It was 7:34 a.m. when I arrived in Alabaster for the annual Shelby County Senior Adults Picnic. The parking lot of Thompson High School was already swarmed with cars.
“Why are all these people here so early?” I asked one of the volunteers at the check-in booth, who was holding back the throngs of senior citizens.
The volunteer looked at me and said flatly, “You know how punctual senior citizens can be.”
It’s true. I don’t mean to generalize here, but the older generations are far more punctual than the younger ones.
Take my mother. Whenever we schedule lunch at a restaurant, I choose a reasonable time. Say, noon. I usually arrive a little early and tell the hostess I’m meeting someone. The hostess will inevitably point to a lone older woman in the corner. My mother will already be sitting there, finishing her lunch alone.
“How long has she been here?” I’ll ask the hostess.
“Since we opened,” she will reply.
So the picnic-going seniors were raring to go. They were ravenously ready for lunch, even though—technically—it wasn’t yet breakfast.
“We woulda been here earlier,” said one senior woman in line, who was carrying a lawn chair. “But Harold wanted to change the oil in the truck.”
When the gates opened, it was like one of those old Beatles movies. The people flooded the grounds of the high school in a frenzy.
The entertainment was soon underway. Onstage, a local country band named Rose Colored Glasses played classic country from the golden era. Patsy Cline, Kitty Wells, Hank Senior, Don Gibson. The whole place turned into the 1950s. The only thing missing were the “I Like Ike” stickers.
Nearly 1,000 elderly picnic goers meandered to and fro, laughing and carrying on. I mingled among them and made lots of friends.
Sometimes I’m afraid that our younger generations have forgotten our elders. I’m on a mission to change all that today.
I met a 97-year-old man, waiting in the food line. He used a walker and wore Velcro shoes.
“I’m NOT a senior citizen,” he said. “I refuse to call myself one. I don’t want the dang discount. I still swim every day for an hour, I still read the newspaper from front to back, and I play Wordle.”
“I don’t call myself a senior citizen, either,” added an elderly woman. “That’s why I signed up for aerobics class. You shoulda seen me, I bent and twisted, strained and gyrated, I jumped up and down, I sweated for a whole hour. And that was just while getting my leotard on.”
I met an 84-year-old man with a Santa beard. His leather vest was adorned with patches. His ballcap read: “VIETNAM.”
“Yes, I have pain just like anyone else. I’ve survived cancer twice, and I’ve lost my wife to cancer. But I still ride my motorcycle, I still drink my beer, and I still hang out with my friends. You don’t quit because you get old. You get old because you quit.”
Next, I meet a woman named Grace. She was bent at the waist, clutching an aluminum roller-walker. Her hair was cotton-white, her frame was frail. She had a feisty look in her eyes, you could tell she was a firecracker back in her day.
“Yeah, it’s tough getting older,” she said, taking my hand in hers. Her frail hand was like a little bird.
“Getting old is the hardest thing I’ve ever done, actually, watching myself age in the mirror. I look at myself, and I still expect to see that 19-year-old girl looking at me. I don’t know when this old woman took over my life.
“Every day is a struggle. I can’t see my own coffee because of cataracts, I can’t turn my head because of arthritis in my neck, my blood pressure meds make me dizzy and I can’t stand up without falling, I forget my own name, I fall asleep unexpectedly, and I can’t hear anything. But you know what? I count my blessings, because at least I can still drive.”
A good time was had by all.