Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Old Guys

Let me make clear from the beginning that the term “old guys” is one of affection and one I feel I can use since I am about ten years away from being an old guy myself. By that time I will be half an inch shorter (I have been shrinking at the rate of ½ inch a year ever since I turned 40—if I live to be 420  I will disappear entirely). Becoming an old guy pretty well takes care of itself but I’m not sure I will be anywhere as cool as the old guys I know.

Most of these fellows went through the Great Depression and World War II. At the end of the war, many of them were in their early twenties, and they came back, got jobs, married, bought houses, started families.  They didn’t say much about what they had been through, but if you talk to them about it now, they felt that the worst times were behind them, that whatever came along after that they would handle it, and handle it they did. They supported the Boomer generation, which took some doing (I am one of those—I know), and worked hard at their jobs.  They frequently stayed with the same job for decades.  Now most of them are retired but you still see them out doing things, maintaining their houses and yards, sitting in shopping malls, getting together with other old guys for breakfast.  One old fellow used to stand on a corner near us and wave at passing traffic. I haven’t seen him for a while, but I always waved back. There is a kind of old guy wave that I can’t emulate.  It is casual, a full arm extension with a flick of the wrist like a salute.  Maybe I’ll get it by the end of the decade.

Old guys are good with mechanical things.  They can fix almost anything, but they came along before the computer revolution so they don’t do as well with electronics although some of them email their grandchildren.  My dad is a typical old guy.  He’s 87 now and lives in a assisted living center where he likes the food and is entertained by the other residents. He went through the Depression and World War II, made his living using his hands, retired and farmed.  About ten years ago my mother started showing signs of dementia.  Except for a few brief stays in a nursing home and hospital, he took care of her, in the last few years with the help of a wonderful caregiver, until she died about five years ago. He has gone through all these situations including his own hospitalizations with determination and an incredible sense of humor.  He managed to teach me a few things about working with my hands although I am nowhere as good as he was.  Tremors prevent him from using his hands the way he used to so I find myself doing the work when it is to be done and he is my helper, just as I was his helper for so many years.  And I am still learning from him. I was trying to get a plug out of an opening using a hammer recently.  “Turn the hammer sideways,” he told me, and it worked.

Old guys don’t mind sharing their expertise.  I have asked them about installing doors (make sure the opening is big enough) and finishing wood (get it as smooth as you can and then apply a number of light coats of finish). They have always come through for me.

I hope you will take any opportunity you have to thank the old guys you know who were veterans for the incredible service to our country, and for the way they made this nation a better place through their decency and hard word. I hope you will include in that number the ladies of a certain age (I would never call them “old”) who also contributed in World War II either by direct service or by efforts on the home front and then by raising families and contributing to a safe and stable society.  Saying thank-you to these people has an urgency about it since they are leaving us at the rate of 1000 people a day.

I also hope you will take the time to thank the veterans of any age, including those presently serving in our wars or anywhere in the world.  Include their families, if you will, because they suffer and sacrifice as well.  May we remember and be grateful for old guys and everyone else.

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