These days, most seniors are what are "Active Seniors." What's the saying: "Sixty is the new forty" or something like that? I heard Steven Tyler, of "Aerosmith," say that last year, when he turned 60. Well, there was a time when old people were just old - and sometimes they were very old!
In my case, my grandparents were like that - truly old. As I was (am) the fifth of five boys, I was already at a disadvantage when it came to having grandparents that weren't downright ancient. Add to that the fact that I wasn't just the youngest, but the real youngest, and they were real old. My brothers were all part of the post-war baby boom - now simply known as the Baby Boom.
Me? I'm young enough to be part of the next generation. In fact, after I was born, most people took me for my parents' first grandchild! My Dad was fifty when I was born, and my grandparents were in their seventies. For as long as I knew them, they were the "old couple" living on Paul Revere Road, and then going down to their little cottage on Martha's Vineyard for the summer. I never knew of them working or doing much of anything - they were retired. Why? Because they were grandparents, and that's what grandparents did.
Now, before I was born, my parents had a little cabin up in Essex, and they'd take the boys up there for the summer to swim and play. Then, when they got old enough to be - shall we say, trusted? - Grandmother and Grandfather would have them come visit them - one at a time - for a couple weeks. Steve - the oldest - went first, and then Greg. By the time Dave (number three son) came along, they were feeling a bit too old to keep up with an "energetic" little boy, and they stopped the whole thing.
By this time, the boys were getting older, and they were bored with Essex. They wanted to go to the island and get jobs to earn some spending money. This is when I arrived on the scene. So, on the one hand, I never got to stay with Grandmother and Grandfather, but I also grew up spending summers on Martha's Vineyard.
Now, you may have noticed, I didn't call them Grandpa and Grandma, Gramps and Gamma etc. No, it was Grandmother and Grandfather. Somehow, the full term just seemed more appropriate; I always felt so formal around them. The real negative about all this was that I never really felt like they were people to... play with. Looking back, they just didn't seem like the typical doting grandparents.
But, there was gin rummy.
Granted, it isn't much, but it was something for us to share. Grandfather would pull out - of all things - his old Ouija board, and then shuffle the cards and deal them out. More often than not, I couldn't beat him, which was rather frustrating for a little eight-year-old boy.
That's when Grandmother would come to the rescue. She'd offer to play with me, and - no matter how long it took - I'd usually win. Of course, at the time, I had no idea she was letting me win. As we played, we'd talk. Grandmother would tell me about Ethel and Bertie - her sisters - and her Uncle Joe, the family storyteller, and she'd tell me some of his stories.
"The City of Portland sailed from Portland, Maine in May of 1884. It struck a reef or something, and was lost with all hands - all save Uncle Joe," she would say.
I was amazed. "How did he survive?" I asked.
She would laugh - she had a great laugh - and say, "He'd reach into his pocket and pull out a ticket - he'd gotten it printed up somewhere - and say, 'I missed the boat'. And we'd all laugh; always one for telling great stories, your Uncle Joe."
Those stories always made me laugh too, and told me a lot about the family. Another drawback to being the youngest was that you didn't get to meet a lot of the older family members - they were all gone. Yet, through Grandmother and Grandfather, and their stories, all those people came alive to me.
So, when I visited them at their house, we played gin rummy; and when I came over to their cottage, we played it and drank lemonade or milk and ate graham crackers. It wasn't much, but it was a connection, and those memories still burn bright for me.
Of course, in the fullness of time, Grandmother and then Grandfather grew too old to even play cards - and then left us. By then, I'd introduced my niece and nephew - Heidi and Nick - to the game, and we started playing. Through high school and college, it was our quiet little game to play; something to do when the more exciting games of youth were unavailable - it made for a great "rainy day game" - and we shared a lot of talks over a hand of gin rummy.
Of course, time being what it was, eventually we all grew up and moved on with our lives. Yet, that game still held good memories for me, and others to come. For, there finally came the time when I had a child of my own, and I taught her the game. From the time that she could learn it, we started playing.
She's now a teenager, and a quick game of gin rummy is still the easiest way to get her to sit still and talk to me. These days - for a teenager - those are two incredible acts: sitting still, and talking!
May we never lose that.
Combining the gimlet-eye, of Philip Roth, with the precisive mind of Lionel Trilling, AJ Robinson writes about what goes bump in the mind, of 21st century adults. Raised in Boston, with summers on Martha's Vineyard, AJ now lives in Florida. Most of the time he writes, but sometimes he works at Disney World to renew his fantasies and get a few dollars more. AJ writes, with insight and passion, about his family and his dog. His liberal, note the small "l," sensibilities often lead to bouts of righteous indignation, well focused and true.
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