I recently returned from a two-week vacation. That's a lot longer than my usual vacations; it left me plenty of time to sit around with my Pops, who turned 94 this year. I have a few take-aways:
– He's always been a quiet man. A lot of people find silence hard to deal with. Thanks to my dad, I can handle it pretty well. We're good listeners, he and I. (The hardest thing for a new journalist to learn about interviewing people is to shut up and listen; the subject always has an excuse for not talking if you're always talking.) Admittedly, the silence observed by two good listeners can be onerous.
But I think, now days, that just being around him, even if it's an hour or so between any significant string of words, is worth every second. And the funny thing is that if you wait, and wait, and wait ... he'll eventually say something. And sometimes it's worth every minute.
– No matter what people thought of him 20 or 50 years ago, my Dad says, they all like him now because he's so old. Nobody can get away disliking an old person.
– Even though I've learned patience ... or at least how to cope with impatience ... my Dad knows that sooner or later, after sitting around being quiet, I'll breakdown and want to do things. Over the years he's learned to have a list of innocuous things for me to do so I won't get in trouble or do something drastic like throw something away.
Always at the top of the list is: clean out the rain gutters. But my brother did that when he visited just three weeks ago, I reminded him. They'd need it again, he asserted. Dang. He was right.
– He had me drive him out to see his little brother who is ailing and is alone a lot of the time out on the farm. That made just twice that they've gotten together in the past few months. They were lonely for each other, you could tell. Surprisingly, one talks and the other talks and it goes back and forth for a couple hours. It's the most either has talked for ages ... and I got to hear all about life on the farm before WWII, during a time of drought. It was bad; but it was very good. I've learned all about it before; but hearing them talk is the thing.
– He's the quiet man, but that doesn't mean he's antisocial. Before his recent health problems, he made it to "coffee with the guys" every day, five or six days a week. He hadn't been for six months. He told me he was ready to get back in the swing of things. Let's go to coffee with the guys!
He has a (very) bum knee, but moves around pretty well with a walker. But for coffee with the guys, he grabbed the old hickory cane he got at an auction once (it was in a box of assorted junk that included a part he needed for his Model A, an assortment of other things ... including the cane). He doesn't move around very well with it.
What's up, I asked him. Why wasn't he using the walker? He didn't say ... just told me to get the door. Bottomline is that the old man just wasn't going to use a walker in front of the guys.
I guess that's the value of old friends. You expect them to have expectations and you put some pride into living up to them the best you can ... some of it might be vanity, but some of it might be good for you, too.
– He had me drive him to the cemetery so I could prune the rose bush he planted there and deadhead the peonies he got started on the graves of ancestors here and there around the hill. He stays in the car ... but he can still catch enough air to yell out some advice. It's quiet there. I'd hear anything he'd say. But mostly he trusts me to it. He taught me what to do. He sat ... quietly ... and watched me.