By Ken Bradbury
Just between you and me and the other 3 million people who read The Source, this business of aging really stinks. Just this week I was in the midst of making ponderous decisions in the County Market deli … General Tso’s nuggets or the five-cheese casserole? Standing there, taking in the mixed aroma of bread pudding, chicken livers and Swiss steak, a fellow came up to me with that dreaded phrase, “You don’t know me, do you?” I’ve long ago quit fighting that losing battle and these days I simply say, “You’ve got to help me.” He responded, “I was in your first 7th grade class.” Here’s where I had to stop, ignore the bread pudding, and simply gulp. This “kid” had gray hair! How could any former student of mine have gray hair? That’s when I started running through a mental list of that Triopia 7th grade class of 1971 and I realized that most of them now have gray hair, that is, those who still have their hair.
This business of aging really stinks.
In some previous column I mentioned the angst I felt when for the first time I went through the drive-up of the local Hardees, ordered coffee and the attendant over the speaker said, “That’ll be one senior coffee?” He hadn’t even seen my face! He was just going by my voice. I’m telling you, it stinks. And this topped only by the hibachi chef at the local Fujiyama restaurant who always calls me “Grandpa.” Is that supposed to be endearing? Well, it’s not. It stinks.
I love family gatherings because I love my family … every irritating one of them. But I miss the days when we’d spend Thanksgiving and Christmas talking about our favorite movies, the mean tricks we used to pull when we were kids, where the nephews and nieces were going to college, and how much we like espresso bars and sushi. The conversation at our current family reunions centers around CT scans, bad hips, and the best over-the-counter pain medication.
We all realize that our definition of “old” changes in direct proportion to the number of wrinkles and patches of bald scalp. I swear on my grandmother’s corset that when I was young, people my current age were considered old; while today, I wouldn’t dream of applying such a label to my lithe physique and handsome profile. Okay, that may be taking things a bit too far, but darn it, I couldn’t be as old as my grandfather was when he was the age I am now. Could I? This business of aging really stinks.
One remedy to the aging process that I’ve found helpful is to purposely avoid “the waddle.” I mean no offense to anyone with joint or muscle problems, but I always swore that I would never waddle when I walked. Believe me, I often feel like waddling and it often hurts to not waddle; but I’ll resist it as long as my waddler will allow.
Okay, you can leave your car in the “seniors only” parking spaces, get cool discounts on hotels and a few pennies off on your meals. Those are good things, I guess. And the AARP magazine is one of the most helpful periodicals that comes into my home. My students rush off to pick things up when I drop them, but I’ve never put them to the true test and dropped my teeth. There are perks. But given the choice I’d rather go back to parking with the common people, paying full price at Motel 6, ponying up for a hamburger, and chewing with teeth that didn’t toss themselves onto the plate at the mere sight of corn on the cob.
Having a child of your former student in class ages you enough, but when you have a grandchild sign up it really makes your back start to ache. It’s happened to me numerous times now and I just assume that their mothers had given birth at the age of five. The very words, “Grandpa told me you used to …,” makes me involuntarily grab for the Ben Gay.
Yeah, yeah … I know that aging is preferable to the alternative but darn, we just don’t have this end of life figured out. There’s a world of science and medicine out there ready to come to the aid of any prenatal or infant problems, but when it comes to the caboose of life’s train, we’re still looking for the conductor. No one has written the definitive book on how to age gracefully. Many of us wake up in the morning, look down at our aging body and say, “Okay boys, now we can do this. We’ve got to work together. One leg at a time. Ready? Let’s see what’s working today.”
Mother Nature is a wonder, Uncle Sam is honorable, but Father Time is just a jerk.