The 88 year-old woman sitting next to me in the coffee lounge this morning leaned over and said, “I have to tell this to someone! I took an after-breakfast nap today and I don’t even feel guilty about it! What do you think of that?”
“I think it’s great,” I replied.
“What? That I took the nap or that I don’t feel guilty?”
“Umm, both I guess. I think that at, er, your age, please excuse me, it’s okay to nap wherever and whenever you feel like it. About not feeling guilty, that’s fine too. I still feel guilty about all sorts of things and I never give up hoping that one of these days I will grow out of it.”
“How old are you?”
“79.8. But today someone told me I am actually 79.10 on the duo-decimal scale.”
“Well, as soon as you turn 80 all signs of guilt will disappear. You’ll see.”
“I look forward to it,” I said going off in search of coffee – and feeling guilty about abandoning her.
It’s strange that life-long habits persist in one’s Golden Years and in a retirement home. The other day I was on the way to the elevator when the door of an apartment opened and a little old lady leaning on a walker came out holding a small package of garbage. I greeted her and continued walking. All week I was in a state of remorse and guilt at not having offered to take her garbage to the chute. I’m younger, stronger and male, I agonized. That’s what common courtesy dictates, isn’t it?
Yesterday the same thing happened. She emerged with the little package at the exact moment I passed her apartment. This time age-old, deep-ingrained good manners prevailed. “I’ll take that for you,” I said, reaching for the package.
“No you won’t!” She yelled, snatching the package close to herself. “It’s my garbage and I’m taking it!”
“Okay, okay,” I stuttered.
I’m never going to get this guilt thing right…
She is 94 years old, speaks with a delightful old-European accent, has a small apartment on the 7th floor and prays regularly for the health of the elevator.
“I have been baking cakes since my mother first let me knead the dough when I was 8 years old in 1918,” she says.
“I now have 86 years experience behind me and finally I’m getting it right. Yesterday’s cheesecake is just wonderful! Would you like a taste?”
Inside, her apartment was Spartan. A small TV stood on a coffee table in front of two armchairs. Against the wall was a small table with 2 chairs for eating.
“Where are the shelves with all your recipe books?” I ask.
“I have no written recipes; they are all up here,” she said tapping her head. “I have a recipe for Linzertorte that’s been in my family for 400 years. It is the world’s oldest recipe for a cake. I have been carrying it around for 70 years. On Tuesday I baked a classic Austrian cheesecake that has been in existence for over 250 years and I reduced the sugar by 10 grains. It was a great improvement. I must remember to tell my daughter. She is a great baker; not in my class but pretty good.”
She pushed a small slice of cheesecake over to me.
“Have you ever had a taste of heaven?”
I tasted a tiny morsel from my fork, sampled it, rolled my eyes and dug in. It was like nothing I have ever tasted.
“Wonderful! I cried. “Can I get the recipe for my wi…?”
“When can I come back?”
“May would be good. In May I will be baking the Cheesecake again. Yes, I will see you again in May! I will be 95 years old then. Now its time for my rest.” She opened the door and helped me out with a gentle push.
I have date with the 95 year cake maker in May!
They’re restless, alright, these folks in their Golden Years. They seem to have a maximum attention span of one hour. Then they have to move, to get up and go; where to? Nobody knows. But it’s instinctive, a built-in desire to keep moving.
The afternoon bridge sessions go from 4 pm to 5 pm, one hour. Except on Wednesdays, which is competition day when it lasts for 2 hours. But anyway that consists of a one hour bridge game followed by a one hour post-mortem and blame-game session. Others drift into the library, sit down at a computer and play Patience or Freecell for one hour, sigh deeply and leave.
In the auditorium the concerts and lectures run for one hour, but the Saturday early-bird movie can hit an hour and a half. The restlessness breaks out exactly one hour after the show has started: the wide woman in front of you has had enough. She stands up blocking the screen just as the villain is about to do something with his gun or knife, adjusts herself and her clothes, looks around in the dark as though she can see her friends, sighs, does another adjustment in case there’s still something hanging out and edges her way along the seats. By now the villain has disappeared and you are left looking at a bunch of detectives standing around a pool of blood on the floor.
The afternoon siesta is one hour long and then our energetic Seniors wend their way down to the coffee shop in search of conversation and gossip. A session here lasts about an hour and then they change seats, move to another circle and pick up other tidbits of useless information.
The “One-hour Restless Syndrome” thrives in this atmosphere. Oh, for the days when we were Young and Restless!
In addition to the other 10 things a Senior should not do, falling is strictly forbidden. Your immediate and most important objective at this stage in your life is to stay upright on your feet. It’s bad enough when a young person falls and damages him or herself. When an oldie falls, the consequences can be disastrous. Old bones don’t heal quickly; torn muscles and tendons cannot be fixed. I can cite any number of falls where the victim never fully recovered or if he or she did recover, they were never the same again. Crack or break a bone in your back and see how long it takes to heal.
