Before she died, my mother used to quote the poet Robert Browning’s line, “Grow old along with me, the best is yet to be.” Then she let loose with what was for her a very unladylike snort of derision. You got the feeling she wasn’t buying the sentiment.
When I was young, I’d hear the cynical tone she used when she said that and thought to myself that would never happen to me. Why? Well, because as all baby boomers know, we are never going to grow old.
And then I woke up one day and the unthinkable occurred. As I stood bleary eyed in front of the mirror taking the handful of pills needed to keep me alive from day to day and counting the number of doctor appointments I had that week alone, I heard my mother’s voice come out of my mouth. She was quoting Robert Browning. And she even snorted at the end.
It was one of those moments that, if I had been younger, I would have attributed to an accidental ingestion of something other than shitake mushrooms the night before.
I look at my old dog and realize that as each day goes by, I am more and more able to empathize with him as he lies in his bed moaning and groaning softly, in between snoring and barking as he dreams in his sleep. He’s pretty deaf, so ringing phones and doorbells no longer disturb his slumber. A bullhorn blown into his ear would probably only rate a raised head, bleary eyed response.
I didn’t realize that I was starting to make some of those same sounds as I slept until I heard my African Gray parrot one day imitating me. It was early morning, the alarm has just gone off and I was lying in bed, less than eager to leave it’s warmth. Abdul was in the next room behind his nighttime curtain.
As he always does in the morning while he waits for me to get up and get the day going, he was sitting there talking and laughing to himself. And then he started making these sounds. I listened intently thinking he had picked up sounds from the cartoons he watches all day. But after a few minutes, I recognized them for what they were. Human sounds he’d heard night after night coming from the bedroom next to his. I pulled the covers over my head and wondered why I would ever want to get up again.
Then there’s the little problem of focus that seems to be happening more and more. It’s a problem seen in youth and, I’m finding out, once again as old age sets in. For instance, when I started to write this column, I wanted to be sure I had the quote right. So I went to the Internet to search for it. But I got a little side tracked when I ended up at a site that had the entire Rubyiat of Omar Khayyam on it. I read that which reminded me of a friend I needed to write to but first I had to call someone else for the address…well, you get the picture. Three hours later, I still hadn’t started the column.
Mr. T gets more easily distracted too now that he’s 14. He still loves to take our daily walk but he no longer heads straight from point A to point B pulling the old lady behind him. Instead, he walks three steps, stops and barks for a minute, walks three more steps, sniffs yesterday’s markings, barks for another minute, walks three steps, stops and barks at the moose droppings for a minute, walks another three steps and stops to bark at something only his cataract filled eyes can see. It’s no wonder he’s so exhausted when he gets home.
I guess my attitude about growing old would be a bit different if Mr. Browning were here to do it with me. But then, I’m not sure how I’d keep the romance going once he heard the sounds I make in my sleep. Or the ones I make when I get out of a low chair. Or the ones I make when I attempt to get down on the floor to yell in my dogs ear because he is totally ignoring my calls to go out before we go to bed.
I personally think the quote should read, “Grow old along with me. You can’t believe what’s going to be.”