in his house and then try to sell him things.

Heather was soothing. “Now Bob, I don’t need you running off.  We like you here.  If you want to go somewhere, well I’ll just go with you!” She smiled.  She was always smiling.  It rarely helped but it was nice.

Bob pouted.  “I hate this.” He thought, crossing his leg and breaking eye contact with the man in the suit.  He found that if he looked away, his granddaughter or one of his children normally filled in the missing parts.  “When did they get so good at reading my mind?” He thought, staring out the window.

He drifted out, dreaming of snow and Labrador Retrievers and some sort of ginger bread cake.

“Grandpa….hey….hey it’s me.”

Mary was leaning over him with her hand on his arm, her brow furrowed.

“I heard you had a hard day.” She laughed, sitting on the edge of the cushion near his shoulder.

“Humph.” He grunted, coming out of the haze.

“I’m going to make you dinner now.” She said, as she always said when she came over.

Bob sat up and looked at his watch.  “Just about time for the 6 o’clock news.” He thought, as he watched Mary grab the remote and change the channel to PBS.  She was getting the hang of it.

“So…how about lamb.” She was saying, covering his toes with the blue afgan.

“Humph.” Bob replied again, scratching his head.  His eyes wandered over towards the window, where he had tried to escape earlier.

“No.” She said matter of factly.  “No windows, no shaving cream.  Nothing.  You’re staying right here.  Like it or not, we love you and you are going to stay right here and eat the lamb I make you and….and….like it!”

“When did she get so fierce?” Bob thought and turned toward her laughing.  “They were all starting to sound a lot like Nancy.  Bob this and Bob that.  Wipe your feet, wipe your mouth, close the door, sit down.”

She smiled.  “I’ll be in the kitchen cooking if you need me.”

He sat up and looked at his watch again, it was 6:15.

“I know.” She said, patting his arm, “I’ll be back in ten minutes.” She held 10 fingers up to his face, “TEN MINUTES and I’ll change the channel.”

“Good.”  He thought.  “I won’t need to cause any more distractions for the evening.”  He settled back on the couch and let the jumble of words from the TV set pour over his ears.  Words like “Dow, Afghanistan, Kardasian” rolled around his brain as he closed his eyes.  “Good.” He thought.

 

Last Pair of Shoes

Note: It becomes increasingly difficult to write about my grandpa as his condition worsens.  On the one hand, our conversations are limited to a few grunts and a couple painful games of charades, and on the other hand, I just don’t have the energy to come up with anything witty, heartfelt or worthwhile.  Over the last month my grandpa’s mobility has diminished, his words have faded and his thoughts have become as jumbled as the newspapers on his coffee table.  As a general rule, his condition is expected and we as a family are well prepared, understanding, and armed.  As individuals, however, we are weak, confused and hoping for more time.

I take pride in our resilience.  It can be found in my mom’s courage when my Grandpa yells, or in my aunt’s “nurse’s face” when she’s forced to help her father put on a clean pair of pants.  Dealing with these changes is hard, and preparing for the ultimate change, even harder.  I have an entertaining story up my sleeve somewhere.  It involves shaving cream, and window escapes.  But today, that’s not the one I feel like telling.

So this note, is just that.
Note: I am trying to deal.

Note: It is hard.  It is sad.

And Note: In case you want to avoid it, this isn’t one with shaving cream and window escapes.

 

 

Grandpa has taken to falling.  I joked with him, as I pulled the end table off his right arm and collected him out of the Christmas tree that he does it for the attention.  He laughed at me and climbed onto the couch.

“Please Grandpa.  Stay here.” I begged, holding his hands in my lap and forcing him to look me in the face.  I rubbed his chest, trying to slow his breathing.  “I’ll always help you up if you need.  Please, you have to let me help you.”

He looked at me sadly.  I new the fall had to have hurt, though maybe more his pride than anything else.

 

The next day he seemed agitated by my presence.  I assumed he was embarrassed, but we haven’t had the conversation directly.  He waved me off when I tried to help him from the couch, ignored the lunch I placed in front of him and continually tried to leave whichever room I was in.

He wandered into the kitchen away from me and I let him open the front door, but stopped him as he ran into the screen.

“If you want to go outside Grandpa, we have to put on some shoes.”

