As a child, I used to dread family visits to my great-grandmother at the old folks’ home. I was not a fickle child, nor was I hard to please, but when I stepped through the automatic glass doors of the retirement center — you know, the kind of doors they have at grocery stores — it was like stepping into another dimension.
The blue-haired lady with the black-rimmed rhinestone glasses would always slip me a peppermint, give me a wink and tell me “Bless your heart. I’ll bet you’re a good little boy now, aren’t you?”
I would always think to myself, “I bet you always smell, now don’t you?”
Then there was the crazy man with no legs. I don’t know if he was actually crazy, but we just assumed so because he had no legs and children are stupid. I think his name was Hoss like in the old westerns. He was always grumpy and murmuring something about “Iwo Jima,” but Mommy said that was just because he was constipated and his kids never visited him.
On the way to grandma’s room we’d always pass by Mrs. Winterbaum’s. We’d stop and give a brief hello and Mrs. Winterbaum would clap and the lights would come on and my brother and I would clap and make them go off. Clap on. Clap off. Clap on. Clap off.
“That’s enough, boys,” my Dad would say sternly, but Mrs. Winterbaum never seemed to mind. Hell, it helped me get my mind off the fact that the whole shebang smelled like death and Old Spice. After patty-cake with Mrs. Winterbaum, my brother and I would take bets on who Grandma was going to be today. Sometimes she was a little black girl in rural Georgia named Macedonia. Other times she just sat there and stared blankly at the television as we watched “The Cosbys” and “Golden Girls.” I would make rude faces and gestures at her to amuse myself and pass the time.
Luckily, with age, I have turned away from my childish ways: Now when I step into the old folks’ home I think daaaaaaaaaaaaammmmn, smells like Gerty had an accident.
As bright young Yalies, we like to think we have our whole lives ahead of us with the hallowed doors of opportunity wide open — please show your Yale degree at the door. A world of prestige, fame, glitz and glamour awaits us, or so we like to assume. Never do we imagine that in the sunset of our days, the autumn of our youth, we will be sitting ass-naked on a bedpan somewhere straining to get out last night’s (what do old people eat again?) succotash or creamed something or other.
I’ve decided that I’m not going to get old, and I’m definitely not ending up in the old folks’ home! No, not me, hell no. If life were like the Discovery Channel, then the people who end up going to the old folks’ home would be the equivalent of wounded gazelles of the African Serengeti — just waiting to die at the lion’s last swipe.
Nope, I’m not going to spend my days on death row with a group of life-rejects watching “The Price is Right” and making macaroni tambourines. The highlight of my holiday season won’t be a motley crew of disease-ridden kindergartners screeching “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” in the key of off and a card from “the kids” who neglect to visit.
I’ll just botox till the sun don’t shine and buy my own damn Pampers, thank you very much.
Will Cornwell sometimes pretends he is a little girl from rural Georgia named Macedonia.