Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The Big 6-5

I remember distinctly, so many years ago, when my grandfather became eligible for Social Security and a then-rather new government program-Medicare.  As far as I was concerned, he had always been an old man, but at that point he seemed downright ancient.  Most certainly he had  been born not too many years after dirt was created.

But now, lo and behold, I’ve hit the big 6-5!  Upon turning 50 I could always convince myself that it was the new 40, and the age of 60 was the new 50, but when one receives both a Medicare card and a Silver Sneakers card the game is up.  Remember when Michael Jackson sang, “I’m bad; I’m bad?”  Well, now in my thoughts I’m humming: “I’m old; I’m old!”  I guess it beats the alternative.

No doubt that if the word gets out, at every street crossing some do-good-er boy scout will grab my arm and help me navigate to the other side.  Even worse, folks will get closer to my face and speak much louder, figuring that since I’ve entered my “golden years” I must be stone-deaf.

Unfortunately, some of my friends are aware of my birthday, so they sent me little jokes about aging, such as, “You’re getting old when you forget to zip up after using the restroom, but you’re really old when you forget to unzip before using it.”

Or, how about this one?  “ You’re really old when you realize that your Social Security number is 3.”

Somehow, these jokes are not quite as funny now that they refer to me!

A famous comedian once said that age is simply mind over matter; if you don’t mind it doesn’t matter.  The problem is, it does matter!

I’ve noticed in the last year or two that people have been addressing me differently.  For the first time in my life I’m being called “honey” by perfect strangers. Waitresses, salesladies, and receptionists have been calling me “sweetheart” and “dear.”  Why didn’t they address me that way when I was 30?  Maybe it’s meant as a compliment, but I hear aides and nurses using the same terms of endearment for 90-year-old guys in assisted living. 

During my childhood years I couldn’t understand why Dad, after a hard day’s work, wanted nothing more than to plant himself for the rest of the evening in his favorite chair.  Didn’t he realize how much fun it was to play touch football, softball, or basketball after supper?  Now I understand, for my “get up and go” has gotten up and gone.  Now my idea of a satisfying afternoon includes at least an hour for nap time, and I’ll take hot soup over a hot date any old time.

My wife, bless her heart, recently stated that I look as good now as I did 30 years ago.  Of course, that’s not true, but I appreciate the sentiment.  Perhaps she believes what she said, for being no spring chicken herself, her vision is not what it used to be. 

Denial is a handy psychological tool when dealing with senior citizenship.  Last week, while cleaning out the basement, I came across a pair of bell bottomed pants that must date back to at least the 1970s.  Just out of curiosity I tried them on.  The waist and the thighs were tight; in fact, I had a hard time breathing until I loosened some buttons.  Putting the pants aside, I rationalized that over the last forty or so years the material has shrunk. 

On the positive side, I’m now able to get all kinds of good things at discount prices, including food, drinks, and hotel rooms.  Of course, when the person working at the desk tells me that I’m getting a discount, he or she gets very close to my face and practically yells, but at least I get called “honey” or “sweetheart,” or “dear.”  That’s fine, just as long as they call me for supper.

One thing’s for certain: If I had known that I’d live this long I would have taken much better care of myself.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Laughter: The Best Medicine

* A farmer and his family lived an isolated life.  For the first time they visited the big city.  While the wife was shopping in another part of the department store, the father and son were mesmerized by two steel doors that opened, revealing a box in which people would walk into before the doors shut once again.  As they watched, an elderly lady went into the box.  The doors shut, but in thirty seconds they opened again, and out walked a beautiful twenty-something gal.  This seemed like magic to the farmer.  Looking at his son, he commanded: “Quick, go get your mom!”

