I have a soft spot for old people. They have many soft spots, so I guess it works out.
Every Christmas that my mother has been the Director of Medical Care, we’ve gone to serve the Christmas Buffet (cue oohs and aahs from the octagenarians) at the Old Folks Home. It’s never a lot of work, we’re only ever there for a few hours, stationed behind tables of slightly overcooked green beans and fending off bony little fingers picking out what they want from the cracker tray. But it is oh-so much fun.
When we get there, they have invariably begun to line up. The buffet is quite the thing to attend, and seeing as how it directly precedes the Best Dressed Walker competition, it is quite the site to see as well. They all line up outside the dining room, sausage curls tightly wound, clutching walkers adorned with garland and snow flakes and small nativity scenes, surveying the competition and loudly inquiring as to everyone’s well-being, plans and bowel movements. They are all so excited, they vibrate like little atoms, with excitement instead of Parkinsons, smiling and touching arms with the softest hands and sparkling eyes.
I never seem to draw as much attention as my brother, as the majority of anyone still mobile are tough little old women. The men are sweet and always appear slightly inebriated and I can never tell if they are winking at me or simply blinking one eye at a time like lethargic lizards. But the women – they dress up in their finest, their backs curved as if somebody was picking them up by the scruff of their neck – for god sakes one lady was bent so far forward that her eyelids were falling off her eyes – and they look so happy.
So happy to see my young, tall, strapping brother. So happy that he comes around and pours them tea and coffee, chats with them, holds their dinner plates and walks them to their tables. So happy that they ask my poor, blushing brother who is young and handsome and sweet and kind.. if instead of the ice cream or chocolate cake or sugar cookies, if they could have him for dessert. So happy that they twitter away and blush and laugh bawdily and unabashedly at his gentle smile as he squeezes their hands and shoulders and laughs quietly to himself.
They are all thrilled over the seafood salad and the honey ham, the olives and the pickles, set around tables of 4 and 6, and even though they don’t always remember our names, they remember our faces. They line up with their plates like a lunch line of sweet teenagers, grinning toothlessly, resplendent in their wigs and Christmas sweaters, telling us they remember us, how they remember from last year that we did this. These memories cannot be so strong, they cannot be so sure – but for us, their soft hands and their laughter, their winks and tremors, the memories they give us.. those are as robust and strong as their hugs.
And probably, if you ask my brother, as strong as the fingers that pinch his cheeks. All of them.