Back from an antique land with tales to tell
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Again, being alone in the experience is different. When my sister and I visit together, a raised eyebrow between us communicates support. We know how each other feels. We love these two people, and we know how lucky they are to have one another and how lucky we are to be 60-something “kids.” It’s also painful to see the future played out by these characters who apparently have stolen the bodies and minds of the mom and dad we knew. These oldies seem to be overacting.
Some of the experience of old age is clichéd. My dad coughs like Billy Crystal’s old man. His brain gets stuck on a thought as if he hit a “repeat” button. On this visit, it was the question, does the earth orbit around the sun or does the sun orbit around the earth?
Last year, he sang the first line of “Willkommen, Bienvenu, Welcome” from “Cabaret.” He sang it and he sang it and he sang it. Now he has moved on to contemplating the planets and stars and the mystery of life.
I ask them what the worst thing is about being old, and they agree: the body fails in many ways, even when you’re healthy. They know they can’t hear well, even with aids, their vision is impaired and they walk tentatively. They know they’re one hip fracture away from disaster.
Technology has complicated their lives. The new phones and TVs aren’t easy to use. Try to explain HBO on Demand to someone who was born in the era of the ice box.
One night, my dad went to sleep and my mother and I watched “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” on TV. I had seen it before. She had difficulty hearing it, and the level at which she could hear nearly pulverized my brain. Still, we got to talk about the theme of the movie, in which several people take up residence in a hotel for the elderly in India. One dies, some embrace the adventure, some leave disenchanted, some find love after loss. The message: Everything will be all right in the end, and if it isn’t all right, then it isn’t the end. Lovely fantasy.
Of course, real life is overrated. We prefer flicks like “The Bucket List” and “Cocoon” and “Quartet.” Through Hollywood’s lens, old folks are adorable and quirky and inappropriate in a funny way. No one wants to witness a conversation between two people who mishear and misunderstand one another for 10 minutes and then sit silently for two hours.