There’s method in our greyness

Catching up: A version or this column appeared in The Sault Star in December.

Columnist Gene Monin, who has shared his insight and compassion with Sault Star readers for several decades, wrote this recently:

“You are old for a reason.”

I found that reassuring, though lately I’ve suspected that the main reason I’m aging might be to provide amusement for some sadistic lesser deity.

Pains, aches, fatigue and inability to make machinery and technology do what you want it to do seem to be the defining characteristics of post-retirement existence.

That’s never so evident as when older guys gather to play hockey.

Many of us arrive about ten minutes earlier than we used to in case we have to remove all of our equipment to put on a forgotten brace or support.

We do lengthy and vigorous pregame stretches just tying up our skates.

As with the pros, our games are won or lost by the mistakes we make. Unlike the pros, it would take a ridiculous amount of time (and better memories than we possess) to count all of the things we manage to screw up.

If we assessed tripping penalties, our own feet and the bluelines would spend a lot of time in the penalty box.

My own goaltending style looks like it’s been modelled on Wile E. Coyote. The other day I glided across the crease to confront a shooter,  then slid by him toward the backboards when a gimpy knee gave out. I could have held up a sign saying “Free Goal,” if I’d had the energy to do so.

But as we wince and groan and dial up chiropractors in the dressing room after the game, these words inevitably will be uttered: “Consider the alternative.”

The alternative can be found in obituary pages populated by too many friends and acquaintances. 

It’s also found on the growing roll of former teammates who discover that playing hockey, even as slowly as we do it, violates the warranty on that new knee or pacemaker.

Some who have been forced to give up the game drop in for a visit now and then, either for the fellowship or because they’re having trouble sleeping and think watching the glacial pace of our skating might do the trick.

But reading deeper into Gene Monin’s column I find that he believes one of the reasons for which we are old is to teach the very young all the wisdom we have learned through hard experience.

And yes, spending time with grandkids is a big and rewarding part of many a retiree’s life, though like hockey our bodies can handle grandparenting only in short shifts.

But if I have taught my grandkids anything it’s been inadvertent, because I think kids have more than enough people telling them what to do these days.

Still, the little ones really do soak up everything grandpa does or says, especially if it’s something he regrets doing or saying.

They have better memories than Facebook or Twitter. One grandparental slip of the lip can become family lore.

So as we grow old together I find that “What I really meant was . . .” and “Grandpa probably shouldn’t have done that” are clubs often pulled from the grandparenting bag.

Gene astutely narrowed old folks’ teaching targets to the “very” young. That excludes teenagers, which probably is a good coping strategy for grandparents.

I have a teenaged grandson who slow-claps whenever I utter a “grandpa joke.” So I’m hearing a lot of slow-clapping these days.

He’s a great kid, but I suspect that puberty is closing his ears to any wisdom I might have acquired over the past half century or so and care to pass on. 

Fair play. I stopped listening to my elders at the dawning of the age of acne. I started listening to them again only when I realized I could pick up some good tips about travel destinations and bargains.

Because although Gene Monin doesn’t say so, it appears one of the reasons people in my cohort get old is so they can enjoy relatively inexpensive winter vacations to warm destinations. No more Spring Break ripoff.

Mind you, there may come a time when medical conditions and general incapacity put an end to travel.

When that happens I hope Gene Monin’s still writing so he can tell me why I’m getting really, really, really old.

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