It was an accident. That’s all it was. I am not getting old.
I wasn’t particularly tired yesterday, but something came over me. I was on the sofa, eating lunch, watching a daytime ballgame, sipping iced tea, drowsing off.
The next thing I knew, I awoke two hours later, disoriented, covered in iced tea, ice cubes melting on my chest, and I was drooling.
My wife found me. She looked shocked. She said, “Were you just taking a nap?”
“A nap?” I said. “Don’t be silly. Naps are for people with AARP cards, and I’m WAY too young for those.”
“You were napping.”
“No I wasn’t.”
“Yes you were.”
“No. I was practicing mindfulness.”
I have my dignity to preserve.
When I was a kid, I remember my mother once saying, “You know you’re getting old when you fall asleep and spill food on yourself.”
That’s never been me. I was a fast-moving kid with a taste for danger, always looking for international thrills.
My bicycle had baseball cards on the spokes, and I knew how to beat the Jacob’s Ladder game without even trying.
I knew the rules to Texas Hold’em, and played for high stakes behind the fellowship hall with Jay Ray, Ed Lee, and the janitor, Mister Stew. To this day, Mister Stew still owes me nine hundred thousand dollars.
Who has time for naps? Not me.
Growing up, I strapped a transistor radio to my bicycle handlebars and rode gravel roads, listening to “Hit the Road Jack” until the speaker popped.
I had dirt beneath my fingernails. I could climb any tree. I was raw energy. Everyone knew this about me.
Case in point: when I was seven, I was in the school production of Handel’s Messiah, and the teacher had to write brief biographies about the soloists in the bulletins.
She wrote about me: “Sean Dietrich makes enthusiasm seem like an inadequate word.”
Those were her exact words.
As an adult, I realize this was simply code for: “Sean gets in trouble whenever he shows signs of brain activity.”
But at my age, speed was life. It went hand in hand with my profession. I was a rowdy cowhand, a government agent, an astronaut, a Western sheriff, a private investigator, an ALFA insurance adjuster.
People like me do not get old, neither do we wear Velcro shoes, take fiber supplements from tiny on-the-go packets, or enroll in AARP. And we never nap so hard that we spill tea on ourselves.
I remember my Uncle Larry coming to stay at our house once. He was old, gray, and hard of hearing. He stayed in my bedroom.
Every day, Mama brought him lunch on a tray—a grilled cheese and iced tea. During his stay, I had to sleep on the den sofa, but I didn’t mind because I got to watch Johnny Carson before bed.
One afternoon, I crept upstairs to find Uncle Larry lying on my bed. He was on top of the covers, limp. He had spilled a glass of iced tea on himself, his sandwich was half eaten, and scattered on his chest. Also, his mouth was gaping open.
I nudged him, “Uncle Larry,” I said.
I tried a few more times until his jaw fell open and his false teeth fell out.
I screamed. I ran downstairs and found my father. I told Daddy that he’d better sit down because I had some bad news about Uncle Larry.
“Well, spit it out,” my father said.
“I believe Uncle Larry has met the Lord.”
“You think what?”
“I think Uncle Larry has joined the Invisible Gaither Quartet in the Sky.”
My father came rushing upstairs. So did my mother. Everyone gathered in the bedroom and got very quiet. We stared at the motionless old man whose upper dentures were blocking his airhole.
My mother covered her mouth and said, “I knew I should’ve cut his grilled cheese into quarters.”
My father put his ear to Larry’s chest. “I don’t understand,” said Daddy. “He seemed fine this morning.”
“Well,” said Mother, “he certainly was blowing his nose awfully hard yesterday, maybe he blew something loose.”
She nudged Larry’s body.
“Poor Larry,” she said. “At least he was at peace.’
What happened next, forever lives in family history, and is still talked about today in certain circles. What I am talking about is when my father removed a thumbtack from the cork bulletin board above my desk, then said to the ceiling, “Forgive me, Lord.”
My mother said, “What’re you doing?”
“I just gotta be sure,” he said.
My father stabbed the thumbtack into Uncle Larry’s upper thigh. The old man shot out of bed and screamed words that would make an Episcopalian blush.
My father was so overjoyed that he hollered. And Mama started singing “In the Sweet By and By,” and clapping her hands. A good time was had by all.
Uncle Larry never came to stay with us again.
Anyway, I’ve forgotten why I was even writing this. Oh yes. I remember.
Today, I received an AARP application in the mail.
Then I took a nap.