An Old Coot Ahead Of Time

I’m turning into a coot way ahead of schedule. 

First I had to look up that word to be sure it’s still the one I used to know and hasn’t turned into something dirty in the past little while.  Nope.  I’m safe.  A coot, according to Merriam-Webster,  is still a “harmless, simple person.” 

Back where I came up, in the Deep South, coots were a bit more complex than that.  I’m not sure they were all so simple, but they probably enjoyed being thought of that way, since it gave them greater freedom to observe the rest of us, without anyone giving a whit for their opinions.

It was a group of coots who gathered at the cafe in the morning, some of them with no place else to be and some who chose that perch because being a coot had become a full-time job and that was their workplace.

I’d call what they did gossip, except that most of them were men, and men don’t refer to themselves as gossips.  They might say they’re visiting.  Or getting together.  Or stopping by.  Or talking.  But never gossip.  

It was the old coots around home who often came up with the greatest wisdom and when they upped and said something smart, everyone acted surprised.   I don’t know why.  Certainly they’d observed more of human nature than most of the rest of us.  

My favorite neighborhood visiting buddy these days is a man and I don’t want to call him something he doesn’t want to own, so let’s just say we talk about nothing in particular.  Still, when our brief visits are done, I always feel better informed.  When he brings up a topic, he compares it to other things he’s witnessed in his lifetime of observing and then he draws conclusions.  Opinionated gossip is my favorite kind. 

Today I’ll phone him to ask what kind of trees are those on the corner that the trimmers are lopping off?  And does he think they’ll survive?  He’ll have an informed opinion about the way the tree-trimmers are handling the job.

Recently he asked,    

“Did you hear about the two widow ladies next door to each other who passed away one right after the other last week?” 

The second lady, he said, had just returned from a memorial service for the first and was still in the clothes she wore to the event when she expired. This week, two families are over there packing up two houses next door to each other, where two ladies who were friends and neighbors for decades both departed within a few days.     

We’ll drink coffee for a bit and then my friend will offer some pearl of wisdom about life in general based on these specifics and I’ll go back to my routine still mulling over the significance of those trees and those ladies around the corner.    

Ó By Anita Garner 2008


3 thoughts on “An Old Coot Ahead Of Time”

  1. We have an elderly neighbor just like yours. Problem is, he only wants to chat when I have both arms full of groceries and the dogs yapping at me from inside the house. I feel terrible brushing him off but happens that way most of the time. Maybe I just need to wander down the street on my own good time and have a nice long talk with him. He never has both arms full of groceries.

    Wonderful piece.

    By the way…are there any YOUNG coots?

  2. Dave/Bompah,

    Gosh I love the way you think. I mean really – this is a gem…

    He never has both arms full of groceries.

    Gives me goosebumps because it contains several layers.

  3. If most of those old coots gathered at the cafe were “men”, there was probably a practical reason for it. The majority of ’em were, no doubt, like many of my grade school buddies at Stonehurst Elementary School who understood the advance warning to … avoid girls. I’ll admit that, by the ’50s, Jonah Salk had come up with a vaccine to combat polio; medical science was on its way to developing treatments for several debilitating disorders — but as far as I know, even Ben Casey never came close to comin’ up with a pill to cure … cooties.

    Of course, as I got older … I was sick a lot.


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