Whoever coined the phrase “the Golden Years” clearly never reached his or her Golden Years, (from now on to be written in small letters only). Gold keeps its color and its shine. It doesn’t tarnish or go rusty. It not only maintains its value, it increases in value. No one tosses gold into a waste bin.
The “golden years”, however, are something completely different. They refer to worn out old folks with creaky knees, aching hips, leaky plumbing, and iffy memory and other parts, some of which have already been replaced. These old folks have lost their shine and their value. They can’t find jobs and worse, they can’t do a whole slew of things which used to come naturally to them. The Golden Years (written with capital letters) refer to the years between about 18 and 50. It’s time someone put things right.
However, there are many things that a Senior Member of society can do to justify his few square feet on the planet. Take writing for instance. A Senior has many memories. Write them down so that one day one of your descendants can read about you and more importantly read about the world you lived in. I have grandchildren who constantly ask me questions like: “Pop, you really had no computers when you were my age? What did you do all day?” I always want to tell him that we never even had calculators back then and did most of the sums in our heads, but I don’t want him to think I’m a liar…
So these days, we read the papers and books, watch the TV too much, talk a lot, and reminisce about the good old days too much as well. Yep, those were the Golden Years all right!
The French Open Tennis Championships began in Paris on Sunday and as usual, it is a delight to watch. The great tennis players of our time are out there playing for big money and doing their best to blast their opponents off the courts with powerful shots.
I get all nostalgic when I see the clay court and the colorful planting and flowers. Back in pre-World War II days when I was very young, I used to spend time at my grandparent’s home. They had a tennis court. Imagine, their very own clay court in the garden. I was always told that the clay was sand from ant-hills which was very fine and which produced the smooth playing surface. A servant watered and rolled the court, probably every day. The same servant, who may also have been the gardener, walked onto the court every Friday and repainted the lines, dipping his brush into a bucket of whitewash as he walked slowly along the lines.
After Friday, came the weekend. I remember the pretty young women and the handsome young men, all dressed in whites. I remember the umbrellas or more properly, the sunshades, over small tables set out on the adjacent lawn and the jugs of colored fruit juices that had been squeezed in the kitchen. The windows to the lounge, which opened out onto the lawns were thrown open and music from the piano drifted across the garden. And I remember the continuous laughter of the players and spectators at these weekend tennis parties. What fun they had. I’m sure I thought this was how my life was going to be.
I remember too, how the family sat around the large radio in the dining room and listened to the grim news of the war. No more tennis parties, no more tending the court. One by one these young people disappeared or called in, dressed in army uniform, to bid farewell to my grandparents. Some of them never came back and tennis was never played on that court again. I wonder if it’s still there…
We came back home from a family ‘brunch’ and hit the couch and bed to recover from the hectic morning. It wasn’t hectic in terms of physical activity, but the digestive and mental activities. The eating side was pretty simple: first tackling the decision on whether this was breakfast or lunch and then choosing the appropriate dishes. I was doing fine until a small anonymous hand pushed a plate with a thick wedge of chocolate cake at me and put my digestive system into top gear.
The memory activities were not so simple. The function was in honor of the 12th birthday of my niece – who is actually a grand-niece. This was her Bat Mitzvah celebration. There were a few other guests from my generation. I recognized and greeted them all. Then there were maybe a dozen or so guests of my children’s generation and I knew them all, knew their names and their spouse’s names as well and even remembered each person’s occupation. They all belong to the generation who went forth and multiplied.
The problem came with the next generation, the product of the multiplication, so to speak. My own grandchildren are no problem. We see them regularly, they all call me Pop and try and crush my hand to show how strong they are getting. It’s the other small children running around. The truth is that I have met or seen most of them before at other family functions, but I have never taken the trouble to memorize their names or remember which names belong to which face. Anyway, we all know that faces change dramatically between family affairs. So I stood lost, wearing my vaguest expression and the result was great. A great-niece – I think it was one – brought me coffee, a grandson a selection of eats and then a small little girl (who must be related) arrived carefully balancing that wedge of chocolate cake. Sometimes it pays to forget…
I was about to paint a fine detail on the canvas in the studio the other day. My easel is a little apart from the mob, meaning the 20 or so ladies who come to paint. There are 2 other men wedged in among the women. As I poised the brush over the critical spot a voice said, “Have you got a palette knife I can borrow for a sec?” Without looking up I stretched out my arm, located the palette knife and handed it over. As far as I can remember it was a woman’s voice. She muttered something and I continued trying to get the drop of paint into the roof detail.
