I have an unnatural aversion to old people. I know a lot of people shy away from old people out of some desire not to interact with the inevitable, but mine is really more of an aversion I think, than just a simple “ick” influence. And I think I know where it started…
When I was young, my brother and I would spend a couple of weeks each summer with my grandparents in North Carolina. This was back when the airline industry was revered and you got those cool little gold “Delta” wings when you flew. We were only like, 6 and 9 years old then (I was 6) and we flew by ourselves. The crew always made sure we were safely tucked on board and they walked us off the plane upon arrival into the waiting arms of my grandparents. The funny thing was, once there, we didn’t do a whole lot with my grandparents and because of that, I gravitated to my grandfather’s sister, Aunt Marjorie.
She was old back then even. But she lived in the house with my grandparents and pretty much acted like the maid, butler and all-around babysitter. I loved her like…well, like nobody really. I slept in her room in a twin bed on the other side of the nightstand from her and at the crack of dawn, we’d both get up and start making breakfast. I can still smell the frying bacon and taste the cool, graininess of the homemade apple sauce that she’d bring up from the bare-earth basement.
But once breakfast was done and the house chores were finished, often Aunt Marjorie and I would go for a drive. In her younger years, she worked at the Biltmore House and we would often drive around the estate and she’d rattle off how she used to do so and so there, and over there she took care of this or that. We’d also usually drive parallel to the French Broad River—a deep, fast river that runs from North Carolina to Tennessee and that I simply loved.
On rare occasions, we would stop by one of the many volunteer stations where my Aunt worked and one day we went to an old folks’ home. We didn’t stay long, but I remember walking in with her and being told to “stand right there” while she dropped off some covered dish or something. She turned to speak to someone and, like all little boys, I had to look around and see what was going on. There were old people everywhere, which was fine…I was OK. But then, this old lady about ten feet away, sitting in a chair, beckoned to me and said, “Come here. Come here little boy.” Now, being used to doing what adults told me, I obeyed. I walked over to her, a bit stiffly and she reached out and with preternatural strength, wrapped me in a sinewy, old-lady bear hug and began to squeeze the ever-lovin’ life outta me!
I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t call out. After what seemed like ages, finally someone noticed what was going on and a bunch of them came running over and had to literally pry the old lady off of me.
I was scared…shaken, and apparently never the same again. Today, I like old people from a distance. And I like old people in general, but there comes a point at which I go from looking at them as just older versions of myself, and start seeing them as these not-quite-human “things” that I’d just as soon avoid. And this is bad because CareerMom’s grandmother has recently taken a turn for the worse and has been here visiting. We’ve done a couple of big family get-togethers and while everyone else is gathered around her trying to make the most of her remaining time, I have to literally force myself to even go into the room—and it shames me. I pray she hasn’t noticed with everyone else gathered around. To cover myself, I follow the kids around, pretending to be watching them, when really, I’m avoiding.
I know…one day it’ll be me in that chair and I’ll wish I could reach out and squeeze my grandkids. I pray I’m still lucid enough to show some restraint.