The nursing home had rules. Lots of rules. The powers that be made me jump through all the pandemic-era hoops before visiting. By the time I was finished suiting up in protective gear, I looked like I was dressed for a leisurely stroll on Mars.
A nurse led me past the cafeteria, past the chair yoga class, and into the recreation room where a group of folks played pinochle. I wore a face shield, double masks, rubber gloves, and a full-length PPE gown. I felt like Darth Vader after a wild night.
In a few moments, they wheeled my first interviewee in. Her name was Miss Baker. She was small, wiry, and sipping a Coke from a can.
“So,” she said, “you’re the guy doing interviews?”
I nodded. “Yes, ma’am.”
“Well, I’m a writer.”
“Oh, brother. Why on earth are you interviewing a bunch of old people?”
“Well, I was hoping for some good old-fashioned folksy advice for a column I’m writing.”
“Gee. You must be hard up for material.”
“You have no idea.”
And that was all it took. She opened up like a refrigerator.
“Well, the first bit of advice I have, young man, is drink lots of water.”
Hydration. Check. I made a note on my legal pad.
“And make sure you always keep moving. Doesn’t matter what you do, just don’t quit moving.”
I made a few more notes.
Next, we were joined by Watty, a 93-year-old man using a walker, wearing double hearing aids and a Hawaiian shirt.
“You the gentleman interviewing people?” said Watty.
“I’m no gentleman,” said I. Then I asked for his best spoonful of advice.
“My advice is: You know how they say that youth is wasted on the young? Well, look, I think it’s the opposite. The truth is, wisdom is wasted on the old. In my life I’ve gathered all this experience and knowledge, and you know what? I realize now that I still don’t know jack squat. I feel as dumb as I did when I was a kid.”
I made a few more notes. And changed a few of Watty’s words to read “jack squat” instead of their original literation.
Next I heard from a soft spoken woman named Lucinda (85) who wore a pink nightgown bearing the phrase “Good Morning, Sunshine,” in gold letters.
“Are you the man interviewing us for advice?” asked Lucinda.
“Will you interview me?”
“But of course.”
She got right to the point.
“I think kids today work too hard. They’re so busy, they never have any free time for themselves. We parents complain that kids never have time for us, but the truth is, they don’t even take time for their own kids. Young people need to have more fun. That’s what life’s all about. Fun.”
I made more notes.
Paul (88) joined the party. He wore his pants pulled up to his armpits, reminiscent of the late great Fred Mertz.
“You the young guy interviewing all the geezers?” asked Fred Mertz.
“Yessir,” I said. Then I asked him to fire away.
“Don’t exercise,” said Mertz. “It’s a waste of time. Trust me. It don’t work. I tried it once.”
Another man named Simeon (90) had something to add to Fred Mertz’s mosaic of worldly knowledge.
Simeon said, “Nobody controls you, so don’t let them try. Took me too long to learn not to be controlled. Don’t be like me. Do your own thing. Always do your own thing.”
Janice (84) said, “Make a little time to cry every single day, it feels so good. And it’s better to let it all out than to keep it in. Crying makes us stronger.”
James (79) said: “You should travel a lot when you’re young and healthy. Just make it happen, forget worrying about the money. The memories are worth more than money.”
A South Louisiana woman named Martha walked into the room. She was short and vibrant, with skin like mahogany.
“You the kid interviewing people?”
Word really gets around in a small place.
“Well,” she went on, “I say be hopeful. Whenever you think negatively, you’re taking a bad drug, and it affects your body. It’ll kill you. Be hopeful. Be hopeful. Be hopeful.”
Laurie (89) said, “Humor is the only way to survive this world. You lose your humor and you lose.”
Finally, the resident 101-year-old weighed in. A woman in a wheelchair with skin like tissue paper and a mane of white. Her name was Suzanne. She was old enough to remember the invention of the chariot.
“There are moments in this life when you will think it’s over, and you will really be convinced that you are not going to survive what is coming. But…” The old woman snapped her fingers. “That’s when, all of a sudden, God happens.”
“And you can quote us all on that,” said Fred Mertz.