That night I sat up in bed. My palette knife! She never returned it. I didn’t look up when she approached me and I have no idea who she was. My palette knife is missing! I remember the day I bought the knife and much of its history.
It was in 1951. Wow! That’s exactly 60 years ago! I was in first year at university and we needed these knives for a project we were working on. I’ve been using it on and off ever since. It has a wooden handle which is thick with globs of different colored paints. The blade is worn thin with razor sharp edges and has a small chip out of the tip where I once tried to tighten a screw with it.
I remember that it was expensive and in those far off days eight shilling was a tidy sum. My father wasn’t excited about me spending that money either. I went into an art shop, the only one in our city, and my first venture into such an exciting place and timidly explained what I wanted. The knife was handed over and I have treasured it all these years. Now to find the owner of that voice…
One of the tough things about grandchildren is answering those nasty little questions they insist on asking. This little guy has not only reminded me every time we met for the past year that he was at my 80th birthday party, he is now branching out into other questions as the full implication sinks in. Like “if that was number 80, Pop, there must have been others, right?”
“Gee, Pop, you have had 79 other birthdays! Can you remember them all?”
Should I tell him that sometimes I have a problem remembering his name?
“I can remember a few but not the ones when I was very young, like you.”
“Tell me about one of them, Pop.”
“We went on a cruise on a big ship out to sea. That was a great birthday.”
“And another one?”
Is he going to say that 78 more times? “The whole family went out to dinner to a nice restaurant. We ate and drank and there was a big cake at the end. We had a great time.”
“What are you going to do next time, Pop?”
“We are going to have a big party at your house! How does that sound? Then you will be there too!”
“Are you going to have more birthdays, Pop?”
“I hope so!” He’s going to ask how many more, I bet you.
“I hope so too, Pop!”
“How many have you had? I pull the old switcheroo on him.
“Um, I’m 9, Pop.”
“So how many birthdays have you had?”
“Good boy. Wanna go over to the ice-cream shop?”
“You know I do, Pop! Can I ask you a question?”
“Um, okay,” I say without enthusiasm.
“How come your ears are creased?”
Oh how we laughed back in the 1940s when Jerry Lewis first appeared in the movie houses with his partner, Dean Martin! It was the funniest slapstick we had seen. We copied him and tried to repeat the jokes to our unimpressed parents; we pulled faces like Jerry; we tried to sing like Dean. It was the fad of the day.
But time moves on. Jerry Lewis is now 87 years old and is being recognized as a “Towering Figure in Cinema” at the current Cannes Film Festival in France. Hell, we recognized him 65 years ago! We walked the mile to the local ‘Bughouse”, paid 5 cents for a ticket and held onto the other 3 cents spending money we had been given for candies. And for our 5 cents we received an hour of pure uninhibited laughter as Jerry and Dean went wild.
Lewis has suffered from a variety of illnesses and addictions related both to aging and a back injury sustained in a fall from a piano in 1965. The accident left him almost paralyzed. In its aftermath Lewis became addicted to a pain killer and finally had a spinal stimulator implanted in his back to reduce the discomfort.
He suffered his first heart attack while filming in 1960. In 1982, Lewis was felled by a serious heart attack. En route home on a flight to San Diego from New York City he endured a minor heart attack in 2006. It was then discovered that he had pneumonia as well as a severely damaged heart. Surgery has allowed him to continue his rebound from earlier lung problems.
In 1999, his Australian tour was cut short when he had to be hospitalized with viral meningitis. He was ill for more than five months. Lewis has had prostate cancer, type 1 diabetes, pulmonary fibrosis, and a long history of heart disease. In 2012, he was treated and released from a hospital after collapsing from hypoglycemia at a New York Friars’ Club event.
He’s a survivor, all right, but congratulations on your award!
They have installed secrete cameras in the streets in this town in an attempt to nab double parkers and other traffic offenders. If you stand still for more than 3 minutes you are photographed and called to court to be sentenced. I was caught in this unfair trap and I landed up in the traffic court.
The judge said, “Is this your car?”
“Yes, Sir,” I replied.
“How old are you?” he asked, peering at me.
“I turned 87 some months ago, sir,” I replied.
“Well, you are old enough to know the rules. No double parking. $200 fine.” He slammed his gavel down on the table top.
“But Sir!” I yelled. “Sir, I wasn’t parked. I saw my friend Sam walking along the sidewalk. I pulled over to ask him if he felt like joining me for coffee.”
“That takes 10 seconds.”
