Old People

I’ve decided that overall, I really, really like old people. Not for their famously crotchety selves (although that is a lot of fun, sometime), or the way they just don’t seem to get past things that happened twenty years ago. But the stories … wow. The stories of not only the glory days of the past, but the interesting things those experiences have spawned in the present.

I have this friend … let’s call her Dee. Dee is a drop-dead gorgeous eighty (yeah, I said 80) something year old who lost her husband to cancer almost two years ago. She has been overwhelmed by sadness (they spent sixty some years together), and it’s been a long road. She’s held onto her faith, and her sense of humor. She has told me stories of how her husband still takes care of her from beyond, and her honesty and integrity move me.

I see her the other day, giggling and gushing like a twelve-year old. At a recent family function, she ran into an old (hee, hee, hee) friend. “I had a crush on him for six years when I was a teenager,” she says.  They became reacquainted recently, and now her beau (86, for those of you wondering) has spent every day with her over the last month.

He tells her, “At our age, Honey, we don’t know how many we have left. We gotta take advantage of every moment.” He’s working on building her a new house to start their “new” life together.

And I sit back in wonderment, thinking I really am still just a kid.

Or, these two crazy ladies I spent some time with last night. We had a gathering of the senior citizens in our church. I make soup (feelin’ a little reoccurring theme) and they love it (easy on the dentures, you know!), and give me lots of positive feedback. Anyway …

My dad came down to visit, and went with us to this gathering. He’s eight-one, by the way, and a handful. He’s lead a — ah — colorful life, and the older he gets, the more free he is with stories of his youth. Needless to say, he leans over to me at the dinner table and says, “This probably isn’t the right crowd to tell … ” a certain story.

Everything in me screams, “Yes! Tell the story and see what happens.” Then I glanced over to my husband, already worried that Dad and I are whispering. “Probably not,” comes out of my mouth instead. “But you can tell the story about…” which gets Dad going.

Back to these other ladies. Basically, my dad starts flirting with them. Dad says, “How old are those two old girls over there? They’re holding up pretty good.” Translated — they’re cute, and I’m pretty sure they’re within my age range to do some serious flirting.

“I don’t know, Dad, but I’ll ask.” The whole awkwardness with asking a woman’s age ends somewhere between bi-focals and menopause, to the best of my understanding.  I do, and them come out to be 83 and 86 — I was thinking, ten years younger on both. I mean, these ladies are gracefully beautiful, and oh, so feisty. Throughout the night, I watch them trade stories with my dad, and also notice the way they flash their eyes at him, smile appropriately, and even shyly glance and glance away.

They tell me, “It’s been tough to get older. We feel like we’ve slowed down so much.” Let me say right here that both of these ladies tire me out when I watch them work. My son mowed a fairly large yard for one of them last summer, and she had said, “I could do it myself, but my son won’t let me,” and I tell you what, I’ve no doubt in my mind she was lying.

My almost 78 year old, cancer-ridden father in law leaves for India — again — in two weeks. The last time we moved, a man who was 77 left the rest of us in the dust, and was only slightly slowed down last winter when he broke his leg doing something he shouldn’t have been doing, but is now “back to full strength,” he tells me. We have another friend near seventy who just hiked Mount Kilimanjaro last spring, and my dad tricked out his van a couple of years back and still camps by himself up in the mountains of Kentucky and Tennessee. In fact, he’s headed down there tomorrow, going to pick up his 94 year old first cousin, and they’re going to do a bit of sight seeing and visiting “while Ruth is still sharp and can enjoy it,” says Dad.

All this to say that I no longer believe my life is on the downward slope, my friends. I know not all old people are like this. But I have an abundance of senior citizens in my life that make me realize it’s only just begun. Honestly. They provoke me to better health and exercise, because I want to be one of those smooth grandmama’s still riding a motorcycle at seventy, and flirting with men a third of my age. I want to bake good cookies and knit, mind you, but I’d like to do it on a sail boat, exploring the Caribbean Islands, on the look out for Johnny Depp.

These men and woman make me smile. And despite all the negativity they can carry with them from years of wear and tear, if you get them telling stories and surround them with other vibrant, fully-living people their own age and younger, you see a beauty and a depth that we, as a society, tend to downplay and ignore.

Not me. I like old people. And I find them refreshing, and fascinating, and challenging, and — dare I say it? Fun. I plan to enjoy every step along my journey of getting there myself.

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