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Youth is Wasted on the Young
“Hah! Bingo!” Gertrude gloated. “Third time in a row!” She showed no sign of the usual fatigue that haunt most women of her age; seventy-two years. Her thick white hair, once tied up, fell down in wisps across her brow and cheeks. She hadn’t cut it in years; twelve years, to be exact. She had decided at sixty, when she retired to the Leafy Valley retirement facility, that no one would cut her hair. No one dared try. For all they knew, Gertrude might bite.
“Aw, come on now Gertrude, it isn’t fair that you have lucky bingo cards,” one elderly man complained.
“Luck has got nothin’ to do with it,” Gertrude chuckled. “Either you’ve got it or ya don’t. And I-“ Gertrude waved her bingo card in the air like a war banner, “I got it. Hah!”
The bingo hall filled with groans from both young and old.
“Come on guys, one more round. The night is still young,” Gertrude implored gleefully.
“Enough is enough, Gertrude. You’ve already won a tub of chocolate ice cream, a fancy jell-o mold, and a new bell for your walker,” One of the attendants tried to reason with her.
“Dang-nabbit, I don’t need no stink’n bell; I don’t even use a walker. I just want some fun!”
Twenty-six elderly eyes glared at her silently.
Gertrude sighed and gathered her winnings. “Geezers.” She muttered, rolling her emerald green eyes. With that, she swept out of the room, her clogs thumping softly against the thick brown carpet.
A kind, female attendant hurried after her, gently taking her by the shoulders. “Gertrude, don’t get all huffy. Your children are coming tomorrow, and that’ll be fun, right?” she said.
Gertrude brushed the woman’s gentle hands off her shoulders. “Honey, let’s not be delusional. All them kids is gunna say is ‘sit down Mama, don’t tire yourself’ and ‘now Mama, ya gotta go slower, you’re not as young as you used to be’. Dang-nabbit, I know that, I’m old, not senile. They don’t even let me play with my own grandkids hardly. They suck the fun out of everything, I tell ya.”
The attendant smiled sympathetically, “You know what they say; youth is wasted on the young.”
Gertrude huffed. “Tain’t that the truth.”
Gertrude flew into her room like a wild tropical hurricane, startling her mild mannered roommate.
“Those geezers, those old, senile, fun sucking geezers. Dang-nabbit!” Gertrude fumed.
“If yer talking about me, you otta find another place to vent because I ain’t go’n no place.” Bertie said calmly as she knit a little pink cap for the newest of her grandchildren.
“That’s a relief, I suppose. What is it then, yer children?”
“Naw, that’ll be tomorrow night. I gotta wait a few more years to be able to call ‘em geezers anyhow, though they act like ‘em.”
“Eh, true enough.” She looked up from her knitting. “Aw Gertrude, you haven’t been make’n a scene at bingo again have ya? Ah no, hon, you said you weren’t gunna do that anymore. What would Walter say?”
Gertrude collapsed on the sofa beside Bertie. “Bertie, I hate being old. I really, really do. Dang-nabbit, I don’t think anyone here knows how to have fun.”
“Hey there, careful now, remember who yer talk’n to,” said Bertie
“’Cept you, Bertie, of course.”
“Anyways, I’m glad Walter passed on peaceful early on before he knew what it was like to feel so old. He would’ve hated it here. He loved adventure, that man. Lordy, I don’t know how his kids didn’t get none of that.”
“I suppose you’re expecting a hard time of it tomorrow then?” Bertie said softly as she squeezed her dear friend’s hand.
“I might survive so long as they don’t give me none of that “you gotta go slower” stuff.”
Bertie smiled wearily. “We can hope and pray, dear, hope and pray.”
“Now Mama, you’ve got to go slower, you’re not as young as you used to be. Give me Jenny now, and sit down. Don’t tire yourself now, the kids can amuse themselves.” Gertrude’s eldest and most assertive daughter took the three-year-old from her mother’s hands and set her on the grass. Gertrude tried her best to hide her disappointment and settled in a white iron lawn chair between her son and youngest daughter. There were four children altogether: three daughters and her one son, John, her eldest child. Next came Nancy, Anna Mae, and little Caroline, who was the spitting image of her mother. Seeing her was like looking in a youthful mirror with her bright emerald eyes, flaming red hair, and skin freckled from long hours in the sun with her own three children.