He stared at me blankly and ran once more into the screen door, reminding me of those strange birds that continually fly at their reflections in the window.  I picked up a shoe and waved it in his face.

“Shoes!” I shouted.

He pulled out a chair and sat down.

I crouched down on the floor and shoved his left foot into a shoe.  The right foot, the side that is effected most by the tumor, was more difficult.  He handed me a shoe horn.  I looked at it, turning it over in my hands carefully but couldn’t figure out how it worked.  Grumbling, he put it back on the table and we squeezed his foot into his shoe the old fashioned way.  After I wrapped him in a coat, tied a scarf around his neck and found a hat, we tackled the step.

It’s just one step, but it’s a big one.  Brick and menacing.  It might as well be a cliff the way it hangs outside his front door and prevents anyone  who is walking impaired from proceeding.  After a waltz of teetering and pausing, shifting and supporting, guiding and finally stepping, we were on the driveway.  Once outside he scooted along quickly, leaning heavily on my arm and dragging his right foot.

“It’s beautiful outside, isn’t it?” I breathed deeply.  “Fall smells like leaves, doesn’t it?”

He stopped, looked down at me and shook his head.  “I guess we aren’t talking.” I mumbled.

We continued about three houses down in silence.  Me grimacing beneath his 6 foot frame, Grandpa hobbling like a witch in a fairy tale and ignoring my attempts at conversation.  On the third house he stopped, using my arm as a tether, he turned like a horse in a pony ride until he was facing back towards home.

After this hour and a half ordeal, I sighed as a slumped down in the chair across from him, preparing to reverse the shoes, coat, scarf and hat.  He shook his head and began to stand.  Before he could fall, once again, into the Christmas tree I grabbed his elbow, gripping tighter as he tried to shake me off.

“Grandpa.” I said, determined to keep my hold.

“Nonono.” He shook my arm.

“Bob.  STOP THAT.” I stared into his face.

He looked down at me.

“Grandpa.” I was quieter now.  “You have to let me help you.  Please.”

He sat back down, looking away from me in defiance.

I don’t know what came over me.  I wasn’t annoyed, or agitated with his behavior, but wasn’t going to settle for it.
“Get up.” I demanded. “We aren’t doing this.”  I took hold of his arm and helped him off the couch.  It’s the worst kind of couch for someone who has difficulty standing.  When you sit in it, you sink into it like water, the leather cushions sliding against each other until you end up awkwardly squeezed into a crack between two of them.

After a bit of a struggle, I guided him down the hall to the porch.  Flipping on the space heater, I settled him into a chair.  He looked at me, pouting, as I rifled through his box of tapes.

“Now, I know it’s hard.” I told him, “But you’re just going to have enjoy yourself today.”

I pulled out a tape labeled “Jazz #52”.  For as long as I can remember, my grandpa has been taping music from the radio and those free music stations on T.V.  I slid it into the tape deck and reverted back to 7th grade as I figured out how to rewind an audio cassette.

Finally, the saxophone began to echo off the walls, as high as the volume would allow, rattling the windows and vibrating under my feet.  My grandpa mistakenly threw me a lopsided smile, forgetting for a brief second that he was trying to make me leave.

“There.” I thought.  “Bliss.”

Not tempting fate, I returned a quick smile and turned away, the closest thing to privacy I was going to allow on this particularly wobbly day.
We sat like that for awhile.  He rocked in the wicker chair and I stared out the window at the leaves blowing around the yard, thinking.

I found my mind wandering back to a couple of years ago when I taught a session to a group of 5th graders who were dealing with a death of a classmate.  As part of the therapy, we watched a clip from Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium, a movie about an eccentric toy store owner who has decided it is his time to pass.  “I’m leaving.” Mr. Magorium says to his accountant.  “The store?” His accountant asks.  “The world.” Mr. Magorium replies and then continues, matter of factly, “You see these shoes?  I found these in a tiny little shop in Tuscany and fell in love with them so entirely I bought enough to last my *whole life*….These are my last pair.”  The kids responded well to the clip, gathering insight from each other about what Mr. Magorium meant about his last pair of shoes.  They began to share their personal stories.  They sat together, hugged one another, and cried over their loss, finding comfort in this story of a fictional man, just barely tangent to their own lives.  (A very poor YouTube video of this clip can be found here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OKj7i7RprqQ )