* A burglar was sorting through a bedroom drawer when he heard a voice: “Jesus is watching you!”  Seeing no one around, he continued to do his thing.  Once again the voice said: “Jesus is watching you!”  Eventually, the burglar located a parrot in the corner of the room.  “Did you say that Jesus is watching me?” he asked the bird.  “Yep,” the bird replied.  “What’s your name, bird?”  “My name is Moses.”  “What kind of family would name a bird Moses?” the burglar pondered.  The parrot replied: “The same kind of family that names its rottweiler ‘Jesus.’”

* The teacher, a big Michigan fan, asked how many students would be rooting for the Wolverines in their big game against the Buckeyes.  Only little Jimmy did not raise his hand.  “For whom do you root?” the teacher inquired.  “I’m a Buckeye fan,” Jimmy proudly announced.  Indignant, the teacher asked, “How can you possibly root for the Buckeyes?”  “Well, my father is a Buckeye fan, my mother is a Buckeye fan, and my big brother is a Buckeye fan, so I‘m a Buckeye fan, too.”  “Well, if your father was an idiot, your mother was an idiot, and your big brother was an idiot, what would that make you?”  “That would make me a Michigan fan,” little Jimmy responded.

* Two juveniles were apprehended yesterday.  One had eaten stolen  candy while the other one had eaten a box of swiped fireworks.  The police charged one young man, but let the other one off.

* The church elders took bids on painting the exterior of the building.  One gentleman’s bid was so low that he easily won the job.  He was able to work at such a low rate because he had watered down the paint.  However, after the first hard rain, the paint was washed away.  When confronted, the man admitted his guilt and prayed to God:  “Please forgive me Lord, for I have sinned.”  In a few seconds he heard a booming voice from the sky:  “You are forgiven my son.  Repaint!  Repaint!  And thin no more!”

* A young couple was hiking through the woods.  Suddenly an angry bear appeared in front of them.  “What shall we do?”  the woman asked her husband.  “Slowly turn around.  Do not make eye contact with the bear.  You must walk slowly.  If you run you’ll excite it, and no human being can outrun a bear!”  A minute later the wife zipped past the husband.  “Dear,” he said, “remember, you can’t outrun that bear.”  “I’m not trying to outrun the bear,” she remarked.  “I’m trying to outrun you!”

* Recently I went to see a psychiatrist.  Her diagnosis was that I’m crazy.  “I want a second opinion,” I indignantly replied.  “Okay, you’re ugly, too!” she said.

* An elderly lady at a party confronted Winston Churchill.  “Sir, you are disgustingly drunk,” she said to the famous man.  Without missing a beat, he replied: “Yes, but I’ll be sober in the morning, but you’ll still be ugly.”

*I was so ugly that when I was born the doctor slapped my mom.

* A woman approached President Calvin Coolidge, who was known as a man of few words.  “Sir, I made a bet with my friends that I could get more than two words out of you.”  With a slight smile, he replied: “You lose.”

* I went to a fight last night and a hockey game broke out.

* Show me a man who opens a car door for his wife and I’ll show you a man who has either a new car or a new wife.

* A man is not complete until he’s married.  Then he’s finished.

* An angry wife packed her husband’s clothing and ordered him to leave.  As he was walking out the door, she exclaimed: “I hope you die a slow, painful death!”  Turning, he asked, “So, you want me to stay?”

* Did you ever wonder why a chicken coop has two doors?  Well, if it had four doors it would be a chicken sedan.

* I was on a diet for two weeks.  A friend asked how much I had lost.  “Fourteen days,” I replied.

* Recently I read that a champion horse was being retired to stud service.  Later, I said to my wife, “I think they should do to us retired men what they do to retired horses.”  “So, you want me to send you to a glue factory?” she asked.

* On a very cold night two Eskimos were paddling along in their kayak.  After stopping along the shore to gather wood, they started a fire on the floor of the boat.  Sadly, the kayak soon sank.  The moral of the story: You can’t have your kayak and heat it too.

* A three-legged dog limped into a bar and ordered a drink.  Turning to the other patrons, he announced: “I’m looking for the man who shot my paw.”

