Sometimes Older People Just Want To Talk, And That’s Okay Because Being Older Is Hard

“His name is Wolf. No really, that’s his real name.” This is what Nadine said to me this morning. At the time of writing this, it occurred nearly an hour ago. The comment caught me completely off guard. I was patiently waiting in line at Panera, eager to purchase a spinach, mushroom, and sofrito soufflé and get on with my day. I have a lot of shit to do today, like write, read, study, apply for jobs, look up Madden ’17 ratings, buy shoe cleaner, etc. It’s going to be a busy day.

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It wasn’t until I looked towards the cashier that I realized she was addressing me. She gazed at me with a sweet smile (the kind that looked as if she just baked a dozen chocolate chip cookies from scratch), anticipating my response. “Excuse me, ma’am?”, I replied.

“Wolf, my husband, that’s his real name. It’s not a nickname,” she said, gesturing towards the older gentlemen standing beside her. “Our grandkids always say, ‘Hey Grandma Wolf’ and I always tell them, I’m not the Wolf, your Papa is the Wolf,” she said with a cute snicker. I could tell she frequently enjoys a few humorous anecdotes from herself. I can appreciate that. I crack myself up a lot these days.

Unsure of what to say, I responded with a sterile, “Gotcha! That’s funny.” It wasn’t my intention to return with a short antiphon. It’s just that I’m a bit of an introvert and extremely awkward when speaking to strangers, especially in the morning (having just woke up less than an hour ago) and before I’ve consumed food (did I mention I woke up less than an hour ago?).

She smiled again, calmly turned to her husband, and finished placing her order. I faintly sneered as she looked away, and approached the counter to purchase the egg pastry that I intended to gormandize less than 5 minutes upon receiving it.

I collected my food and drink from the nearby pick-up trestle and turned in search of an area to cocoon myself for the next 5 hours. As I began walking towards the general seating area, I locked eyes with Nadine once again. Disappointed with my response during our prior encounter, I attempted to be as warming as possible with my facial expression. I flashed an inviting grin, then looked to continue my search for a place of solace.

“Are you gonna eat that? You must be hungry,” Nadine said chuckling. She was cracking herself up again. I can dig it.

“Yes ma’am, I am,” I replied.

“Well, would you like to sit with us? We certainly don’t mind,” she said, sliding her tray aside to clear room for my arrival.

Under any other circumstances, I would have declined the invitation. After all, I have a ton of shit to do today, remember? People need to know why I think Frank Ocean’s new album is palatable mediocrity. I need to know Golden Tate’s overall Madden rating given Megatron’s departure. And I still need to clean a few sneakers that I wore just once a few weeks ago. Dammit, there’s never enough time to do anything.

“Are you sure?” I replied.

“Of course. Wolf and I could use some company.”

I glanced at Wolf, seeking his approval. He hadn’t said anything since his wife began speaking to me. I wanted to be sure his wife wasn’t writing checks that his humility had no intention of cashing.

Picking up on my subtle social hints, Wolf smiled and said, “Yeah, c’mon young man. Have a seat.”

I set my belongings down and eased my way into the vacant chair next to Nadine. She was overly enthused with my decision to dine with her and her husband. I’m not sure I have ever seen a White woman over the age of seventy excited at the prospect of eating with a 30-year-old Black man. From my brief existence on this planet, shit like this doesn’t happen often, not even in movies. Unless, of course, you’re Hillary Clinton looking to score votes. Seriously, when’s the last time you saw Diane Keaton opposite a young, Black male on the silver screen? I’ll wait.

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“So, what’s your name?” asked Nadine.

“Morgan,” I replied.

“Morgan? Oh, that’s our granddaughter’s name. That’s such a lovely name,” she said.

It’s a response I have become quite familiar with. Other than Morgan Freeman, the fictional character on The Walking Dead, and a guy I once interviewed for a management position at Nike, I have never met or known another Black man with the first name Morgan. Occasionally, I would come across a Black chick named Morgan. But it’s exceedingly rare. I’ve long accepted that my name is now synonymous with, “White Girl.” There’s a movie coming out this fall about an “exceptionally gifted” white girl aptly titled, Morgan, which I’m sure will only exacerbate my conundrum. Oh, joy!

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Nadine and I had a long, spirited conversation (it wasn’t much of a conversation, just her talking to me really) about a wide range of topics. She told me more about her grandchildren – eight total, three girls and five boys – their ages, and the various activities they’re involved in. As it turns out, Morgan is a phenomenal athlete. I guess we have a few things in common.

She described the first accident she endured and how her father nearly had a heart attack when he found out.

She told a few tales about growing up in the 1950s; about her dream of becoming a professional baker, but instead relishing the opportunity to become a stay-at-home mom, her love affair for Mission: Impossible (she had a huge celebrity crush for Peter Graves), and the sadness she felt upon reading about Steven Hill’s death this morning. She expressed frustrations with technology, namely the new oven her daughter bought her, and why she is convinced her baked goods don’t taste as good as they did when she used her antique Maytag (the character of an appliance provides flavor in her opinion). She talked about the friendships she built over the years, but how many of her closest acquaintances had now passed on.

Wolf chimed in a few times, mostly with anecdotes about how much society has changed and how he didn’t understand it, but he was virtually quiet during the conversation. He might have been on some Clint Eastwood shit, who knows. But he was content with letting his wife do most of the talking. I surmise it’s a resolution he came to years ago.

About halfway through the conversation, I came to the stark realization that Nadine just wanted to converse with someone, anyone, other than Wolf. It’s not that she’s grown tired of her husband (she is very much still in love with Wolf and told a beautifully romantic story about when they met, and how he needed permission from her father to take her out to a local diner and grab malts). It’s that she needed to interact with someone different. I just happened to be the complicit stranger she was seeking. Or maybe I was the “Magic Negro” that would suddenly give their lives purpose, I honestly can’t tell.

I can’t say I didn’t come away from this experience with some substantive jawns of my own. A few advantages of spending time with old folks is obtaining delicious hard candies and life gems. According to my dentist, I can do without the former. The latter included timely advice about the importance of chasing your dreams and pursuing happiness, which is always appreciated.

Recently, my mother has continuously asked me if I would put her in a nursing home when she reaches the age of eighty. It’s a topic I wish to avoid, as the thought of my mother aging saddens me. But it’s a legitimate question that concerns her, one fueled by the fear of being forgotten.

We all have stories; life is an incredible matrix of complex and compelling tales and experiences. And we all want our existence to mean something, to have purpose. In a society where technology has afforded us the ability to interact with one another from afar, it’s easy to forget the importance of intimate human connection. I suppose Nadine, in the winter of her life, sought to espouse this affection. I was privileged to have been a witness to her abridged biography.

The older we get, the harder life becomes. Yesterday, I was concerned if I would have enough money to see Europe again within the next five years. Ten years ago I was worried about whether I had enough money to get lit at Night Kap. (It was a Kappa party. What the fuck was I thinking?) Twenty years ago I was coming to terms with rejection from my elementary school crush. ({Insert name of unnamed woman here} broke my heart because she wouldn’t wouldn’t go with me. The nerve of her!)

Life is short. But it’s shorter for older people. So if a card-carrying, AARP member attempts to spark up a conversation with you, and you have time to indulge, do it. Oblige gotdammit. Lord willing, that will be you in 50 years, and you’ll expect the same.

 

 

 

 

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