Sitting here in the lobby of the retirement home doing battle with the New York Times crossword, I am so deeply engrossed in the impossible clues that I forget where I am. I look up to find myself surrounded by old people. The cool coffee shop cum entrance lounge was empty when I sat down an hour ago and I missed the slow migration of residents seeking air-conditioning, coffee and company.
Everyone, of course, is old in a retirement home. Why would a young person come here? I understand the average age is 80 and at the rate medicine and medical technology is developing it will keep moving up, changing all perceptions of age and longevity. As it is, I am continually surprised by the youth of the old people.
There is the little old lady in the painting group that meets on Tuesdays. She sits slightly in front of me and for the past few months I have watched her copying a photograph in a magazine into a beautiful painting of a Dutch windmill. We met in the elevator the other day and I asked her how long she has been painting. “Only since I moved in here 7 seven years ago. I was 83 years old then,” she said wistfully. I had put her in her late seventies. The painting holds place of honor in her apartment among many other paintings she has completed. I also see her in the exercise classes. She doesn’t miss a beat.
The other big surprise today came from another member of the exercise class. He’s getting on, I can tell by his manner. We bumped at a lecture this morning. “I’m 93,” he said with a smile. “The cartilages in my knees are shot so I use this stick to keep me steady.” By the way he waved the stick around he would have made the Olympic fencing team.