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Being old means never having to say you're sorry

People are always coming up to me and sticking their phone in my face and imploring me to look at a picture of something.

“Well?” they’ll say. “What do you think of that?”

If it’s a true friend, I won’t tell them the truth, which is that it looks to me like a little Jackson Pollock painting — in other words, a small square blob of colors. When they go on to explain that it’s a photo of their prized cat, dog, child, spouse or car, I try to reply with a nice warm, “Awwwwww,” but I doubt I’m fooling anyone.

You see, at my age I almost never can tell what’s being thrust in my face — not because I’m going blind, exactly, because I can see faraway things just fine. No, it’s simple old age.

It used to be I couldn’t read the fine print — on pill bottles, legal contracts, etc. Then I couldn’t read Willamette Week, then The Oregonian. Now anything smaller than a good-size newspaper headline is just a blur.

I have adapted, though. I have purchased many of those closeup reading glasses — you know, the kind you find at every store in one of those end-of-the-aisle displays — and I’ve left pairs of them pretty much everywhere: on my end of the kitchen counter where I eat, in the car, by my TV-watching chair, at work and so on.

I also try to always have a pair on me because it’s kind of humiliating to have to ask the other person who lives at our house to read things like a restaurant menu to me.

Oh, I know what you’re thinking: I could just point to something on the menu and take my chances, but TOPWLAOH did that once in France and accidentally ordered pig’s feet. A sharp-eyed waiter averted the calamity because he quite rightly pegged her for a non-pig’s-feet eater.

Speaking of those reading glasses, I do have an idea for a startup company. I don’t like those severe, black-framed glasses that the young people seem to prefer. They remind me of either Sarah Palin or those strange women in old Gary Larson cartoons.

I would rather have the kinder, gentler wire rim ones favored by John Lennon and Paul Newman — and I suspect plenty of other aging baby boomers would, too. But you can’t find them anymore, and the ones I’ve managed to avoid breaking or losing are getting pretty scratched up.

The only thing funnier than one old poop who can’t see and barely can hear is when there are two living under the same roof.

Last Thursday night, we were expecting someone to come over shortly after 7, and I was even watching the clock — but, because we had a big fan on to fight the heat, and the TV up nice and loud so we could hear it over the fan, we never heard the bing-bong of the doorbell. Fortunately, our visitor figured out we were there and called us on her cellphone — which we heard just fine, thank you very much, because it was no more than a foot from either of us.

A favorite tale among my wife’s family has to do with the time her aging mom, a short-legged woman, fell backward in their dad’s booby-trapped shop and wound up stuck in a giant tractor tire, her legs and arms flailing in the air. Her cries for help went unheard, mainly because her husband was in the house with the TV blasting at high volume. Only when he got hungry and went looking for her (to fix him something to eat) did he discover her caught in the tire trap. She was embarrassed, but laughing. He, of course, was not, because he was hungry, and hunger has a way of killing one’s sense of humor.

My parents had their own unique kind of communication issues, but I don’t believe it had as much to do with hearing ability as simple orneriness. My dad, who was known for his love of beer and its anesthesizing properties (a trait not shared by my mom), did not exactly have super hearing, but he swore that as his pleas for volume got louder, her voice diminished, quite purposely.

He once accused her of going to the far end of the house, “bending over, with her head in a cupboard” and mumbling something barely audible even in that room, let alone several doors away.

The fact that I (and the person I live with) may have deteriorating sight and hearing doesn’t have to be a bone of contention, but it sometimes is. We do have some bad genes to live down, after all. But it has occurred to me that this may be one of those things that love can conquer. It has so far, anyway.

And who knows, maybe being old means never having to say you’re sorry.

Former managing editor of several community newspapers, including the Woodburn Independent, Lake Oswego Review and the Times papers, Kelly is chief of the central design desk for Community Newspapers and the Portland Tribune, and he contributes a regular column.




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