Green beans


I saw a very old woman walking down the street, my guess is that she was 113 years old, carrying a grocery bag with her back bent forward at a 90-degree angle. I stopped and asked her if she needed help.

“No, I’m fine, thank you,” she said, slowly shuffling away.

She didn’t seem fine. If “fine” is walking at a turtle’s pace with your face down toward the sidewalk, then I don’t want to be fine.

I can imagine if I make it to that old my back will hurt too. My hair will hurt. My skin will hurt. Everything will hurt. Ordinary things will be hard to do. I’ll ask a grandkid or a great-nephew or the neighbor boy to help me up so I can go pee. We’ll get to the bathroom, and I won’t have to go anymore.

“Just leave me here,” I’ll say, “I’ll go eventually.”

I don’t want to feel helpless when I’m old, but I don’t think most people want old people’s help.

I’ll go to a family dinner at a relative’s house and plop down in the recliner.

“Anything I can do?” I’ll ask, but generally asking if there is anything I can do any more at 90 years old.

“Relax. Watch a program. You’ve done plenty. You worked for 40 years!” says a cousin, with a smile and a flip of her hand.

I’ll sit there staring at Wheel of Fortune with my mouth agape. Maybe a little drool will slide out the side of my mouth. I won’t be able to keep up with the show because everything’s happening so fast and it’s almost my bedtime. I’ll yell “idiots” at the contestants.

Maybe someone will let me clean the green beans. I’ll sit there with a big pot in front of me and a colander full of green beans on my lap. Ill snap off the ends and toss the clipped green beans into the pot. I’ll miss often, and green beans will lay eschew all over the carpet.  

At dinner someone compliments the green beans and my eldest daughter, God bless her, says “Pop made them.” We’ll both know that’s not true, but I’ll smile, and she’ll smile, and for a moment I’ll feel whole again. I’ll think of the times I hosted these big dinners, and I cooked three courses, and I opened wine, and my home was alive. I’ll feel happy for a moment, but then the pain of nostalgia will hit me like a brick. My eyes will well up, and someone at the table will ask me what’s the matter and I won’t be able to explain it.

My younger daughter will take me home, and I’ll sit and listen to the quiet. I’ll think about the times when I always had something to do, and now I can barely do anything.

That grocery bag woman probably didn’t want help because walking to the store and back was something to do. She was out in the world feeling productive. It was fun for her. She wasn’t going to let me ruin it. I don’t blame her.

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