An open let­ter …

On fac­ing chang­ing times

Weekend Herald - Canvas - - MEGAN NICOL REED -

They were not, I don’t imag­ine, the de­sired de­mo­graphic. But then, pre­sum­ably, nei­ther were we; a fam­ily of four with our end­less ques­tions and our tight sched­ule. The ta­bles were long and shared, the decor was dive bar. I’m go­ing to take a stab and say the mu­sic was alt-coun­try. I should like to have known whether they had stum­bled across the place, or had set out with the in­ten­tion of din­ing there on that shitty night. A man and two women; I’m go­ing to take an­other stab here and put their ages some­where be­tween 75 and 85. They took the end of our ta­ble re­cently va­cated by the two girls wear­ing granny-chic. Next to me, the old­est of the three picked up her menu and I could sense her grow­ing baf­fle­ment as she scanned the list of muesli, eggs and pan­cakes. Lean­ing over I said, that menu stops at 11.30am, din­ner’s on the other side. Oh, she laughed, shows how of­ten I get out! With great mer­ri­ment they tried to de­ci­pher the var­i­ous dishes de­scribed. Pooh boys, they chuck­led. No, I wanted to say, po’ boy, it’s New Or­leans’ street food. Mex­i­can, they chor­tled. That’ll be spicy! When the waiter asked if they wanted any­thing to drink, my table­mate said, oh, that she’d have lemon­ade or juice, some­thing like that, and seemed per­plexed when he said, well, we have both, which do you want? I could have lis­tened to them the whole night long, so fas­ci­nated was I by their sense of won­der at it all; their pas­sive­ness in such stark con­trast to my nu­mer­ous, highly spe­cific re­quests.

Later, out on the street, my son said, those peo­ple re­minded me of that old guy at the mu­seum. Why, I asked. Be­cause they were old, he said. He does not yet un­der­stand there are as many ways of be­ing old as there are young. Like him, I, too, once failed to grasp that the aged are as ca­pa­ble of tol­er­ance as they are crank­i­ness, as ca­pa­ble of stu­pid­ity as lusti­ness. I can still re­call how shocked I was the first time I heard an el­derly rel­a­tive call some­one a “bitch”. It seemed so in­ap­pro­pri­ate, so out of keep­ing with the sweet, gen­tle per­sona I had pinned on her. Reead­ing a col­lec­tionll off shorth sto­ries by Mar­garet At­wood re­cently (since watch­ing The Hand­maid’s Tale I have been binge­ing upon her bril­liance), filled with the vivid in­ter­nal lives of the an­ncient and in­firm in a way that lit­er­a­ture so sel­dom is, un­der­lined for me how “queru­lous” or “dod­dery” are but two stereo­types. That you do not au­to­mat­i­cally adopta the per­ceived traits of old age with age. We reg­u­larly visit a close fam­ily mem­ber in a se­cure de­men­tia unit, and for my son it is, I sus­pect, a fright­en­ing place. The res­i­dents range from so­porose to bonkers. Many wear nap­pies, others re­quire feed­ing, con­ver­sa­tion is, by and large, non­sen­si­cal. And then there are, most dis­turbingly for me, the one or two who are still so put-to­gether, still so erect and groomed, but whose eyes re­veal an in­ter­nal life that is no more. I imag­ine my son fears it catch­ing. He re­treats into him­self when there, withh theh pro­tec­tive in­stinct of a tor­toise, of­fer­ing up only his shell. I re­meem­ber when old age seemed some­thing you could run from. When it was in­con­ceiv­able it would ever happ­pen to you. An in­vet­er­ate watcher of peoople, my in­ter­est in the el­derly trio with whom wee shared a ta­ble ecently did not sur­prise me. Even so, the ex­tent of my cu­rios­ity took me back a lit­tle; how I was both charmed by them, and slightly ir­ri­tated. I guess it was recog­ni­tion. I looked at them and I saw a or­th­com­ing me. Hav­ing al­ways prided my­self n be­ing up with the play, a step ahead of e zeit­geist, lately I have sensed my­self fall­ing be­hind, of be­ing just out of touch. I threw in the towel on mu­sic longg ago and I never signed onn to to any form of so­cial me­dia. But I have clung on for the long­est time to fash­ion andd food. It’s get­ting harder and harder, though, and the stranggest thing is I don’t much minn. Not re­ally.

I re­mem­ber whenw old age seeme ed some­thing you u could run from m. When it was in­con­ceiv­ablee it would ever hap­pen to you u.

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