“Can we get you anything? Sweet tea? Something to eat?” Anna Mae asked timidly. She had none of the spunk from her mother or father, but she was smart, a trophy and asset to the family.
“What, first you want me to sit down, and now you want to fatten me up? I can look after myself just fine, thank you, not to mention I have scores of other young people flocking around me and ‘assisting me’ night and day!” Gertrude crossed her arms in defiance.
“No tea then?” John asked with a mischievous smile. He understood his mother best out of the four children, which made him even more protective and attentive to her. He knew how her mind worked, and he knew too often, if not watched, she would go too far.
Gertrude huffed. “No tea!”
“Alright then. How are you these days? Last night was bingo, wasn’t it? How was that?” John asked his mother, leaning back in his own chair.
Gertrude sat up quickly. “What did they tell you, huh?” she said defensively.
“Easy Mama, they didn’t tell us anything,” Caroline replied. “Why, is there something we ought to know?
“No, no. Never mind, dang-nabbit.” Gertrude settled back in her seat.
It was Nancy’s turn to sit up right and rigid in her chair. “Oh Lordy, I completely forgot, Nathaniel has a doctor’s appointment in an hour to take a wart off of his thumb. My goodness, he’s got to quit picking up those toads! I’m so sorry Mama, I’ll take you out to lunch next week, alright?” Nancy kissed her mother on the cheek as she gathered her two youngest children to her.
“Mama, I’ve got to go too, my boss has a big meeting today with some people he’s interested in merging with, and wants to bring a few of his employees to kind of show off a little. Of course he’ll never admit it, but-“ Anna Mae paused and said, “I suspect if I get there early, I’m liable to get a promotion. You understand, don’t you Mama?”
“Fine, fine, jist go already, I don’t want none of your excuses.” She turned to Caroline. “I suppose you’ve got someth’n to git to as well?”
“No, Mama, I can stay.”
John looked at Caroline in such a way that held a firm meaning Caroline could not deny.
“On second thought, the kids were so anxious to have a special day out with me this week, and today was the only day without things planned every second of it. I think I’ll take them down town and let them window shop a while. Do you mind much, Mama?”
Gertrude had a special place in her heart for her slight and sweet young daughter. Out of all of her children, this reason satisfied her best. “That’s jist fine, hon, Give em’ a right pleasant day with their mother. My goodness, them kids grow up too fast, don’t they?”
Caroline glanced at her brother and smiled softly. “They sure do Mama. Bye now, I’ll call you on Sunday, ok?
As Caroline walked away, John stood up and stretched. “Let’s go on a little walk, Mama,” he said, “just me and you.”
Gertrude allowed her son to help her up and lead her towards the facility’s gardens.
“Now, Mama, why are you so crotchety these days? I know they take good care of you here, the food is surprisingly good and the folk are pleasant. What’s got you worked up so tight?”
Gertrude sighed. “I’m bored, I suppose. Bored of old folk do’n puzzles or sitting around waiting for their teeth to fall out. It’s like the Lord said ‘all old folk must sit around all day and do noth’n till the day they die’ and they all obliged. Dang-nabbit, I won’t oblige. No sir, I ain’t the sitting around kind. In fact-” Gertrude paused a minute, her eyes twinkling as a plan began to form behind them “I’m gunna have as much fun as I can while I can. Now John, don’t try and stop me,” Gertrude said as she saw the alarm arise on her son’s face. “I won’t go too far, don’t worry about that. I won’t get myself kicked outta here. I do like it here, so some degree. It’s better than some places I could be. Naw, I’ll stick around a while longer. But let me stir up some, alright?”
John looked dubious. “I don’t know how well I trust you, to be honest. You’re a teenage-rebel in seventy-two-year-old’s body.
Gertrude chuckled. “And don’t you forget it.”
“Bertie, I need your help.” Gertrude said as she flung herself through the door of their little apartment.
