Everyone should experience the pleasure of having an exhilarating discussion with an elder. Over the last five years at my residence, Metropolitan of Lorton, I have been honored to have deep discussions and inspirational conversations with Jay and his wife Caroline. What makes these conversations so enlightening are that the elders are in their 80s, sharp as a tack, witty as anyone you’ll ever meet, and white. I bring up race because I’m black, 60, and nothing is off-limits to talk about; probably because we respect each others’ viewpoints, no matter the topic.
Jay rises early, probably due to his 20-year career in the Army-Air Force (as it was called back then), and goes to the lobby to read his Washington Post and get a cup of coffee provided by property management. He brings his own creamer. I look forward to the mornings that I can pull myself out of bed to join him at 5:30; I bring my own freshly ground and brewed java.
It is rejuvenating and entertaining to converse with him. We talk about everything and anything — politics, religion, race, finances, his life, my life, or anything that’s been in the news lately. Jay is for real, down-to-earth, and extremely funny when discussing himself or Caroline. On this particular morning, I learned they had been married for 60 years and he gave both a comical side about marriage and a serious side. That’s the way Jay is when the conversations turn to Caroline. He said that the one thing he learned over the years was that marriage should be a 10-year contract. I quipped, “Renewable?” And just as quickly, he responded, “Oh no, 10 years and that’s it.” As usual, I got my laugh on and said, “Jay, you are too darn funny.” He laughed right along with me and said, “My doctor asked how we stayed married so long, and I told her what I tell everybody. When I married Caroline, I’d stay married until I found a prettier woman. I’ve never seen one prettier than Caroline.” Jay’s sentiments toward his wife just melt your heart.
In order for you to get the gist of both Jay and Caroline’s wit and humor, I’ll relay two separate conversations I had over the last month regarding their annual one-month trip to Daytona Beach to celebrate their wedding anniversary. This year they had to cut the trip short by almost three weeks because Jay had an unexpected medical issue. The first conversation took place with both of them when I was surprised to see them back early. “What happened?” I asked. Caroline started the conversation. “Well, Jay got sick and all I worried about was what if he died down here, how in the world would I get him back home?” Jay responded, “Oh no, tell Gwen what you really said.” I noticed a glint in her eyes as she let go of a giggle. “Well, on our way to the hotel,” she said, “I noticed way more crematoriums and billboards advertising cremation along the highway than the year before. I told Jay I’d just have him cremated here and take his ashes back home with me.” I could not stop laughing; tears rolled down my cheeks. Jay said, “You think she’s kidding, but it’s true; that’s exactly what she said!”
The second conversation took place yesterday morning over a cup of Joe with Jay. We hadn’t seen each other in a couple of weeks so we talked for almost three hours about my temp assignment, and his overseas assignments throughout his military career, the gift of a sonogram showing his second great-grandson to-be, and how an unfortunate incident turned into a luck of the draw to learn computers, which led to his second career at Motorola. Then, on queue, the conversation turned to Caroline. “That’s our last trip to Daytona,” he said. “I wanted to stay the entire month. Caroline is a worrywart,” he whispered, although Caroline was nowhere around. “My knee swelled, she called my doctor, and doctor said, ‘go to the emergency room.’ Caroline was worried they would keep me and she would have to travel back and forth for days, maybe even weeks to visit me in the hospital. She wanted to go home. So if I died, she would have my blue suit to bury me in. If I were going to die,” Jay laughed, “Caroline made sure it wouldn’t be in Daytona Beach. She changed our reservations and we came home the next day.” Needless-to-say, I could not contain my incessant laughter. “Well, did you go to the doctor?” I inquired when I caught my breath. “Yes,” Jay responded, “and the doctor said that all I had was an aging problem — that’s it!”
I look forward to our conversations and try my best to get up early on weekends to meet Jay in the lobby for some good conversation over coffee. Once, when I referred to myself as African American, Jay said, “I don’t like that. Why don’t you just say you’re American?” I know Jay knows the answer because he’s been all around the world. So it’s okay if he just wants to hear my answer. And, I was game and it definitely made for an invigorating morning discussion, which ended with both of us holding true to our individual positions.
When was the last time you stopped and chatted with an elder? I implore you to make the time and take advantage of this golden opportunity, whether it’s a relative, a neighbor, or a stranger. Believe me, you won’t regret it. You’ll leave feeling better off than when you paused just to say hello.