Harvey: I’m-m-m-m gonna w-w-w-whoop yer a-a-a-ass at cards.
Wayne: OK, sir. I bet you will. That’s a mighty fine hat you have there (referring to the man’s fabulous, pointy Andes-style earflap hat colored pink and turquoise) Can you tell me about it?
Harvey: Oh, this h-h-h-hat is, is mighty f-i-i-i-ne. It covers m-m-m-my bald spot!
Wayne: That does make a hat pretty useful.
Attendant: Harvey, tell him what your hat is really for.
Harvey: It’s r-r-r-really (as he moves in close to whisper) a ch-ch-ch-chick m-a-a-agnet.
Harvey laughs so hard, the attendant caring for him has to turn his oxygen back on.
This was an honest-to-goodness coversation had between my boyfriend and an elderly man who had to be pushing 100.
My grandma passed away two years ago after years of battling dementia, a cruel, truly demented disease. My grandma died many years before we laid her to rest. Dementia robbed her of her memories, her ability to reason, her ability to know her own children. It wasn’t until the grandma I knew and loved was gone from her blue eyes did I realize what I had lost.
Every single day, I drive downtown and I see elderly men and women living on the streets. I watch, long before I pass, to make sure they make it, slowly, across the street. They are in rags held together by their own filth. They are cold, hot, confused and beyond mistreated.
Why are our elderly living on the streets, abused in retirement homes, and left to rot in the back bedroom? Being of advanced age should be an honor, not a curse feared worse than leprosy (or is ebola a more relevant disease?). Being the elder should come with built-in respect and hospitality. We should be housing our grandparents in accomodations far better than our own. We should be teaching our youth to revere them like gods. They are our past and our future. They are old and wrinkly. They can be as mean as a dog shitting tacks, and they are painfully slow. They are also brilliant and worldly. They know what it means to do without and still find happiness. They understand and love a world without TV, without smartphones, a world in which you sat down and wrote a damn letter. In cursive. We have so much to learn from our elderly, yet they are withering away in our streets and in dusty rooms under lock and key.
I would give anything to go back to my 8-year-old self, during the summer it was just me and Grams at the cabin. I would slow down and really taste her tomato and noodle soup. I would take off my discman headphones and listen to her story about Grandpa. I would make my bed and vacuum without being asked. I would scoop her a bowl of ice cream and add the dry Nesquick she liked so much. I would wash the Ziplock baggies without complaining. I would take her dry, soft, wrinkled hand in mine and say, “Let’s go pick honeysuckle, Grandma, just you and me”.
To have been able to witness the exchange between Harvey and my boyfriend would have been a real treasure. Just two young lads relating about the trials of life, love and the pursuit of women. Just two young lads.