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My wife and I just got back from the supermarket a little while ago and for most of the way home, we could not stop talking about a woman we met at the bakery counter.
She was an elderly woman with probably a little too much makeup, colored hair and enormous glasses. She was decked out with a lot of jewelry and wore high-heeled shoes. She was brassy and bold and definitely was from somewhere well north of here.
We were all at the bakery counter and struck up a conversation while we waited for our items. She told us she was originally from Boston, or more accurately, closer to Salem.
“You know the witch trials?” she asked us.
“Of course,” we said.
“They missed one,” she said, pointing a narrow finger at herself.
It was funny. It was sarcastic, a little caustic, and for most folks, it was probably a little unusual sounding coming from a petite elderly woman. A lot of people are surprised when they see an elderly person “act young.” I don’t think it’s an act.
What we seem to forget a lot of the time is elderly people were not born elderly. To be elderly, you have to start out young. That’s how it works. Take a moment and look at yourself. See, you weren’t born the way you are. OK, there was that one kid I remember from elementary school who had the soul of a 40-year-old accountant at the age of 7, but he doesn’t count. He was just weird.
I know a lot of old people. Before you say I am being unkind by calling them old people, take a minute and ask them what they prefer to be called. Would they like some sweet euphemism or would they rather you call it like you see it? I’ll wager it will be the latter.
I know a guy named Jack who is an old farmer here in eastern North Carolina. He’s about as nice as a guy can be and he always makes a note that he served in the Army with Elvis. Jack was also born on Christmas Day, 1933. We talk about this a lot because I was born on New Year’s Day, but not in 1933.
Jack has worked hard his entire life, still wakes up early and puts in a full day doing whatever it is he does now. This is not a man who is soft and worried about what someone calls him. He will be the first to tell you he is not a senior citizen or elderly gentleman. He is both, mind you, but he will tell you he is just a simple old man. If that’s what he wants to be, so be it. He’s earned the right.
I have a dear friend named Naomi. As I am too polite to mention a woman’s age, I can say that she has seen nearly a century. Sliced bread was invented after she was born, so it’s a safe bet to say that sliced bread is the best thing since Naomi.
To say she is charming is an understatement. She is quick-witted and a wonderful conversationalist. She is petite and elegant and incredibly charming. Her apartment is filled with paintings that Naomi herself has painted. This past year, when we evacuated for Hurricane Florence, we stayed with my in-laws, who live next door to Naomi. We all met for dinner in the dining room of the senior living facility at a big table and it was arranged for Naomi to sit next to me.
She was kind enough to share her wine with me and for a few moments, lost in conversation, it was as if we were the only people in the room. My wife jokes about it and refers to Naomi as my girlfriend. I make a point to see her, even just for a few minutes, when we visit my in-laws.
As mentioned above, I don’t believe acting a little young is an act or a phase for the elderly folks around us. My grandfather liked to tell us boys about how he and his best friend used to race cars all around the Baltimore area when they were younger. Not on a track, but on the public streets. My grandfather was once a rebellious young man. I imagine that’s why he understood us knucklehead kids when we did something reckless.
I have grandsons now. There are times when I feel like I am out of touch or getting a little on the old side. I’m not as cool or stylish as I once was. I’m a heck of a lot slower and a heck of a lot more careful these days.
I’ll sit down with my grandsons and tell them some stories about how their grandfather was once a trifle wild now and again. Some will be fact, some might be a little fictionalized, but for a few moments, I will have found the fountain of youth.
Joe Weaver, a native of Baltimore, is a husband, father, pawnbroker and gun collector. From his home in New Bern, he writes on the lighter side of family life.