I haven't really thought about what getting old might feel like, and that's mostly because I haven't had time. My kids keep me young. And keep me running. And sleeping hard. I mean, surely, I've had the gray hair popping around the corner but I'm still getting zits god damn it. I'm not getting old, yet. But this last weekend Paul Bunyan, me, and the spawn flew to St. Louis for a surprise 90th Birthday party for Paul Bunyan's grandmother. And then. And then I got to smell and touch old. And I gotta tell you, I'm kind of scared.
However, it was a lot of fun and I'm sad I haven't figured out how to take excellent shots in tough lighting situations (but I will...probably when I'm 90) but this picture says it all. She really was surprised! Beautifully surprised to see people she thought she would never see again for the rest of her days.
She had people from all corners of her life come to see her for this special day.
And everybody took a second to get down on her level and look her in the eyes. And they spoke loudly and slowly and clearly...ya know, just for her.
And her friends from the assisted living home she's in joined us.
And Ann sat there through lunch,
and she talked,
and changed her oxygen tank,
and she had her cake and ice cream too.
And after pictures and after speaking with everyone who came from far and wide she said, "I think we'd better wrap this up". And off she went to her little apartment to rest and absorb what just happened and to, eventually, the next day try to remember who was there.
I knew Ann would be small and crooked, but I thought she looked great. I loved seeing that she still had her feisty spark. I loved seeing that she still had her brain. I loved seeing that she still showed her devotion and love to her husband, who died 12 years ago. And I think what saddened me the most about the whole weekend was the realization I had about how others view old people. It's hard for me to walk by, or let's say within a half mile of a puppy without naturally gravitating toward it to smell its puppy flavor and let it lick my salty face. I know that's not for everyone and neither is say, maybe, a baby. But generally speaking, because that's all I do here (I don't get into specifics), babies and puppies seem to attract a majority of passersby. And I'm only attracted to babies as of, let's maybe say, this spring when I finally felt like I had come out of the twin baby rearing days...which frankly sucked. But, on the other hand, if you were, say, walking in the park with your 90 year old grandmother no one would really rush up to you to ask you about her, find out about her life, or god forbid ask her to lick their face. Right? Right.
And I think I was most aware of how secluded an elderly person might feel when my own children, my own spawn, didn't really know how to look at, talk to, or touch G.G. Now, granted, I know this is only natural. I realize that. But we are a touchy family. I mean Paul Bunyan hugs people with his whole body, not just his arms. He violates people when he hugs them. And my children, too, sometimes don't know the boundaries of people's personal space. It's just how we are. But this:
This is what happened. My children didn't know how to get near G.G. They touch puppies in the park; they hover over baby carriages. They know that stuff. They don't know old. So when we were saying good-bye to Ann in her little apartment yesterday afternoon, after I had given her a hand knit scarf made out of our alpaca to wrap herself in all winter long, I was horrified that my children were backing to the door to exit without giving her a hug. Her heart needed a hug. I was embarrassed that I was resorting to threats, "You better give G.G. a hug or there'll be no gum at the airport today." I hate giving threats. I hate it. So then I just started whispering, 'c'mon her heart needs it'. Imagine her days empty of physical touch, except for maybe a few mornings a week of physical therapy, where therapists just move body parts and don't give full body hugs. Her heart needs it. Her heart needs it. Surprisingly, everyone gave hugs with little coaxing. I hope the hugs last her until her next birthday party, which (by the way) I'm really excited for.
But I just wanted to give a message to these two, who may not want to give the kind of hugs that I will need, when I'm old and crumbly, to last me until my next birthday.
Please hold me tight and know that you won't break me.
Please hug me. I'll have gum for you, always, in the junk drawer.