“I don’t mind not being cool; I wear a cardigan.”
Remember lunch in your high school cafeteria? The jocks sat at one table in their letterman jackets. The brainy kids sat together. The misfits. The nerds. Maybe there was that one kid who sat alone every day. At Webb, my friends and I often skipped lunch to sunbathe behind the Upper School, subsisting on Tab and naval oranges. There’s always a pecking order and people gravitate to their own tribes, either by choice or by necessity.
I don’t like to go to the dining room at the Old Folks Home. The walker jungle depresses me. The servers are kind but slow as molasses, because no one has anywhere to be after meals. Except for dinner when the residents are herded out like cattle, so the staff can close up for the night.
It’s only been a couple of years, but the faces that have disappeared haunt me in absentia. Where are Walter Pulliam and his wife Julia, the Belle of Monteagle? Walter’s dead, of course. And Julia’s in exile at a nursing home in Atlanta, from which she frequently escapes. Where is Bee DeSelm, the well-read retired county commissioner? Assisted Living. Jack Van Hooser, Harvard-educated Episcopal priest and missionary to Brazil? No longer with us, may he rest in peace.
And Gmamma, my beautiful mother, DooDaddy’s twin self. Gone to Heaven. No more grilled cheese sandwiches and moose tracks ice cream. Maybe that’s the real reason I avoid the dining room.
Then there’s DooDaddy’s friend, Ron. His mind is sharp. He’s an accomplished bridge player. But he suffers from a debilitating affliction that causes him to choke on his food. He has a hard time at meals. So some of the residents avoid sitting with him. DooDaddy is loyal and always saves Ron a seat. And Ron is still a member of the Bad Boys Breakfast Bunch.
But the “popular” geezers shun Ron. And because his politics don’t match theirs, these cool kids don’t sit with DooDaddy either. They are likeminded in their opinions and seemingly uninterested in views that don’t match their own.
“You watch Fox News, I suppose,” observes the leader of the pack, his voice dripping with sarcasm, as he pauses to speak to DooDaddy.
“Why yes, I do,” answers DooDaddy.
What my father doesn’t say is that he watches all the channels and reads lots of different newspapers and periodicals and considers all sides of an issue before making up his mind. He is the most open-minded person I know.
But the Shannondale stud has already walked away to his table of fawning females, shaking his head at my father’s apparent intellectual inferiority. My father, the smartest man I know.
The smug geezer is the same guy who once got up in the middle of a bridge game with Julia – whose face is in the dictionary under “lovely” and “gracious” – threw his cards down and stalked off in a huff, never to return. He’s an odd bird, but he’s cock of the walk at The Home.
For some folks, old age is a regression to adolescence. Or maybe some people never grow up before they grow old.
I’d like to think by the time I’m old(er) and gray(er) and become an official geezer in my own right, that my fellow geezers and I can discuss issues with passion but without judgment. That we can agree to disagree. That we can accept each other, despite our frailties and unpleasant habits and idiosyncracies. That we will love and laugh and be grateful for companionship in whatever form it manifests. Especially at mealtime.
Wishful thinking? You bet. And I’m going to keep on wishing.