Learning through Laughter

Bob Owen, Humorist

Sometimes we Baby Boomers can be so smug.  We’ve been raised to work hard and get what we want.  We value our health, and even though we’re failing apart at the seams, albeit gently, we are in relatively good condition.

At our age, we’re pretty confident because we’ve probably made every mistake known to man, so we don’t have much to fret about.

Usually, we can be pretty sure of ourselves and think we’re oh so young to be so old.  We think we’re so brave and strong.  And so wise.  And so bright and witty.

We’ll let me tell you! We’re not even in the same zip code as some people I know.  I have some dear friends who are 89 (and on the upper side of that), and I’ve never felt so old and wimpy and boring as when I visit them.   You wanna see YOUNG?!?  You wanna see VIBRANT?!?  You wanna see ATTITUDE?!?  You wanna hear FUNNY?!?  You drop by their house any afternoon about 5.

The gentleman is bedfast, virtually blind and almost completely paralyzed.  He’s been ill much of his life, but you wouldn’t know it.  The lady is stunningly beautiful, still, and brilliant and witty.  Her eyes have failed to the point that she can see very little and can’t read at all, which was one of her passions.  These two wonderful friends still live at home.  Yes, with help, but at home.

When I first started dropping by, they were very particular about the time of day when they liked visitors.  Morning is difficult, because nurses come and go and assist the gentleman.  Noon isn’t good for me, and early afternoon isn’t always good for them.  They frequently take naps.  So that leaves late afternoon.  Around 5.

Let me explain to you that their social life would wear me out!  Just about every afternoon is a party afternoon at their house.  Nothing they plan, but from 5ish p.m. to 6ish p.m. their house is busy.  Friends from everywhere drop in for conversation and a glass of wine.  No heavy drinking, just heavy, interesting, humorous, and lively friendships and talk.  That doesn’t take into account the business people who frequently come and go to get the gentleman’s advice or take on community activities.  After all, he is a retired attorney/bank president responsible for many of the major “movings and shakings” in his day.

I know what you’re thinking.  How dull to sit around and listen to people in their 80s (and 90s) complain about their aches and pains.  None of that here!  These people make me and my friends look like sissies.

One lady who recently lost a long-suffering battle with lung cancer would come by regularly and laugh and tell stories and never once talk about her illness.  They talked about politics and who had no sense at all.  They talked about the economy and whose business probably would be closing in a month. They talked about each other and traditions and things pleasant and unpleasant.  They talked about their travels to places of which I had never heard.  They talked about famous people they met, befriended, and became close to.

Today, we Boomers think we are active and well informed.  Nothing like these people.

One regular and his wife walk in the door twice a week laughing and smiling.  He is in his early 80s, a mere child, and has been retired as an engineer for years.  He builds and flies his own airplanes.  He writes English mysteries, and he audits a philosophy class at the local college.  One day he brought a picture to take snapshots of his hostess, and the next week he brought an oil painting of her he did from the photograph.

Another lady stopped by and in the course of her visit explained that she once used to hang out of helicopters to take aerial photographs for industrial clients. Another put himself through school playing piano in bars.   I’m always excited to see who is going to stop by when I visit.  The list is limitless.

We don’t talk about illness.  We don’t talk about age.  In fact, when possible I don’t talk at all.  I like to sit back and listen and learn.  I’ve learned how to make “milk punch” for parties, which does indeed contain the white liquid, but it certainly is NOT the defining ingredient in this potent drink.  I can now make Tin Lizzies Christmas cookies passed down for generations and the best meatloaf possible.  And I have traveled to just about every imaginable place in the world through listening to these people.  People who don’t have two sticks to rub together come by.  People who own the whole tree and perhaps more than half the trees in town come by.  All are friends.  None are snubbed.  All knew each other “when” and continue their relationships.

Sometimes, we Baby Boomers think we defined the world.  We think we’re the brightest, the healthiest, the most wonderful.  We don’t think we’re boring like the older generation.  Well let me tell you, come with me any afternoon, and I’ll show you exciting and interesting.

Date of Blog Story: 
November 6, 2007

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