The manicurist cautiously assisted me as I stepped down from the high-seated pedicure chair and escorted me by the arm as I slowly made my way to the drying station. With sympathy, two younger customers studied my descent.
“Ladies,” I gently advised, “You’ll be lucky if you get to reach this stage in life.”
They nodded in agreement.
Fat Tuesday arrived and I yearned to hear some New Orleans jazz at a nearby restaurant. I invited some neighbors to join me, but they were unable to attend. While at first I thought I’d just stay home, I reconsidered. The first set started at 5 p.m., so why not just go over there by myself anyway? I threw on some shiny Mardi Gras beads, arrived early and introduced myself to the band members who were finishing their supper. Afterward, I wondered why I did that but decided, “Why not?”
Then while sipping a glass of Merlot, two unexpected acquaintances asked if they could join me, and I welcomed them The shrimp gumbo arrived as the band began their hot performance.
By the end of the first set, I had finished my wine and gumbo, so I left. As I did, I noticed a young woman watching me: an 82-year-old woman alone, leaning on a cane, wearing brightly colored Mardi Gras beads and smiling in contentment as she climbed behind the wheel of her own car. The woman looked amused.
In both situations I was perceived as an elderly less-than-top-functioning person without observers being aware of what I have experienced in life. How could they know that I once wrote a book about vampires that resulted in a trip to Hungary where I appeared in a scene with George Hamilton staged in an ancient castle for an international network television show? Could they even imagine that in 1995 I was the guest of the Romanian Tourism Bureau to attend the First World Dracula Congress that included a stay in the Dracula Hotel set in the Carpathian Mountains?
It is so easy to dismiss old people — I’ve done it myself. Just because we don’t look too wonderful anymore and may depend on canes, walkers or wheelchairs, doesn’t mean that an eye blink ago we were thriving and creative participants in this world.
Oh, oh, please excuse me. My hearing aids are beeping. I must go change their batteries.
Norine Dresser is a folklorist, who despite her years still feels like she’s part of the game — the game of life.