What comes after sort-of-old? 

When I get old, really old, I want to live in a house around other people’s children, well-behaved children. And dogs. Small dogs with good vertical jumps and soulful eyes. Agile lap dogs that like to snuggle.

I want to be near an aviary or a wildlife conservation area with lots of red-winged blackbirds, kill deer, egrets and blue birds. Or close to a chicken coop whose antics, claims one friend who lives on a tidal creek, are just as interesting as watching water levels


I want a shower I can enter in a wheelchair and a wheelchair that can

get wet and not rust. I want a stove at wheelchair height, a garden I can plant, weed, water and harvest from a sitting position, a sink at waist level where even if I have lost my mind and can’t remember one blessed thing from the past, I can still sit and wash spinach, shell peas and shuck corn.

I want big windows in my room that I can open and close from a remote

position and no curtains so I can see my breath if it’s cold, even for just a few seconds; feel the coming of spring; and watch portly white clouds billowing like angels, driving rain arriving in sheets, branches illuminated by moonlight, rainbows and all the changing hues of an

excessive sunset and a dizzying sunrise.

I want to be able to hear a train in the middle of the night, run my fingers though a jar of marbles, smell the grass someone else just cut.

I want a user-friendly radio; if not user-friendly then a radio that’s always set on the Canadian Broadcasting Network, home to some of the world’s best English-language programming -- world music, mystery stories, news, great voices, quirky interviews and original themes celebrating such things as Canada’s Black Fly Day, May 24.

I want peanut butter and coffee for breakfast, basmati rice for lunch, crab cakes and fresh fruit for dinner with occasional cheese omelets, smothered chicken and good pastrami on rye. I want a little Kahlua in my coffee.

I want someone to scoop me up and put me in their car for a drive even

if I say no, I don’t want to go, leave me alone.

But this is me right now, sort of old. A healthy (mostly), clear-headed (kind of), rational (sometimes) me. Who knows what I’ll be like when I’m really, really old.

Maybe my mother and all the other people l just visited at her “retirement” home in Southfield, Mich. -- people I’ve come to know over the past three years -- had the same (or similar) wants. Maybe they too wanted cool sunglasses, accessible gardens, good radio.

But that was before they lost their balance, their strength, their penmanship, their confidence, their house, their car, their past, their ability to string words together in a single sentence.

That was before they lost the memory of their wants.

I do my best when I visit to amuse, to stimulate, to help them recall these desires. I try to make them laugh. At dinner, to break the stifling silence, I tie a cloth napkin around my head and stick a fork in the band. The woman with big glasses who takes big strides and

carries a pocketbook with nothing inside laughs.

A few will talk to me but not many and not for long. It’s safer that way, I suppose. Frequently, my mother will start a sentence, forget what she wants to say, give a good-natured shrug. And that’s with me. No wonder she doesn’t say much to the others.

One thing that never changes is the mother-daughter thing. My first night there my mother, who is in a wheelchair after a stroke disabled her right arm and right leg, told me to put on lipstick, go

downstairs, listen to the program, talk to people. She was going to bed. But when I got back upstairs a few hours later, she was not in bed. She was on the floor.

“What’s going on?” I said, frightened.

“I called your name and you didn’t answer. I thought you were stuck in

the bathroom or something.”

“So you got up to look? Why didn’t you press that thing on your arm to

get help?”

“I thought something was wrong,” she answered before dismissing the

incident and moving into the present. “Now get me up. I want to go to


That’s what I’m talking about. Those are her wants. She wants to go to

bed. She wants to get to breakfast on time. She wants to get her mail.

Still, when I get her in the car, when I maneuver her into Wendy’s,

when I wheel her across my niece’s grassy backyard, she says, “This is

nice. I’m really enjoying this.”

Forget the chickens, the peanut butter, the sunglasses. Maybe when we

get really, really old, our needs will change, too. w

E-mail Jane at gofish5@earthlink.net


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Jane Fishman

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