Those of you who know me
and know how much I love to talk might be surprised to learn that I also love
to listen. Maybe it’s the writer in me, always looking for a good story to
‘appropriate,’ or maybe it’s that I’ve always considered myself an old soul (or
a nosy old biddy, whichever you please), but I’m fascinated by other people’s
lives, particularly older people. It’s not just that I enjoy hearing about what
life was like ‘back in the day’. If that were the case, I could pick up a
history text or Google a year and find more facts than my brain could
comprehend. What I love is hearing the teller slip back into that moment,
watching his face, an aged reflection of what it must have looked like that
day, listening not to the words, but to the echo of almost forgotten laughter.
I know I’m getting deep
for so early in the week, but I just had the pleasure of spending an hour
chatting with three octogenarians. It might not seem like a rousing way to wrap
up Cyber Monday, which, by the way, my three companions likely couldn’t fathom,
never mind explain, anymore than I could fathom the lives they lived at my age.
But I try, by asking them to tell me stories.
Conversations can be
awkward when there’s a sixty-five year age gap. There are only so many topics
we can talk about where all parties are on equal footing. Some topics, though,
are timeless. I’m not talking about the weather or football. Too much time is
spent on the mundane. (Besides, the storms bother their arthritis, and they
prefer to talk baseball.) There are certain stories, important stories, that
people love to tell, but too often we never ask to hear them.
Veterans love to talk of
their time in the service. Not the unpleasant parts, perhaps, but the lighter
times. Times when they bonded with strangers who became brothers. Times when
they escaped tragedy. Times when they heard the words they most wanted to hear:
You’re going home.
Couples love to tell about
how they met. At a dance for the boys headed off to war. In a roller skating
rink, which both returned to the second night in hopes the other would come
back, too. On a double date, flirting with a sister’s partner, throwing popcorn
at a future husband of over sixty years. (Her sister forgave her…eventually.)
And nearly all love to speak of family. Always family.
Stories of sibling rivalries and raising Cain, to tales of raising children.
I’m not sure at what age
nostalgia sets in and we develop the urge to tell our life’s tales. Maybe it’s
when retirement loses its excitement. Maybe it’s when one comes to grip with
the fact that there’s more life behind, than ahead. Or maybe it’s just when
one’s grandchildren are finally old enough to sit still and listen for an hour
every now and then.
I’m lucky to have
grandparents and family friends who have lived long enough to reach that stage
in life. And I’m honored to sit with them an hour or two every now and again to
hear their tales, to relive with them those moments in their lives of which
time, and memory loss, and all the ailments of old age can’t rob them.
One of my students said to
me the other day, “Old people make me sad.” I didn’t have a good answer for her
then. I do now. ‘Old people’ make us sad, because most of the time all we see
is their present and their future. If we took the time to listen to their
pasts, we might realize what most of them already know: getting there’s the
good part, and it’s worth it. Or as Viv tells me nearly every Monday, “It’s
hell getting old, Lau, but it beats the alternative.”
Yes, Gram, it does, because there are more
tales to be told, and this chatty girl’s more than happy to shut up and hear