by Dave Williams
You see them in every city and country village. As sure as the birdsong of morning sunrise brings old men to McDonalds restaurants all across America.
Before he passed away my dad was one of them. Most mornings he’d get on his bicycle at daybreak or hop into his old truck if the weather was bad and travel about a quarter mile to the nearest McDonalds. His buddies arrived about the same time and together they would grab a bite and drink coffee while solving the world’s problems for an hour or two.
That’s what Dad told me, “We drink coffee and solve the world’s problems.”
I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened.
— Mark Twain
If you know me at all you know I have a deep respect and love for old people. I’ve been that way since I was a child and asked my grandparents to tell me about their lives when they were young. Most of the time I got a quick smile and a dismissive comment like, “Oh, that was a long time ago. It don’t mean anything now. Go play.” Occasionally I’d get just a tidbit of information like, “We didn’t have TV” or “We didn’t have money for toys”. That’s not what I was asking but I got the idea they didn’t want to talk about it so I left the room to play.
I’ve written often about how old people are overlooked and disrespected these days but as I get older myself, a month away from 67 as I write this, I’m beginning to understand there’s more to it. Sometimes old people just seem to lose the need or desire to be heard. I shouldn’t assume their silence is a sorrowful response to being ignored. Sometimes they’re just satisfied to keep their thoughts to themselves.
A couple of days ago at work a colleague in her late thirties said something to me about how America has changed for the worse since her childhood. She’s entering the age of nostalgia, I guess. I was about to just agree but instead I told her, “Maybe, but I’m not so sure things were all that great 60 years ago when I was a kid. They were probably bad in different ways. Things are a mess now, that’s for sure, but I have faith in my grandsons. They’ll fix the problems we’re handing to them while they create new ones.”
My colleague gave me a look I gratefully accepted as a sign of respect. So, I added:
“The nice thing about being my age is I don’t think these are my problems anymore. I did what I could to make the world better. I tried to help. Now I’m retiring from all of that.”
She smiled and said, “Must be nice.”
“It is,” I assured her. “You’ll get there but not yet. If you retire from all that stuff now it’s just giving up.”
This is another reason people don’t talk to old men, except other old men.
We get philosophical.