Just How Old is Too Old?
By Ann Boutcher
If 60 is the new 30 then what pray tell is 90? Or better yet, at what point do we accept that our mind might just be younger than our body? That our reflexes are simply not what they used to be or that we will likely fall asleep before the end of any movie airing later than dinner time. Don’t get me wrong. Aging gracefully is a good thing and it sure beats the alternative. But are we aging gracefully? As baby boomers start to grapple with our own age limitations we are faced with another more daunting problem….our aging parents. They are part of The Greatest Generation. The ones who got through The Great Depression….fought in the War to end all Wars and are now living longer than any generation before them….and still thinking they can do anything.
For the last 30 years my sister’s house, which is at the halfway mark on the 50 mile each way commute between work and home has been my evening pit stop. Once there I get my much needed daily dose of ‘family’ …especially from my two nephews. I have participated in baby bubble baths, first steps, first words, sixth grade history dioramas, prom night, college term papers and “Godmother, I’ve met this girl”.
Last night I breezed in as usual racing by the family as I ran to the bathroom. Seconds later I heard my brother in law yell, “Ann someone’s hit your brand new car!” We streamed out of the house like delta force commandos ready to do battle – my brother in law, sister, one nephew and my 80+ year old mom who was there because one day a week she volunteers in my sister’s kindergarten class….talk about 80 being the new 50!
As we were running I could swear I heard calliope music in the deepest recesses of my mind, providing background for the circus that I knew would be unfolding in front of me. If I’ve learned anything in my years on the planet it’s that I can’t make my life up! As we hit the street the offending vehicle made a U turn up the block and slowly headed back down. The five of us formed a rather odd looking human road block as a brand new $50,000+ Jaguar coasted to a stop where we stood. Harrumph, I thought, stupid and rich!
I admit we were not quite prepared for the confused and upset 90 year old man behind the wheel who materialized as the window rolled down. He looked at me and said “Sweetie, can you tell me where I am?” “In my worst nightmare, I quipped sarcastically. We holstered our weapons and stood down (just kidding) as our anger melted into concern for this obviously distressed soul.
“What’s your name I asked?” Turns out his last name is the same as my father’s first. At the mere mention of my dad’s name, my mom crossed herself and my sister and I exchanged furtive glances. We come from a long line of superstitious Sicilians that don’t believe in coincidences. None of us had any doubt that somehow were destined to meet this man.
He got out of the car slowly and we steered him to the sidewalk so he would be out of harms’ way. I asked if we could call someone, he said no, he would take care of this himself. His resolve reminded me of some of the old ones in our family. How they hang on to independence until the very last second. He would have bolted had his front tire not gone flat before our eyes and he was as deflated as that tire by the time the police arrived.
He told me he would take care of this and offered me a hundred bucks on the spot! My father would have done the same. My father always thought there was nothing that couldn’t be fixed with a hundred bucks…I’d bet this guy was a mover and shaker in his day. It was chilly and he was getting cold. He needed the bathroom and my brother in law gently led him inside so he could use theirs. My sister put up tea. Their home is one of those old fashioned places where you can always get a hot cup of coffee, something to eat and a sympathetic ear to hear your story. When the police arrived they were annoyed that they were called for a fender bender but then became as concerned as we were when they realized the driver’s age and upset. Tea with three sugars for the officer.
The precincts computers were down so it took a long time to get the report written. During the process the man’s son arrived with a friend to get his father home. By then we were all in the dining room getting to know each other. He joined us at the table his obvious confusion turning to embarrassment and a little shame – – I guess wondering what we thought of him letting his 90 year old dad out alone at night. When his dad wandered off to watch a little TV (I am not kidding), he looked at us and said “you don’t know what it is like” and as one we answered “Oh yes we do!”
Our family is also blessed with good ‘old’ genes. My grandfather made it to 92 and we have aunts and uncles in their mid 90’s and one very close to 100. Unfortunately, more than once we have had to take the keys away and each of us who have done it say it is worse than the pain of standing at their graveside. There is no easy way. The elders equate it with the total loss of their independence. You have to dig deep to find the compassion to do it without destroying them….and compassion is often in short supply when we are juggling our own careers and families and all the stupid things that make us crazy.
My grandparents knew how to age. They worked hard and with their hands…often 7 days a week. When it came time to retire they embraced their new lives. Playing bocce on the courts under the Triboro Bridge in Astoria..waiting for us to get out of school at the bar across the street and then after a beer for him and a Coke for us, walking us home. Telling stories of amazing lives in the old country. Teaching us to make wine and cook. Reminding us that family and tradition matter. Will we do the same for our children and grandchildren?
Our parents are struggling with aging and in many ways so are we. Perhaps it is time we all took a page from the ‘grand’s book. Accept that it is OK to get old. It is OK to have someone help. It is not the end of the world when you can no longer drive. Before long someone will be thinking it’s time to take the keys away from us…..Let’s hope they do it with compassion and leave us with our dignity.
Oh and the saga does not end….$2,700 in damage to my brand new car…the mirror is on backorder until January so my fancy- dancy, heated, rotating and blind spot warning mirror has been replaced by a Crazy Glued shell of its old self that is duct taped to the door….and just for grins…my new friend and his family will be joining us this holiday season….hopefully one of the younger ones.
Ann Boutcher has a knack for finding insights and humor in everyday moments. Until now, her published writing has been limited to work, but now, thanks to this wonderful opportunity as a guest editor, the world will get to witness firsthand her humor, life experiences and the gift of gab she brings to the pages of The Three Tomatoes.