Old friends, old friends sat on their parkbench like bookends
A newspaper blowin’ through the grass
Falls on the round toes of the high shoes of the old friends
Old friends, winter companions, the old men
Lost in their overcoats, waiting for the sun
The sounds of the city sifting through trees
Settles like dust on the shoulders of the old friends
Can you imagine us years from today, sharing a park bench quietly
How terribly strange to be seventy
Old friends, memory brushes the same years, silently sharing the same fears
–Simon and Garkunkel
They used to live in-town, but now live 15 minutes away from us in the upscale retirement home that takes great pride in caring for its residents. I can’t help thinking of one without the other – like the salt-and-pepper shakers they go together, and have been married close to 60 years. It was hard for them to move from the house they built together, and they have crammed as much as they could take of a house worth’s of furniture into a three-room apartment. While it’s not exactly crowded, the proportions seem small as I walk between the table chairs two steps into the living space with the tired couch, the stained armchair, and the straight-backed rocking chair. The furniture is meticulously arranged, if dated – she has always liked things “just so.” Their most precious trinkets are relegated to one low shelf. Just beyond the sliding glass door is a concrete patio six feet on a side before a common lawn. She, who used to grow jungles from tiny shoots, now fusses over the pitiful planter basket of flowers outside that doesn’t look as if it will survive the next month. She drops cracker crumbs onto the patio to coax the squirrel living in the nearby tree to come visit. This squirrel is fat.
In the day he ran a stateside production center during World War II to build B-26 bombers for the war. He’s very deaf, but if you can get him to understand your question, and stop her from answering for him, he’ll tell you stories of how he took midnight flights in little junk jets to scrounge metal or parts from branch factories to meet his monthly quota of so many planes. He is proud that he never disappointed. He ran a workforce of hundreds, and now he worries because his bank statement shows he’s not getting the few additional dollars of interest he thinks he should.
She is losing her memory. She’s still able to stay in the independent living apartment but only because he and their children keep an eye out for her. Still, she may have to move soon, and this is sad. In a conversation I mention our daughter’s recent Valentine’s Day dance, and our son’s new project, and then we rerun to the beginning. This is the same woman who took over the household for her father and brothers at age 13 when her mother died, then moved to a far college and fell in love with a handsome young man at the beach. She raised three children, taught school, learned to spin and make pottery, and involved herself deeply in many activities in the community.
How time does fly. It’s hard to see them like this: they are little blanched people, and all day they sit on the couch and doze or look out the floor-length window. Their walls are hung with brightly colored photographs of great-grandchildren, and sepia-toned photographs of them in younger, more lively days, but now their world is very small. They wave to us from the door as we finish our visit and leave.