Two of the oldest people in the world died this week and it made me think of my grandmothers. Fortunately for me, neither one of them made it to 114. I shudder to think what that would be like.
The average life expectancy here in the US is 75. At one point that age seemed to be rising but thanks to obesity-related illnesses I think that might trend back down to a much more manageable 65. We can only hope.
Look, grandparents are great. Generally they spoil you rotten, give you treats you aren’t supposed to have and they serve as a buffer when your parents feel the need to whip you with honing straps or burn you with cheap cigars.
When you’re a little kid they try to tell you what is was like growing up in a concentration camp, but you can usually get them to shut up and read you the latest Encyclopedia Brown installment.
As you get older, they really start to lay in with the guilt but as a teen you’re pretty good at tuning people out so it’s no big deal. It’s just background noise. One thing you don’t tune out is their sorry excuse for not slipping a twenty in your birthday card: “I’m on a fixed income,” they whine.
Yeah, well I’m on a ‘no income’, toots. You know that asshole Reagan you voted for because he “looked like a president?” Well, his voodoo economics put the kibosh on 350 jobs at the Ford plant and now I can’t get a minimum wage job at the Dairy Queen because there are a bunch of 50 year-old men lined up for every shift they can get—but I digress.
Christmas is even worse. My one of my grandmothers would steal toys out of her neighbors’ yards and give them to us. When I was 16 I got a Fisher Price Big Wheel with a broken pedal for Christmas because I was the oldest and it was the biggest present. My brother got a silver ‘frisbee’ that was actually a hub cap from a 1976 Pontiac Bonneville. We were playing with it that Spring and it sliced off one of his fingers on the way to a date with his temporal lobe. To this day he’s psychotic, flying off into weird tantrums where he screams about grievances past and present. About four years ago he came at me with a knife because I poked holes in his ‘Stretch Armstrong’ doll—in 1978! Now he’ll be angry again because I called it a doll.
I held out hope that my grandparents would redeem themselves at my graduation, but they stayed true to the “fixed” income excuse. One grandmother decided bringing a jello mold (with diced veggies suspended inside) to my party was a sufficient gift while the other gave me a hook rug that resembled a diploma. She said it would be something I’d cherish for years to come. Along with the 35 other hook rugs she gifted to me over the years, I suppose.
Then you’re in your 20s and your grandparents are of no use to you at all. They’re bitter. They take every opportunity to make you feel guilty about being young and having an ass that would hold up an adult diaper. You visit with them because you have to, but no matter how much you visit they don’t feel like its enough. This is because in spite of all their speeches about family, love and respect, your parents go out of their way to avoid them. They saddle you with it. “Go visit your grandma,” they say. “She won’t be around forever, after all.”
You can almost hear the hopefulness in their voices when they say that. You hope that it’s soon because when you’re back at home for the Holidays your primary objective is hooking up with all the old high school sluts. Quality time with grandma just cramps your style.
If your grandparents follow the rules, they punch out before you turn 30 and if you’re really lucky all that ‘fixed income’ garbage was just a ruse and you find 30 grand stuffed an old throw pillow that smells like urine, Pall Malls and Ben Gay. If not, maybe you can crash at grandma’s house and cash her Social Security checks for a while. Unless your junky uncle beats you to it. Even so, you’re off the hook. Once the grandparents are gone you just have to put up with your parents and in due time you’ll be able to stick them in a nursing home and charge your own kids with the responsibility of visiting them. It’s the cycle of life.
But not for these triple digit biddies. They just keep hanging around, bleeding Medicare and Social Security dry by living 40 years longer than their benefits were calculated for and demanding your attention. With a little luck, they’ll get dementia and then at least the stories will be interesting. My grandfather once regaled me with a story about how he got into a fist fight with Gerald Ford over the last smoked turkey leg at the Stark County Volunteer Fire Department Banquet. Then he told me to never trust a woman who waxed her beaver, and then he fell asleep. That proved to be the only useful advice he ever gave me. Although he did teach me ‘the shocker…two in the pink, Poppa, two in the pink indeed.
Still, dementia is tricky. Early on it’s amusing but later it gets surreal and disturbing. When your grandmother starts speaking Hindi while she pulls Matchbox cars out of her hooha, it’s just not fun anymore. And that’s what you get when the human odometer rolls over.