The retirement home staged their annual Purim party on Sunday evening. The invitation read 7:00 sharp and by 6:20 the dining room was packed. One or two hopefuls who arrived on time wandered around looking for vacant chairs. The mountain of electronic sound equipment with 2 human operators and a singer provided a variety of music throughout the evening and there was a heavy flow of soft drinks and sugarless cakes to the tables. A few enterprising Goldenagers remembered their good old days and smuggled in bottles of wine under their clothes.
The costumes were dazzling. The dress theme was “The Sixties” and many of us didn’t have to dress up – our everyday clothes are from the Sixties anyway. Violently colored wigs are all the rage this season and many of the women were topped in psychedelic pinks, greens and blues.
The party started off with a selection of dancing. A short, agile and super-energetic woman was in the forefront and for the first half an hour none of us recognized her. She had on a spiky gold wig, a shiny pink mask with narrow eye-slits, a top with flashy gold sequins and a short, um, very short skirt and black tights. She twirled and twisted her way around the dance floor, moving from one partner to another.
“Who is she?” we asked each other as we watched her in action.
We were stunned to see her bouncing. No one in this retirement home bounces. We keep both eyes strictly on our weak points, meaning hips, knees and ankles. Bouncing is out! And then her mask slipped and her face was revealed.
“It’s Gilda, you know, from the corner apartment on the sixth floor!
“C’mon, you know her. She’s usually in a wheel chair. The one with the attractive Nepalese caregiver! She must be about 90!”
“Impossible! Look at her go!”
“Actually, she’s 97,” someone at our table said. “I’m her neighbor and she asked me to help her to fill in some forms for her bank one day. Born in 1917. Saw it with my own eyes!”
We watched in disbelief, our mouths wide open as she whirled, twisted and bounced her way through the exhausted line of partners. It was a stunning exhibition of 60’s dancing. The band took it as a challenge and the faster she danced the faster the beat of the music.
Shortly before 9pm her Nepalese caregiver came into the dining room. She was pushing a wheelchair. She weaved her way through the dancers, gently took Gilda’s arm, led her off the dance-floor, settled her into the seat, snuggled a blanket around her and wheeled her out. The party was over.
Sitting here in the lobby of the retirement home doing battle with the diabolical crossword in the morning paper, 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, some striding along, others tottery and some unmoving. The coffee 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. 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 in the studio. She sits slightly in front of me and for the past few months I have watched her copying a photograph in a magazine and turning it 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 cartilage in my left knee is 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.
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!