The sun was beating through the window, warming my arms.  It’s a wonder, I thought to myself, the things that help us understand.  Our lives are littered with personal examples of beauty and truth, but we continually turn to these outside sources to make sense of them all.  And I’ve noticed that we humans particularly like to use texts to verbalize what our hearts can’t turn to words.  Christians turn to scripture when they need guidance.  Teenagers turn to lyrics when they are heartbroken.  Recently single moms turn to the Oprah Winfrey book list (or the nutritional facts on a bottle of wine) when they need hope.  The words of someone else always find a way to say it right.

A quiet melody brought me back to reality, barely audible over the blare of the jazz tape.  I turned and smiled, with tears and with acceptance.  The words of someone else making sense of what I saw.

It was quiet, but it was in tune.  My grandpa sat, humming along to the sounds of Coltrane with his eyes closed, happily tapping his last pair of shoes on the floor.

Grandpa Magoo

“I think you underestimate my sneakiness. I am very very sneaky.”
– Mr. Deeds

My grandpa has always been a smart man.  He made a stable living, supported four kids and a wife, invested his savings into promising stocks (like “apples” – i.e. Apple), bought reliable cars, always paid for warranties, and insured every inch of his life.  But Grandpa has never really been known as particularly cunning; never been considered a think tank.

Case in point: Once when my sister and I were very young, we pulled into the driveway with my Grandpa, covered in mud from head to toe, towing a brand new black Labrador in the back of the van.  My grandpa had found the dog lounging on the side of the road and promptly decided to save the poor stray.

“Where did you get the dog?” my Grandma demanded, her skinny hands grasping her hips.

“It was lost!” He replied proudly.  “We saved it!” I shook my head, ensuring my Grandma knew I had absolutely nothing to do with this.

“Well it has a collar.” Grandma discovered, relieved.  “I’m calling the owner.”

Just twenty minutes later, our new dog’s, old owner came rolling into the drive.  “Where did you find him?” The stout lady asked, gratefulness and cleavage overflowing from above her neckline.

“Well it’s funny,” Grandpa told her, “Right along the edge of Hollybrooke Drive, near the curve.  He was just playing in the grass.  Good thing I drove by when I did!”

The lady blinked.  My Grandma covered her mouth to hide a smile.

“That’s my front yard.” The woman told my grandpa, closing the door of her truck with force.  “You took him.  You took him from my front yard.”

We watched her bob down the hill, hiding our giggles in the sleeves of our muddy jumpers.

“Baab…” my Grandma laughed, “You’re so DENSE!”  She smacked his back lovingly, as the stout little lady returned home with her stolen property.

And that’s what we have always expected from my Grandpa.  A loving, caring, dense old man who was sure to show you a good time, but who you could never count on to find his way home.  He tipped every canoe he paddled, he drove 40 mph in a 40 kmph zone and could barely contain his shock when we told him he drives like an old man.  He lets 3 year olds bait a fishing hook, gives chewing gum to kindergarteners, and has been known for tracking mud across every clean white floor in the tri-state area.  As I said before, he has always been smart in a prepared and pleasant to be around kind of way, but reason, sensibility and planning have been left on the back burner for quite some time.

Until now.

Weeks ago, my mom made the decision to take my Grandpa’s car keys.  As could be expected, all hell broke loose.  He threw every weapon in his artillery at mom; anger, yelling, silent treatment, pouting, arguing, reasoning, and even the occasional blackmailing.

And then Thursday night, my Grandpa calls my mom breaking weeks of the silent treatment.

“I can’t find the deeds.” Came through the other end of the line.

“The deeds?” my mom asked.

“Yes.  Can you please come help me?”

My Grandpa was pacing the kitchen by the time my mom arrived.  He had emptied out every basket, cabinet, and bread box, looking for something.
My mom evaluated the situation.  “Do you mean your keys?”  She asked, worried she would have to remind him he is no longer allowed to drive.  It’s a never ending battle we choose to avoid whenever possible.

“No!” He shook his head furiously, “What I’m looking for…what it is…well I use them at the cur!”  He exclaimed, making up words or possibly borrowing them from a German dictionary, “You take them and put them in and other people use them.  Sometimes he writes on them.”  His ability to be completely and utterly vague is really astonishing.