Bertie was scrapbooking a little album for a grandchild whose birthday was coming up in a month. Her frail yet steady hands were busy cutting little yellow and purple flowers at the small dining table in the corner of their joint living area. Her peppery, gray hair was neatly tucked behind her ears and pulled back into a bun on the nap of her neck. She looked up at Gertrude, her deep brown eyes wide with horror. “Oh no Gertrude, you ain’t gunna get me in one yer wild ideas. No, I ain’t gunna do it.”
“Ah Bertie, it won’t be that bad, promise.”
“I make no promises. Whatcha planning?”
“A food fight.”
“Gertrude! Yer seventy-two! I haven’t played with my food since I was five, and that was a good long while ago.”
“Dang-nabbit, Bertie, it’ll only be Jell-O.”
“Jell-O? Gertrude, did you ever grow up?” Bertie admonished
Bertie scowled at her stubborn friend. “Well, I for one don’t want to have to get Jell-O out of my hair. What if it stains?”
“Wear a parka and a shower cap.” Gertrude would not be swayed.
“And what will they think when I come waltzing into the dining room decked in my flowered shower cap and spring parka?”
“Ya don’t have to wear ‘em. Your choice.”
Bertie sighed in defeat and put down her scissors. “Alright, so say I was to join in with you on this little escapade of yers, what would it require of me? Where the heck would ya get all that jell-0?”
“The kitchen, of course.
“Yeah? How do you expect to get into the kitchen?” Bertie crossed her arms expectantly.
“Let’s just say I’ve got an inside man who would be glad to help me out.” Gertrude smiled, deep in mischievous thought.
“You mean Robert? You’ll get the poor kid fired!” Bertie said in horror.
“Bob,” Gertrude said, stressing the abbreviated name, “will not get fired. He’s just an intern, and his daddy is the manager. He’ll be jist fine.”
“And this glorious food fight will take place when?” Bertie asked sarcastically.
Gertrude considered the question a moment. “Eh, I’d say, tomorrow at dinner will do. The older folks take dinner in their rooms, and the most persnickety attendants don’t have night shifts.”
Bertie expected an answer like that one. “Fine, one last question: when you get me in trouble, how are you gunna save us?”
“Well, Bertie, you always have made better puppy dog eyes than me.”
The next evening, Gertrude and Bertie waltzed into dinner with large purses slung like sacks over their shoulders, jiggling slightly as they walked. Bertie was sheepishly wearing her shower cap and parka. They sat down at their usual table in the center of the room with two other friends of theirs, Margret and Earl, a married couple.
“Hey there Bertie, you trying to make a fashion statement there? Hehe, did ja think it might rain at dinner? Hehe!” Earl laughed good-naturedly as Bertie sat down at the table. Margret slapped her husband’s arm, but she too was trying hard to contain her giggles.
Bertie blushed profusely and glared at Gertrude over her water glass.
Gertrude chuckled. “Earl, if you knew what was good fer ya, you’d be wearing a shower cap too.”
“Eh, why’s that? Bah, never mind, I have a feeling I’ll know soon enough.”
Gertrude and Bertie had decided that the polite thing to do would be wait until everyone ad just about finished their food before flinging the colored gelatin. Besides, it was steak and potato night, and who wants to ruin a meal like that? So they ate in relative peace for about half an hour, despite the strange looks they got becaue their bags and Bertie’s attire. Bertie kept her head down and rarely looked up the entire time.
Finally, when it seemed as if most people were finished eating and were merely talking, Gertrude nodded at Bertie. Gertrude also nodded in the direction of the kitchen, and Bob brought out a cart filled with dishes of Jell-O and began serving it as he might a normal dessert.
Suddenly, Gertrude stood up, thumped her large purse on the table, reached in, and grabbed a fistful of Jell-O out of her bag. “Food fight!” She screamed and chucked her Jell-O at an elderly man nearby. It splattered against his shirt and slid down into his lap. A look of shock passed over his face, the anger, then a look of giddy youth. He grabbed the Jell-O he was just served and grounded it into his table partner’s thinning hair. And thus the Jell-O fight began.
Colors flew from one side of the room to the other. Red, blue, green, yellow and purple Jell-O hit sweaters, graying heads, walkers, and suspenders. Women screamed in mock horror, and men laughed as their inner high school boy emerged after decades of hiding. At first, the attendants tried desperately to maintain control, but they quickly gave up and joined in on the fun. All were having a wonderful time.