So I walk with my head down; I watch for changes in the floor or sidewalk levels when I am outside; I look for those treacherous two inch steps that building laws ban but which are the favorites of building contractors who get their floor levels wrong and adjust them with secret little steps.
Of course there are falls that are harmless. You get up, shake the dust off and continue on your way. Others are not as innocuous – you may be unconscious or have hit your head on the concrete and broken bones in your face. You may land up in hospital having surgery. Don’t fall.
Falling is the second leading cause of accidental death worldwide and is a major cause of personal injury, especially for the elderly. The World Health Organization estimates that 424,000 people die in falls every year. Don’t fall.
If you are taking medications, be extra careful – some of pills make it even easier for you to keel over. Do yourself a favor – don’t fall!
Seniors talk. A lot. In fact, you could say that this is our main occupation. Age has finally brought us to a point in life where we are able to bring our full concentration to bear on our conversations. We are no longer troubled by such mundane matters as work, money and other unimportant issues. We can confine ourselves to the essentials: food, drink, reading, reminiscing and the weather.
Walk over to any of the conversation groups in the lounge of this retirement home and you will find residents furiously engaged in coffee and essential conversation.
“I have tried cooking Spaghetti Bolognese with and without red wine. There is nothing to argue about. It must have red wine and lots of it. A couple of glasses inside me improves the taste as well!”
“We drank 3 different varieties of single-malt scotch last night: Glenlivet, Macallan and I can’t remember the third. You can’t compare them to blended scotch, even the expensive ones! It’s definitely worth paying the extra!”
“If we don’t get good rains this year we are doomed, I say! Poor rains mean poor crops, floury fruit and sour oranges. We need an average of at least 20 millimeters every month from now until April and then we’ll be okay!”
Seniors are great at reminiscing as well. We can discuss any battle of the Second World War and can recite long and accurate descriptions of minor and major incidents in world history from 1920 onwards. We remember the names and the dates as though it happened yesterday. “The August Revolution? Hell, I was standing right next to General What’s-his-name when that bullet went clean through his head!”
Seniors always talk with great self-confidence and are unshakeable in their opinions. You cannot argue with a senior. He knows everything and a whole lot more as well.
We had another one of those false alarms on Wednesday evening in the lounge. It was full of residents, all busy with their coffee, cake gossip and conversation. Arguments were raging up and down, a few great-grandchildren were running around and getting in everyone’s way – normal evening Retirement Home bedlam. I looked around to watch the action for a moment and there was Harry, fast asleep in an armchair. I envied him being able to drop off in the midst of all the noise. He even had a small smile on his face as though he was far away in some serene place, undisturbed and uninvolved.
I see Harry often. Our apartments are on the same floor so we often bump waiting for the elevator and we chat about important stuff like the weather and the food and make other small talk. A big man, he seems quite fit although he uses a cane to get around. He seems to be one of those quiet men… never speaks unless spoken to. Always has a smile on his face.
I glanced at him again and saw that he hadn’t moved. Of course, after that I kept turning to look at him. After all, how long can a man sit without moving, even if he’s napping? Finally the penny dropped. Harry had left for some other place. No noise, no hysterics. Like a magic show, he had just “gone”.
I got up, crossed the floor and stood looking down at him. Mike joined me and we stood uncertainly for a moment, looking for a sign of life.
“He’s gone, huh?”
“Think so? How can you tell?”
“Dunno. Look at him, he’s not there.”
“Should I go for help?”
“Yeah, may as well…”
Harry came to life at that moment. He blinked, fixed the smile on his face and said, “Hi guys! Have we had coffee yet?”
There’s a new diet going around the retirement homes in town – the “Over 70’s Special”, a diet guaranteed to keep you remembering what you did both yesterday and 60 or 70 years ago. It will also help you with the crossword and the Sudoku and may even control your weight problem. It’s a diet of Fatty Fish and Green Tea. The Fatty Fish will load you with Omega 3 which will keep Dementia, Alzheimer’s and other unmentionable diseases away from your door and the Green Tea will fill you with antioxidants which will deal with any rust spots or other funny colors on your body.
This diet, fortified with a little garlic to keep other bugs away will also keep unwanted relatives, neighbors and pests away and allow you to age peacefully and gracefully. The “Over 70’s Special” diet has the following optional extras which you may add for extra pleasure:
Chocolate; dark and bitter is recommended; milk choc tastes better and white is out of this world.
Wine. The diet recommends red but I find any color is good. Vitamins are good.
Whisky is great. Here in the retirement home we are leaning towards single malt whiskey as long as our funds hold out. This is undoubtedly one of the world’s great lubricants and does a great job of taking the creaks and squeaks out of old joints.
We also love to think back to some of the great meals in days long past, the huge steaks and fries, the burning hot curries that set our insides on fire, the cholesterol packed goose liver savories and the chicken liver patés. But this is pay-back time, a world of salt-less, spice-less, fat-less, butter-less and taste-less fare. Do not despair, Fatty Fish and Green Tea will brighten your golden days and lengthen these winter evenings. Enjoy!