Sunday, December 12, 2010

Aging with Style

In the past I’ve been guilty of ageism. Before I hit the age of 40, I tended to view my elders as something different than me…not worse, by any means, but just different. Not as up-to-date. Not as funny. Not as earthy. Certainly not as hormonal. Which is why I could never figure out why one of my Dad’s mother would laugh uproariously at my Saturday Night Live Cast Album. I mean, she must have been all of 55 at the time, and we all know that’s old.

I think what finished this illusion once and for all was hanging out with my other grandmother. Grandma Theresa was a social animal, and for a while she dated a gentleman from Belgium we’ll (respectfully) called Nick the Frog. Old Nick wasn’t much to look at, hence his epithet; but Nick had bucks and wasn’t afraid to use them, and Grandma wasn’t afraid to benefit, either. He was good to her, to be sure, and having lost two previous husbands to cancer Lord knows she deserved everything she could get. But it was still kind of…well, creepy…to think of Nick the Frog kissing my grandmother. So one day, when I was in one of those intergenerational-bonding-question-moods, I asked her how she could stand kissing Nick the Frog. “I wouldn’t know, really,” she said with a wink. “He tires easily.”

Theresa was the kind of Grandma who would set me up on a date the same night she had one. Usually her date would come pick her up before I took her car, so I played the role of the father, inspecting the date before she left the house. (And yes, I did reject one.) Before she would leave, she would turn to me and say, “Now don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.”

One night I decided to call her bluff. “And what exactly is it that you do?” I asked.

Her eyes sparkled. “A hell of a lot more than you think.”

Date nights would end when we both got home, drinking hot tea laced with peppermint schnapps. She would complain about how all the men her age were sick with something or another and just wanted someone to take care of them. I would wonder how in the world she could think it was okay to set me up with a seventeen year old no matter what her fake ID, kissing abilities, and breast size had said otherwise. (The answer, of course, is that she was Jewish.)

My grandmother’s comments came back to me a few weeks ago as I went to examine an 87 year old woman who had suffered a fall. The right side of her face black and blue, with a bruise going from just above her eye down to the girlishly prominent cheekbones.

“Hello, ma’am, I’m Dr. Rodenberg. What happened to you?”

With a smiling face and a knowing look, she answered. “Rough sex.”

There was no comeback. I stood there stunned for a good thirty seconds as she laughed out loud and her family stared at her with horror. Finally, I looked at her with all the compassion I hold for those elders who are the kind of old person I want to be: Crotchety, independent, and racy as hell.

“Ma’am, if I was 40 years old I’d date you.”

She eyed me up and down, with special attention to the waistline.

“And then you’d see what I mean” she answered back.

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