* A little boy was taken to the hospital after he had swallowed two nickels, a dime, and a quarter.  Upon seeing the nurse, the mother asked about her child’s condition.  “No change,” the nurse replied.

***  Now, go conquer the day with a smile on your lips and joy in your heart.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Role Reversal

It was a hot and muggy summer day back in 1996.  Dad, who had terminal lung cancer, was lying on a hospital bed that had been placed in the living room.  My mother, my wife, and I were with him.

Dad slept much of the time, but when awake he complained of being hot and uncomfortable.  There was an old air conditioner protruding from the living room wall.  Throughout the time my parents liver there it had never been used because Mom, being claustrophobic, hated to have the windows closed.  Even in the winter she had a bedroom window cracked open an inch or two. 

I suggested to Mom that we should remove the outer cover from the air conditioner, shut the windows, and fire it up; Mom said “No way.”

Over the next hour or so Dad continued to complain about the heat.  I again asked Mom for permission to start the air conditioner, but once again she refused.  My wife Bev and I went to the kitchen to talk.

I was reared in a household in which the children were taught total obedience.  Perhaps because Dad ruled with an “iron hand,” I tried my best to do what I was told.  To do otherwise would have led to his leather belt or razor strop being applied to my backside.  Now I was caught in this strange role reversal in which I had to “lay down the law” to one of my parents.  It didn’t feel right.

“I can’t let Dad suffer like this,” I said to my wife. 

“You must do what you think is best, dear,” was her  reply.

Going to the garage, I got the ladder and  proceeded to remove the air conditioner’s outer cover.  Then, going into the house, I shut the windows and turned on the machine.  The cooler air gave my father some comfort.

I, on the other hand, was an emotional mess.  Rationally I knew that this was the best course of action, but my emotional self felt otherwise.  Although  46 years old,  I once again felt like a ten year old- a very bad ten year old.  Of course, this was a catch-22 situation: whether I acted or not, I would feel extremely guilty.

Thankfully, my mother said nothing more about the matter; to have to tell her that the air conditioning was going to stay on regardless of her wishes would have ripped out my guts.  Already I was nauseated from this stressful situation.

A few months later, the night before his death, Dad said these last words to me: “You’re a good boy.”  I’m thankful that he didn’t think I was an ogre; I hope Mom didn’t think I was one, either.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

A Curmudgeon at the Fair

Admittedly, if my stomach were a little bigger (give me time; I’m working on it) I could pass for the irascible character “Fred” played by William Frawley on the old  I Love Lucy TV show.  Sometimes, just like Fred, I’m a little on the grumpy side, but it’s not always my fault, for sometimes my wife Bev wants me to stay longer at certain places than I desire.
It’s not that she sticks a gun to my head or uses any other form of physical persuasion.  I reluctantly go because she’s my wife, I love her, and I like to please her.  As a matter of fact, at this rather late state in my life she’s the only person I do worry about pleasing.
As much as the next guy I enjoy the county fair, as long as the visit ends in three hours or less.  My wife, however, needs three hours there just to get warmed up. 
Evidently our town is  a boring place, for it seemed as if every citizen was at the fair.  There were extremely old folks who were barely able to navigate.  There were young couples walking so closely together that they seemed like two-headed escapees from the circus.  And, of course, there were lots and lots of kids. 
Engulfing the grounds was a strangulating odor consisting of a strange mixture of fried food, sweat, and animal dung. Much of the food served there is of the high calorie, artery-clogging variety.  Being a good fairgoer, Bev guided us to the stand where pork tenderloins were being fried in a vat of pungent grease.  With every bite I could imagine my poor blood cells fighting an evermore difficult battle to circulate throughout my body.  Of course, the sandwich was delicious.
Inadvertently I stepped on a few people’s feet as we worked our way to our assigned grandstand seats.  Bev insisted that we go there early so we wouldn’t miss a thing.  By the time the group began playing, due to the uncomfortable seats, I was suffering from back spasms, a numb left foot, and a stiff neck. About halfway through the performance a headache was added to my physical problems. 

