Aged Like Scotch
I have, in my short life, spent a lot of time with grey hairs. I met all 10 of my great grandparents (Two step-great grandparents), and knew a few of them quite well. Grandma and Grandpa Myers lived right down the road (Right across the field actually) in a spiffed up double wide filled with love, molasses cookies, and sweltering heat from their wood stove. My great Grandma Ropp lived about a half mile down the same strip next to a shop we had on our farm for cleaning and drying squash seeds. Grandma Myers had her molasses cookies; Grandma Ropp had her famous cinnamon rolls. No wonder I was such a fat child. While all my great grandparents lived independently most of their lives, My mother would often take us three boys to visit the local nursing home where we were paraded in front of people with horrendous breath, people who would start yelling for no reason. I grew up familiar with the sights and sounds of human decomposition, what I considered at the time a halfway house for the dying. I hated it.
Fast forward to the summer between my college years and I found myself working at a nursing home in the Blue Ridge mountains at the southern tip of the Shenandoah. Again I was faced with the universal sights and smells of aging, but this time with a nose for other, deeper things. It still felt like the halfway house for the dying, but as I heard the stories of the residents, it felt more like a privilege than a burden to help those gems navigate their last days and years. To grow as many of them continued to grow themselves. That was what the Celtic people call a thin place –a place where the physical and spiritual world is much closer, more tangible. For a majority of the residents, the afterlife loomed heavy. There were some Sunday evenings I felt that maybe I should make up a bowl of popcorn for the reaper to munch on while he waited.
The hardest loss was Rita Seidel. Rita was the spry one of the group. She had her issues, but she was the most independent. And she was a firecracker. Some residents mumbled to me about her being a curmudgeon; there were those who didn't like her slightly nihilistic sarcasm. She had a bit of irreverence to her, but an honest irreverence, like a 75 year old female version of Louis C.K. Her irreverence was informed by the book she had already read three times through by July of the year she had died –the Bible. It was always in her lap, and when she wasn't making some smart alek comment at residents whining about the temperature of their pop, she had her nose in it.
When Rita heard I was from Oregon, she lit up about the time she had driven to the west coast, no plans, very little money. In Yakima, Washington she had bought an entire crate of fresh picked Bing Cherries and ate it all by the time she got to San Fransisco. "That," she said, "made for a rather uncomfortable night with a lot of jogging, if you know what I mean."
Had Rita been about 55 years younger, I think we might have got married.
The week before she died from complications in surgery, I asked her how she was feeling about the operation. Scared, she said. Trusting God, but still scared. There was a maturity missing after Rita's death, a spice reminding us to take the serious things serious but also to make fun of ourselves for taking them so serious.
In honor of Rita, and others. This week is for those, who like a good scotch, grow rich with age.