Sunday, February 1, 1998

See friends before they've had time to get their pictures developed

Let me address in this column the chronologically challenged, an unexpected state of being which will creep up on most of us quicker than we think. Those still unchallenged can tune out if they want to. Now that I have reached 65, be warned that age is a subject I may return to from time to time. I was glad recently that the theme of our Urban League's annual dinner was 'Gifts of the elders-celebrating the amazing contributions of our urban seniors'.

I am still laughing at some of the happy expressions and ideas of Peg Bracken in her new book, On Getting Old for the First Time. Bracken, an Oregon author, first made her name for serving up The I Hate to Cook Book. She has done the illustrations for this new book and added appropriate rhymes. For instance:

'Latest scientific finding,

Older persons need reminding'


'Twinkle, twinkle, little light,

Blinking on and off all night.

Twinkle, twinkle little star,

Can someone fix my VCR.'

She calls the generation gap a chasm. But the only thing that shocks her now is that she is not shocked. She notes the changes from when she grew up, for instance her doctor made house calls. 'The other day,' she writes, 'I didn't feel so great, and I telephoned my HMO (Health Maintenance Organization). It said, "Your call will be answered as soon as the Advice Nurse for your Health Care Provider's module is available. Please stay on the line." I listened to the standby music awhile,' she comments, 'and then took two aspirin.'

She is up to date and also pokes fun at modern developments. 'A neighbour who recently bought a computer telephoned the other day, asking where my computer's parallel port is. I don't know whether this fellow is walking the walk or just talking the talk, though I suspect he doesn't know much more about it than I do. I wasn't about to admit that I didn't know I had a parallelport, so I said, "Come on over and see for yourself."

'"Be there in a mouse-click," he said cheerily, and showed up half a minute later. Just to get even I asked him how many applications he had in his CD ROM-I'd picked that up from an ad and thought it sounded good. He didn't know, so I felt better.'

She has advice for those who are squeamish about talking about dying. 'One popular euphemism should be mentioned: "If anything should happen to me." Note the word "anything". That means death. Note also the word "if". Here, the realist wants to say, "Face facts, fella. It isn't If, it's When."'

I think it was Conrad Hilton, of hotel fame, who said that the biggest lesson he learned in life was to put the shower curtain inside the bath. Well, Bracken has 17 lessons. They range from 'accommodate is spelled with two cs and two ms' to 'on their return from a trip, it is wise to see friends promptly before they've had time to get their pictures developed'.

Let me end with this social commentary from On Getting Old for the First Time:

'Hooray for the wonders of Science!

From guilt we are suddenly free!

If I'm moody and mean it's the fault of a gene,

And you'd better not blame it on me.'

Incidentally, an older friend of mine who was getting forgetful thought a healing service at church might help. The only trouble was that when she got to the service she couldn't remember why she had come.