“What’s going in here?”
Everyone stopped what they were doing. The head nurse was standing in the dinning hall entrance, hands on her hips like a strict schoolmarm scolding her class of unruly children. She scanned the Jell-O covered, guilt-ridden faces until one stuck out to her.
“Gertrude, come with me please. Bertie, I’d like you to come too.”
Silently, the two followed her to the nurse’s office, solemn and meek. The nurse sat behind her desk and folded her hands on the desktop. She looked crisp, clean, and furious. Gertrude and Bertie stood before her, squirming under her intense gaze, like two children in the principal’s office.
“Gertrude, I suppose you know why you’re here.”
“Sure do, ma’am.”
“Very good. Pray, tell me why.”
Gertrude’s eyes lit up mischievously. “I had some fun, ma’am.”
The nurse’s eyes narrowed into slits. “Gertrude! You know it goes deeper than that. You schemed with an employee, took ALL of the Jell-O from the kitchen, started a food fight, and you somehow dragged one our most passive residents into it all. I ask you, Gertrude, as a woman of your age, what have you got to say for yourself?”
“Well, if you want me to say “I’m sorry”, I do apologize, but that ain’t happening. Ya see, I ain’t the least bit sorry.”
“Yes, I do see, I see that quite well. Have you no shame, Gertrude? Here, we try our best to provide a calm, placid environment for our residents. You, however, seem bound and determined to make this a rowdy, disruptive environment. Now, I’m afraid we will have to take some disciplinary action.”
“Ya mean you’re going to punish me? Dang-nabbit, woman, I ain’t a child anymore. What right do you have to punish me? Whatcha gunna do, put me in time-out? Give me the paddle?” Gertrude chuckled despite herself.
Bertie elbowed her in the ribs and coughed. This wasn’t looking good at all, and Gertrude’s fiery nature was only making matters worse.
The nurse’s cheeks flushed a cherry red. Bertie could have sworn she could see smoke pouring out of her ears. “Gertrude, I do not appreciate your witty comments right now.”
“Now Nurse, let me jist ask you, were does it say in the Code of Conduct handbook that people aren’t allowed to have Jell-O food-fights? Because I swear I read the dern thing every January like we’re suppose to, and I ain’t never seen that even mentioned, and I’ve got a perty dern good memory too.”
“Why, you know as well as I do that it fits under category-“
“No, ma’am, I don’t want to know what kind of conduct it fits under, I want to know where it is. So tell me, where does it say it’s against the rules to have a Jell-O food fight?”
“I, uh, well, I suppose it doesn’t say it directly, but it goes under the section about proper house-“ the nurse tried to argue.
“Well, now, how are you going to punish me fer someth’n not clearly stated in the handbook, huh? The way I see it, that ain’t really fair.”
“Well, uh, I, uh,” the nurse stuttered, speechless.
“Yeah, that’s what I thought. Let’s go Bertie. Have a good day ma’am.” And with that, the two troublemakers left triumphant.
Bertie and Gertrude collapsed on their couch in a fit of wild giggles.
“And ta think I practiced ma puppy-dog eyes all day and night fer nothing! Gertrude, is there anything you can’t talk yer way out of?” Bertie wheezed as her giggles died down, gasping for air.
“Naw, I don’t believe so. Did you see the look on that woman’s face? Oh Lordy, it was all worth it even if jist fer that.”
“What will yer kids say when they find out?”
“Eh, I figure what they don’t know won’t hurt em’.”
“That nurse is going to be out fer yer hide from now on, ya know.”
“Let her try to pin me down. I ain’t afraid of her.”
“I don’t believe yer afraid of anything.”
Gertrude quit laughing and quickly became somber. “Just old age.”
“Well, together, with the help of Jell-O and Robert, we can lick this whole aging thing together.” Bertie said, half in jest, half in earnest.
Gertrude looked at her teasing, dear friend and smiled softly. “You know, I believe you’re right.”
They sat in companionable silence, both quietly confident that, somehow, youth isn’t wasted on the young, but poured out in small, sweet bursts upon those who are young at heart.