The question is so simplistic and the answer is somewhat involved. One day I was a child and the next day I asked, “How did I get to be the old one?” Growing up I knew my great grandfather on my mother’s side of the family, both of my great grandparents on my father’s side, grandparents, great uncles and aunts, uncles and aunts and numerous cousins. We weren’t necessarily a large family, but we were big enough where I had a difficult time remembering names and relations.
Unfortunately, I was an only child. For those of you who had siblings that statement alone most likely causes pause to fantasize about not sharing toys, clothes, bedrooms and most importantly affection from parents and family members. However, from my perspective, it would have been heaven sent if there were brothers or sisters to share the spotlight with.
“We’re going with your grandmother to visit Aunt Flossy and Uncle Jim honey, so hurry up and get ready,” would be my mother’s command. “Let’s get going, your grandmother and I are going shopping,” which, at times, involved me sitting there like a boy in detention, while the two ladies I loved most were busily being fitted for brassieres. “Oh please don’t let any of my schoolmates see me here,” would be the screaming voice in my head. I was hauled off to the local smoke filled fire stations, Elks Clubs or churches to sit and listen to the din of “I 19 – B6 – O66,” during horrid, long and monotonous bingo games. If only I had brothers and sisters they could have taken my spot, while I made excuses to play ball, have a sleepover at my friend’s house, and go to the movies or a host of other options that didn’t involve me hanging out with the family all of the time.
As a youngster, we didn’t have computers, video games, DVDs, CDs, cell phones, or any of the myriad of electronic distractions that abound in the world today. When the family went for a ride in the car our time was spent in conversation, sightseeing or playing road trip games. Even FM radio didn’t come on the scene until the 1960s. We sat around a dinning room table with relatives and played penny ante Rummy or Jacks or Better poker. We discussed things. We knew each other. We above all, loved each other. Yet, as a child this could all be so boring! It really wasn’t that bad because at one house there would be homemade donuts served, another grandmother would make southern style fried chicken, a great aunt pan fried fresh water perch, another made apple butter and another relative would play the banjo. I lived a childhood filled with people interacting with other people.
My God, I can vividly still see and smell the room my grandmother was in as she sipped her coffee (sometimes it was from the day before), a Viceroy cigarette in her right hand, smiling at me with all the love the world could hold as we chatted the hours away, all the time figuring out her jigsaw puzzle. Her husband, who I called “Pop,” was a Norwegian immigrant, but a wordsmith of wordsmiths. Although he spoke in broken English he also knew proper grammar and heaven help the poor soul that bastardized a word in his presence. His concrete exterior intimidated the strongest, however, if you sat, listened, observed and talked, one soon learned that Pop’s heart was putty and deep down inside he really was an old softy.
One by one the pillars of the encircled coliseum which defined my life started to crumble and fall. As if the Pearly Gates were having a grand opening my family started to form a line. By natural progression, first to leave were my great grandparents, followed by my grandparents. Sadly, but surely my great aunts, uncles, aunts and uncles and ultimately my parents all died. Gone were the smiles, conversations, card games, jokes, story telling and the hugs and kisses. The physical beings who were my role models and mentors have crossed over and each is missed in their own special way.
So it came to pass, one day I awoke and became the “Old One” in the family. I wish I could offer up some sage, worldly advice for the younger family members, but they’re savvy enough to just Google most of life’s questions.
Written By: Dennis L. Page