My friend Charles is 92. A year ago he was running the streets of his Fort Worth neighborhood and riding his bike, although he hung up his car keys voluntarily a couple of years ago. Today he spends much of his time in a nursing home bed, but he gets out--oh, boy, does he get out. He goes to the Unitarian church, and friends pick him up; then they all go to lunch afterward. He goes to lunch on Wednesdays at the Black-Eyed Pea with a church group, and today he and his youngest son had lunch at the Swiss Pastry Shop which he loves. Tonight I took him to a local bistro that serves mussels, which he remembers eating as a very young child. He told me several times how much he was looking forward to the evening, and enjoy he did.. He ate a small serving (looked pretty big to me) of mussels in Italian sauce (wine, cream and pesto)--I tried my first mussel and thought it was neither good nor bad but not something I'd order. Then he had a crab cake, and I could tell he was only avoiding dessert because of my diet, so we finally compromised on chocolate mousse with two spoons. He ate 3/4 of it, while I happily took a few bites and ate the raspberries. When I asked if he was going to have wine, he said, "Oh, yes, that's part of the meal I'm looking forward to." He savored every bite, eating slowly and enjoying--something I should learn to do. I should mention that he arrived with his mouth set for crab cakes but they weren't on the menu--I too wanted crab cakes but the waitress said they had only one left from yesterday, so I gave it to him. I ate Caesar salad and steak tartare. We had a lovely evening, teasing each other as longtime friends will do, and when I took him back to the retirement center he guarnteed me he'd be asleep in an hour. I enjoyed the evening, doubly because he enjoyed it so much. But it made me thinnk--I want to age like Charles. Even though he now uses a walker, confesses that he's gotten clumsier, and refers to himself as disabled, he has an absolute zest for life and thoroughly enjoys the string of visitors who come and go from his room. Obviously they enjoy him too, and except for moments of forgetfulness--he called me last night to ask if we'd missed our date and I explained it was tonight--he's as lucid and brilliant as he always was, one of the smartest men I ever knew. I want to age like Charles.
Funny thing, but when I go to the retirement home to see him I keep running into some old acquaintances who now live there. One said tonight, "I wish we could get you down here,"and I said, "I enjoy my house too much." I guess I made a faux pas because when I walked in I saw a woman I know, we spoke, and I asked if she was working there. "No," she said, "I live here now." Charles laughed when I told him the story.
But on a sad note, we lost a good friend who died last night, a surgeon who had been my ex-husband's senior partner and who, when I was left alone with four children, kept a close watch to see that we were all okay. We've remained friends over all those years, and I lunched frequently with his wife. She was the one who called this morning to give me the news. Charles says he wants to go to the memorial service, so I'll go pick him up Monday morning.
I realize, with some shock, that all that is not that far away for me--twenty years, and I'll be Charles' age. I truly hope to do it gracefully, as a joy to my family and not a burden. But I know it ain't easy.