by Joanie Butman
To those of you who read Butman’s Bomb last week, my father-in-law’s bomb-dropping days are far from over as he is infamous for his explosive cocktail hour comments – spontaneous combustion of a different sort. I’ve nicknamed his impromptu observations cherry bombs because they are usually served over drinks. They are his secret to igniting lively conversation and the incendiary device of choice for many people of a certain age. Before he handed me the manuscript I discussed last week, I toyed with the idea of writing a book called Cocktails with the Colonel highlighting the most memorable jaw-dropping Paulisms. But, as I am sure you are well aware, his is not a unique eccentricity. Age affords people a liberty to speak more frankly than the rest of us without consequence. Getting a free pass to say whatever is on your mind seems to be society’s compensation for the loss of so much else.
Consequently, I needed to broaden the scope of my focus group. Hence, my idea for a new reality show, Straight Talking Grannies. It will be a combination of Kids Say the Darndest Things and Mr. Magoo, a cartoon character from my youth. For those of you who don’t remember the lovable Mr. Magoo, he is a “short-statured retiree who gets into a series of comical situations as a result of his nearsightedness, compounded by his stubborn refusal to admit the problem.” Sounds eerily familiar to many folks I know, though nearsightedness is the least of their problems. However, a refusal to accept the limitations that come with age appears to be universal.
Anyone with aging parents or who are aging themselves (sometimes both as in my case) will testify to the hilarious moments that occur in the daily course of life. Even at 54 I am already showing signs of what’s to come as I recently tried to change the TV channel with the cordless phone. In my defense, it was dark and there were too many devices strewn on the table. Still, I have a long way to go, I hope, before I find myself attempting to heat my coffee in a hotel safe as my mother did thinking it was the microwave. She only realized her mistake when she couldn’t get it out. Housekeeping must have wondered what was so special about that cup of coffee that the previous guest felt it needed protecting.
Visits with my parents often feel like one long game of telephone and just as much fun. There are always as least three conversations going on concurrently: the one I think I’m having, the one my dad is having and the one my mom is having – but we are all talking to each other. It’s like a senior Mad Lib, where non sequiturs reign supreme, and any screening mechanism has long been forgotten or ignored. How we manage to continue this concurrent conversation and arrive at some semblance of communication is nothing short of miraculous. Let’s just say, we laugh a lot.
In reality, there is nothing funny about aging, and choosing to keep your joy and sense of humor while facing the myriad of issues that ensue is definitely a challenge. But is there really another option? Yes, I’ve seen it and wouldn’t recommend it. There are plenty of curmudgeons around to illustrate the downside of NOT choosing to age gracefully.
On the other hand, I met two Golden Girls this summer that I want to emulate if I am lucky enough to reach old age. Turning into Dunkin Doughnuts one morning, I was forced to wait while they slo-o-o-o-wly crept past the front of my car. I watched them shuffle along, occasionally asking for directions, and wondered where they could be headed. When I came out, they hadn’t made much progress. My curiosity piqued, I pulled over and asked if they needed a ride. If they could have, they would have jumped for joy – they blessed me instead. I got them in the car and threw their walkers in the back. They informed me they were going to town – a long walk for an able-bodied person, a death march for these two. One couldn’t see, the other could barely hear, and neither could walk so well, BUT I loved their spirit of adventure. As they reminded me, at their age, every day is an adventure. They had taken the train (assuming it would leave them off in the center of town) to have lunch by the ocean. Just two girlfriends out for some shopping and lunch. I got so attached to these adorable ladies in our short ride, I offered to pick them up and bring them home. “Nonsense, we’ll figure it out. We always do. Just point us in the right direction.” As my Texan friend would say, “Bless their hearts.” Now, they could have walked right into the ocean for all I know, but I didn’t see anything in the police blotter; and yes, I checked.
We’re all headed in the same direction. It isn’t our choice as to when we leave – only how we choose to arrive: sliding into home with a smile on your face or kicking and screaming with your fists shaking at the indignity of it all. Easy for me to say as I am not living it yet. I agree, but I hope when the time comes I can still choose to find a dose of humor and joy in every day regardless of my failing mind and body.
Oh, and one more thing, I’m keeping notes on some things I want to get off my chest for my senior blog – stay tuned.
Author's Note: Following is response from my mom I thought you'd enjoy. "Loved it Joan. Just one mistake. I never did realize it until days later when our companions on the trip to Ireland were talking about how great the electric teapots were, and I complained that I didn't have an electric teapot; but the microwave didn't work. In unison, the others said "What microwave? They don't have microwaves in the hotels here!" Never having had anything so valuable that I had to use a safe, I never realized what it was! "