By Dennis Tkach
Because I could not stop for Death,
He kindly stopped for me;
The carriage held but just ourselves,
– Emily Dickinson
Are you are a baby boomer? If so read on, for this is YOUR story. There are approximately 70 million baby boomers living in the U.S.A. Add another 7 million Canadians and you get an idea of how many are playing out their roles in the limited run ‘On Earth’ production of “Fifty Shades Of Gray”.
In your 30’s or 40’s? You may find my musings interesting but since your train still has a lot of terrain to travel, the ‘relevance’ of my tale is probably spelled with a small ‘r’.
In your 20’s or younger? My words will hold about as much appeal for you as attending a Shmenge Brothers polka festival. In the minds of God’s noblest creatures the realization of our mortality (thankfully) comes as a slow awakening. Like the seed that sprouts, grows, and matures to bear more little seeds, we all ride the tides of time until that crash upon the distant shore announces, ‘no more… no more.’
Question: Why in world, you may ask, would Mr. Sunshine, Chilliwack’s brightest optimistic journalist who rarely has a bad word to say about anything or anyone (except stupid people, stupid behavior, stupid governments, and stupid sharia law) choose to reflect and share his intimate thoughts on such moribund subjects as old age, infirmity, and death?
Answer: I read Billy Crystal’s autobiography, ‘Still Foolin’ Em’. Billy is one of my favorite stand-up comics and reading of his life from birth until his 65th birthday was extremely pleasurable, but also surprisingly shocking. As to be expected in his memoirs, Billy is predictably funny. He has led a truly charmed life, and rubs celebrity elbows with some of the most famous people of our generation. The only thing I of the land of Mundania have in common with Mr. Saturday Night is my shared membership in the Gen Baby Boom Club. What surprised me is how Fernando, who always tells us it is better to look marvelous than feel marvelous, juxtaposes his life from birth to his mid-sixties with old age, infirmity, and death.
As I sit here at my iMac, sorting out thoughts while I play connect-the-dots with the liver spots on the back of my hands, here are some of the musings that spring to my mind.
Bruce Allen had a wonderful secretary named Ingrid who greeted me on my first day on the job as a booking agent with the line “Is that a roll of dimes in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?” It was a joke then but I never realized it was also prophecy.
Ever see chicken feet in a Chinese market? (Yes, our oriental friends really do eat them.) As I look at the back of my hands, the resemblance seems uncanny. The other day as I was showering, I noticed that my package now looks like Einstein with Barbra Streisland’s nose. As a young man when I first heard the word ‘colonoscopy’ I thought it must be some kind of Greek dish. Now, my proctologist and I are on a first name basis and he has more photos of me than my high school yearbook.
Insomnia: Another boon of old age to which I have been introduced. ‘Insomnia – from the Greek ‘I can’t frickin’ sleep!’ And why is it, that as we lie in our beds staring at the cobwebs on the ceiling, we only think of the bad things, never the good? Some things we want to sweep out of our heads but never do. Better than the gift of Alzheimer’s or dementia I suppose. We forget important stuff like people’s names, or why we find ourselves walking into a room only to realize we forgot why we went there.
Billy Crystal’s Five Stages Of Forgetting Things:
My bucket list does not include a walker or a powered golf cart. I never wanted to adopt the ‘senior shuffle’. However, when my lower back starts screaming and the neuropathy that has taken up residence in my feet decides to hold an all night house party, I try to walk ‘normal’ but know I fool no one. I resemble a marionette on drugs. Growing up I used to wonder why old people talk always seem to talk about their ailments. I wonder no more. And to all my friends, when we meet? Please don’t make me laugh. I’m not wearing Depends.
On a somber note, why is it when good friends are mortally ill you feel so helpless and inept with words? When my dear friend Dave was in the last painful stages of a losing battle with cancer I tried to commiserate with him by mentioning my fierce back aches. Upon hearing my griping he exploded with anger. “You are whining about a sore back while I am dying of cancer?” It was the ultimate reality check.
Whether we men publicly admit it or not, our age sees the libido take a pounding akin to the WW11 Dresden bombing. Testosterone goes into full retreat. I break my Viagra pills in quarters, not to see Willy Nilly reborn as John The Conqueror, but just so the little guy can pop out of my fly far enough so I don’t dribble on my shoes.
Now I don’t want you to get me wrong. Being a senior isn’t all vinegar and turkey neck. The biggest benefit is becoming a grand parent. To our growing hoard of the third generation I am ‘Gidu’ and my wife is ‘Baba’. What warm wonderful appellations! What a joy it is to see Thomas The Tank Engine and his friends pulling out of the station as they embark on their grand adventure… while we chug and puff to the bottom of the hill on the Grand Funk Railway.
Play with your grand children. Laugh with them. Hug them and leave them with wonderful memories of you after you are gone. I wasn’t so lucky. Both of my babas died before I was born and my ‘gidus’ were mean old men used to pinch me and look upon me with disgust because I never became fluent with their mother tongue Ukrainian. Billy is crystal clear with truth when he states that the whole purpose in life is to raise your kids so that they can raise their kids right. And, when you see your kids raising their kids wrong, his advice is to “BTFO” (butt out) Nothing will destroy a relationship with your adult kids like criticizing or challenging their parental techniques.
‘Death comes to us all, yes even to Kings…’ – Sir Thomas More – A Man For All Seasons
I leave you now with one last somber thought. It is one that must trouble all happily married couples in their ‘golden (actually ‘brass’) years. Worrying who will go first. I want to die before my wife because I cannot bear the thought of the loneliness of living without her. Selfish of me, I know.
So there you have it. I have shared some of my most personal thoughts on old age, sickness, and death and I suspect that you too share many of these sentiments. But hey, ‘that’s life!’
On one final upbeat note, my friend Rand Canyon, as his 70th birthday approached, told me he no longer wanted to recognize or celebrate his birthday. I disagree. Any year that passes when I am still on the upside of dirt is a good year and a cause to cheer. And, when I go, I have left these final instructions for my kin and those friends who still survive: At my funeral, wear only white and after the planting, have a big merry party. Feast on pyrogies, and cabbage rolls and kulbassa washed down with buckets of O’Douls while dancing (or shuffling) your asses off to Trooper’s “We’re Here For A Good Time, Not A Long Time.”
Dennis Tkach is a Chilliwack resident, currently residing in Fort McMurray, who is well-traveled and has a long history in the entertainment business. A music aficionado, a voracious reader and world traveler, his columns can be found on all three Today Media Group community websites regularly.
If you have something you think Dennis should write about send him an email at: Dennis@TodayMedia.ca