The old-fashioned, nasal-singing country group was not bad if you like that kind of music, but I came to detest it at an early age.  Just about every Sunday  Dad forced my siblings and me to sit quietly on the sofa while he cranked out several hours worth of country music on his stereo.  So a little of the old-fashioned country music goes a long way with me.
After the show mercifully ended several of the fans returned the favor by tramping on my now-aching feet.  Perhaps they were in a hurry so they wouldn’t miss the sheep dip demonstration.  Bev and I then headed for a jewelry booth.  In fact, between visiting the various animal barns we went to this particular booth four times, and four times Bev decided not to buy anything.  On the way home, however, she berated herself for not buying any jewelry.  Go figure.
The chickens, ducks, and geese were rather “fowl” smelling (forgive the bad pun).  By the time we reached the pig barn my stomach was turning somersaults as the result of the greasy food I had eaten and the not so pleasant animal aromas.  Some enterprising business person could have made a small fortune by opening a Pepto-Bismol booth.
As we strolled through the cow barn I realized how little I knew about those farm creatures.  Heck, until fifth grade I thought one gets the milk out of a cow by pumping its tail, and I figured that one of the udders had to be for the chocolate milk. Unfortunately, while gazing at “Bossy” I inadvertently stepped squarely into a fresh cow pie. 
Six hours after our arrival we began the long-awaited journey home.  Bev went on and on about the great time she had, but wished we would have stayed longer.  On my part, on my shoe I was taking a little piece of the fair home with me.  That was a perfect metaphor for my experience that evening.

Friday, September 18, 2015

He Couldn't Escape the War

The southern gentleman wasn’t looking for any war action,  but it seemed as though the war was looking for him.

In 1861 several southern states had left the Union, forming the Confederate States of America.   The North, led by Abraham Lincoln, was not going to let those states leave without a fight.

The initial full-scale battle of the Civil War, the First Battle of Bull Run (First Manassas), was fought on the farm of Wilmer McLean (5-3-1814, 6-5-1882), a wholesale grocer.  At the time of the battle the McLean house was serving as the headquarters for the Confederate General P. G. T. Beauregard.  During the engagement a Union cannonball fell into the fireplace, destroying the general’s dinner.

Thirteen months later the Second Battle of Bull Run destroyed more of McLean’s property.  By then the poor guy had seen more than enough of the war, so in the spring of 1863 he and his family packed their bags and moved south to Appomattox Court House.  Finally, McLean felt that they were safe from the death and destruction of the conflict.

By April of 1865 it was obvious to everyone except perhaps Confederate President Jefferson Davis that the South could not win the war.  General Robert E. Lee saw the writing on the wall and thus was ready to come to terms with Union General Ulysses S. Grant.  Grant sent an official to find a place in Appomattox Court House where the two sides could discuss terms.  On April 8, 1865, a request was made to use McLean’s house.  Reluctantly the owner agreed.

The next day in McLean’s parlor Lee surrendered his remaining 28,000 troops to  Grant, effectively ending the long war.  The two generals had a passing acquaintance, having met during the Mexican War.  Grant, who didn’t give a hoot about military “spit and polish,” arrived wearing a muddy field uniform; Lee wore his best ceremonial outfit, which included a sash and a sword.

General Grant was quite generous in the terms of surrender.  All the Confederate soldiers, including the officers, would be pardoned, and they would be allowed to go home with their private property.  They could retain their horses, which would be needed for planting.  The starving men would be given rations.  The officers could retain their firearms.

In 1867 McLean sold his property and returned to Manassas.  Later he and his family moved to Alexandria, Virginia, where he worked for the Internal Revenue Service for a few years.  The man who couldn’t escape the war is buried at St. Paul’s Episcopal Cemetery in Alexandria.