My mom carefully watched him draw across the air when his words failed him.  “Your checks, Dad?” She held out the check book we had taken from the bread box earlier that week.

His shoulders relaxed and he slumped down in his chair.  A wave of relief passed through his eyes.  “Oh thank you!  Thank you so much!  There it is!”  He hugged my mom and sighed, exhausted from worry.

Pleased, my mom returned home.  “We can let him keep his check book if it helps.” She told me later, “What can it hurt?  If something goes wrong, we can just cancel it or something.”  What could go wrong indeed.

The next morning, my mom arrived at her usual time to put my Grandpa’s Exelon patch on.  “I’m hereeeeee.” She called into the quiet house.
There was rustling coming from the pink hall bathroom.  She followed the sound and found my Grandpa in a war zone of pumps and chains and levers.  The entire contents of the toilet were spread out over the counter tops and throw rug.

“DAD!” She exclaimed, “What did you do?”

“It’s funny,” he replied, “I’m not sure what’s wrong with it.”

“It’s disassembled.”  She thought to herself, “THAT’S what’s wrong with it.  You took it apart.”  But she stayed quiet.  After all, at least he was holding a some-what reasonable conversation with her that didn’t involve the return of “his engines”.

“Ok,” she said after some thought, “I’ll have Jim come by and see if he can fix it.”

“Who?” he asked, turning around hopefully.

“Your son.  Jim.”

“Oh…ok.”  He wandered from the bathroom and flipped on the television, acting casual.  My mom surveyed the damage.  The bathroom looked as though someone was attempting to construct a bomb.  The scene was odd, and his behavior even more so, bordering on suspicious even.  But how do you judge what is abnormal when dinner conversation normally includes a discussion about “the sisters he met while transferring down the train tracks after lunch”?

Now whether or not these preceding events were connected to what followed just an hour later, we will never know.  With hindsight being 20/20, there are some of us who think he used the toilet as a distraction, to confuse his enemy like a suicide bomber.  Sometimes you have to sacrifice an asset for the good of the cause.  Others think he was plotting his next move since the recovery of his check book and renewal of monetary power.  And then of course it’s also quite possible that he just randomly took a shot in the dark and landed on a truly genius idea.
However much preparation went into his plan of attack, there is no one that can deny the sneakiness.  It was the D-Day of this war.  He snuck up on us from the water when we were looking the other way, at the disassembled toilet.

Heather, my Grandpa’s new home health care professional, was the first line of defense for “Team Family”.  She arrived an hour after my mom left and found my Grandpa in the driveway with a serviceman from AAA.  The gentleman was elbow deep in the guts of my Grandpa’s car, attempting to hotwire the vehicle for the nice man who so unfortunately “lost his keys”.  If I have ever doubted the security or benefits of being a Triple A member, I doubt it no longer.  They really will do just about anything to get you moving again, save buying you a whole new car.
No one spoke for a minute.  Grandpa kicked the doorstep, knowing he was in trouble.  The Triple A serviceman continued to work.

Heather broke the silence.  “You can’t do this.  You’re not allowed to drive!”  She dialed her boss, who promptly arrived, just as my Grandpa, frustrated that his plan had been foiled and “the fruit” had showed back up at his house, took off on his bike.

“Follow him.” Heather’s boss directed.  “See where he goes.”

Grandpa wobbled along on his bike, darting across streets, diving in front of traffic and whipping around corners (helmet not included) all the way to the Senior Center to play bridge.   Somehow, just like Mr. Magoo, he somehow made it alive and unharmed, most likely leaving wreckage, chaos and carnage behind him.

Luckily we know a guy, who knows a guy, who works at Triple A and said that this would never happen again and quite honestly told us that it probably should never have happened in the first place.
The moral of this story?  Taking the keys from a senior citizen isn’t enough.  They can’t be fooled.  Even if they regularly steal dogs from people’s front yards, watch the news 3 times in a row and keep their personal belongings in the bread box.  Those old people, they are a different kind of smart than us.  Street smart.  Must be because they never had Google.

Aged Whiskey

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:
http://www.alz.org/alzheimers_disease_10_signs_of_alzheimers.asp