As my grandfather (known far and wide by his nickname "Skinny") waved goodbye to his 90th birthday in the rearview mirror, he said to me, "Sis, it's a damn terrible thing to outlive all your friends."
I remember being surprised even a little hurt by his comment. After all, didn't Skinny still have us? His family? And aren't family members as good as friends?
As I've gotten older myself, however, I'm beginning to understand what he meant. Let me explain.
Several weeks ago, a former student of mine (let's call him "Joseph," shall we?) (because that's his name) emailed to ask if I could answer some questions about my life as a freelance writer for an online class he's taking.
I said sure! Shoot 'em over to me and I'll get right on those bad boys!
So he did. And they were good questions, too. (See examples below.)
Question • What do you do during a typical day?
Answer • Engage in avoidance behavior, including (but not limited to) eating potato chips.
Q. • What do you like best about your job?
A. • The dress code.
Q. • What are the disadvantages of your job?
A. • I eat too many potato chips. While wearing pajamas.
Good questions and answers, right? Too bad I forgot to actually send them back to Joseph. I was sick to my stomach when I realized what I had (or hadn't) done. I contacted Joseph immediately, only to discover his professor won't accept late work. As a result, my fabulous former student got a big fat zero on his assignment.
Now here's the thing. I am not a forgetful person.
Okay, fine. I can hear a few of you go hahahahahahahaha right now. I can hear you say, "Yes, Ann, but what about the time you took three of your boys to the doctor's office when they were little and none of them was wearing underwear because you forgot to check before leaving the house," to which I can only say, "You're right. I did forget to check, because I also forgot you actually have to check stuff like that with little boys. HOWEVER. I did not forget to wear my underwear that day. Please give me full credit for that."
So yeah. I have been forgetful in the past. But I am even more forgetful now, and that troubles me not a little.
I mentioned this the other morning over breakfast with friends who are all roughly my age, and they burst out laughing.
"We know exactly what you're talking about!" they said.
"You mean you forgot to answer Joseph's questions, too?"
Anyway. My friends' response made me feel better, although I realize that still doesn't help Joseph. But still. I'm glad I'm not in this stage of life alone. Just like I was glad I wasn't a young mother alone. Or a first-year teacher alone. Or an incredibly awkward teenager alone. I'm glad that there have been people my own age along the way who understand what it feels like to be in a particular moment.
People who remember the same things I do. The Beatles on the "Ed Sullivan Show." Jethro Tull at the Salt Palace. The theme songs to "I Dream of Jeannie" and "Bewitched." TV commercials with tag lines such as "Don't Squeeze the Charmin." Pixie cuts and bell bottoms, leg warmers and shoulder pads. Bonnie Bell lip smackers. Steve McQueen. Gremlins and Opals and VW busses. Our English teacher Joyce Nelson. Keith's Diner and The Polar King. LIFE Magazine. The days JFK got shot, and Saigon fell, and man landed on the moon.
People who are peers.
Skinny was right after all. All of us need friends our own age.
Ann Cannon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or facebook.com/anncannontrib.