“Sam doesn’t hear all that well, so I had to call him a few times, Sir. He still didn’t hear so I pulled up the brake, put the gear into park and got out the car. I forgot the seat belt in my hurry and I got caught up in it. Then when I was finally out of the car Sam was already in the next block. If you look at the next picture, Sir, you will see that I have moved to catch up with Sam.”
“And then, what?”
“I yelled to him but he is pretty deaf, Sir. He’s 89 already. So I got out the car again and the same thing happened.”
“What same thing was that?”
“The seat belt thing, Sir. Sir, I cannot do all those things in 3 minutes. I need 5 minimum!”
“I’ll let you off this time. If I see you or your picture in my court again you are going to jail! Understood?”
“Get him out of my court! 87 years old and he drives a car! Bah!”
When do Golden Agers make the leap into Old Agers? I’ve been here in the retirement home for over a year and so far I have met very few proper old people. It is true that most of the residents have 70 or 80 or 90 birthdays behind them but that’s not what makes them old. The old ones have gone, left for some other place. The people here are busy in the gym, in the exercise classes and the swimming pool. They are arguing over books in the library and eagerly awaiting the latest publications, they are slavering over the cakes at the monthly sale and elbowing their way to the front so they get their hands on the rich chocolate cakes. Are these all signs of old age?
You should see these people at the card tables playing killer bridge and canasta, showing no mercy to their opponents. That’s not the behavior of an old age crowd. True, many of them use walking aids, metal or human, but that too is only a sign of a frail body and has no connection to our perception of old age.
Ask any one of them how old they feel and you will be stunned at the answers: “Somewhere in the upper 60’s!”
“Hell, who can remember what 60 felt like?”
“How old do I feel? I can’t feel very much anymore! Did you bring a bottle of whisky with you?”
“I am getting old, but it’s pretty slow…”
“Sorry, I’m a bit deaf. Can you repeat the question?”
“I’m 86 but I’m not old.”
“Yeah, my back is shot and I walk all bent, but my head is still straight and working just fine. Have you seen my glasses?”
Who says we’re old here?
After 3 months I reckon that being 80 is no big deal. There have been no major changes; my back is still bent and I still walk like a question mark. I recognized and greeted a couple of old acquaintances yesterday – they are both pushing 90 and I’m not sure they knew who I was – my appetite is great and I can still read the small print. What did happen is that this morning, whilst doing the crossword, I found myself sitting with the answer to a clue hanging off the end of my tongue and not making it all the way to the pen.
That’s the only change I can detect, a suggestion of slow retrieval from the vast storage system I shlep around with me. The filing system is full, most of the drawers overflowing. ‘Family and Friends’ is pretty full, ‘Engineering and Information Technology’ is bursting and has a notice hanging on the front – “no new information accepted here’. ‘Culture’ has small spaces available between the books, music and writing, but the worst of the lot is ‘Department of Useless Information’ which houses miscellaneous and little used stuff. It has huge globs of information hanging from it hoping it will still be called on to provide an answer. There is no ‘Full’ notice so I keep pushing more and more in there hoping it will find a place. But I’m starting to think it’s a waste of time.
We all build these huge storage systems for ourselves, convinced they are made of concrete and will be there forever. It’s not like that at all. They are made of some kind of Jello and are highly susceptible to outside influence. In extreme cases they melt and leave one with no memory at all.
Oh yes, the character I couldn’t remember in the story of Jason and the Argonauts was Helle. How on earth could I forget him?
There is to be an exhibition of flower paintings here at the retirement home starting next week. I heard about it a few days ago and hurried to convert a half finished painting into a suitable piece for the exhibition. Then I decided to paint a serious flower painting and got myself hopelessly involved. But it’s not over yet and who knows, I may still produce something suitable.
Some weeks ago I painted a picture with trees in the foreground and heavy concrete and steel towers and cranes rising behind, a sort of “Disappearing Forest” scene, something no one would like to hang over the fireplace. Yesterday I had it on my easel wondering what I could do to it make it more presentable when someone said something about the flower exhibition again. I grabbed a pot of white and painted over the original scene. This morning I sat in front of the blank canvas trying to drum a flower scene into my head.
A few minutes later, I grabbed wide brush and went to work. I worked all day. This morning I looked at it and painted it out again. The canvas is getting heavy with all the coats of paint. So I painted it out again and began something different. Then a granddaughter who knows about colors and design came over, looked at it and made a suggestion. Out it went again. I tried to follow her suggestion, but went to take a nap somewhere in the middle of the repainting exercise and missed a crucial action. Out again.
I’m working flat out now, and finally little flowers that meet my approval are appearing. It’s drying overnight and I‘ll be back at it tomorrow. Will it make the exhibition specifications? I doubt it.