An Age for Celebration
written by my daughter at age 17
Brighton Gardens was a beautiful peach building with an enormous green landscape centered in one of the wealthiest communities of Southern California. The retirement home not only attended to Senior Citizens but to High School teens that sought volunteer hours. It wasn’t long before I joined in and added “Bingo Caller” to my resume. B32 I would call out dully, just to hear quiet murmurs and shuffles of old and discolored bingo chips. I would hear snickers from the Queen Bees, talking about how naïve Olga was to put mustard on her sandwich. Didn’t she know how bad mustard was for her cholesterol? Not only was gossiping a commonality, but complaining was quite routine as well. It was always too hot or too cold, there was just no winning with them.
First, there was Doris who’d sit at the living room’s plastic fluorescent couch everyday at the very same time. If someone had “her chair” occupied, there would be a beheading. Then there was Richard, the bachelor, who strolled around in his walker nodding to the attractive women who still had a head full of hair and a mouth full of teeth, dentures that is. Howard played checkers every Wednesday, and every Wednesday he’d forget he was to play checkers. Then there was Mae. She was the most vibrant, hilarious, and childish out of all of them. Oh, she was also the oldest, 103. I never heard a complete sentence from her without a pun to it or a chuckle that anyone who knew her could identify. It was loud and obnoxious, as was she. While I would watch the majority of the inhabitants sitting lifelessly and waiting to die, I would turn and see Mae swinging on by, cackling with her groupies. Her smile could light up any dark alley way, any night in absence of a full moon, any person in need of a bit of happiness. Here I was subjected to all these elderly people who were bitter and angry at life, and there she was making a joke about it. Along with what I used to call a burden, volunteering bestowed insight, appreciation, and clarity upon me, the clouds had finally made room for the sun. Despite the age, a certain maturity is never met and a certain immaturity is never left.
While I used to drag my feet to make it inside Brighton Gardens, I was now walking, fast that is, to get there. I’d stumble through the door first thing after school in search for Mae. I didn’t want to turn out like the rest of them, holding grudges, spewing anger, detaining regrets. I didn’t want to drag my feet anymore, anywhere. For the last 17 years I had been rushing my life; now I wanted to pull the reigns tight. I didn’t want to get old and sit in a chair and stare at the wall! I wanted to go play on the swings, scrape my knees, and get into childish trouble. I was young, I was healthy, and I hadn’t been satisfied with my being. I had been too preoccupied with the latest Hollywood trends and the gorgeous boys with the baby blues, that I hadn’t even appreciated my existence, my youth. I had always been worried about something, but I didn’t want to be worried anymore, I wanted to be Mae.
That was my turning point in life. My perspective and my attitude, changed. I discovered a difference in me, a positive one. I had a bounce to my step and an optimistic touch in my soul. I had never been so passionate about being who I was! I let go of my regrets, forgave the guilty, and just smiled. I had been at Brighton Gardens for seven months, and every hour I spent there was a blessing, for it opened my eyes to more than anyone could ever imagine. I walked in one day, with that little bounce, and searched for Mae’s presence. She wasn’t at bingo, she wasn’t in the living room or the dining hall, Mae was no where. As I learned, she passed away the night before. The receptionist told me stories about how she had difficulty breathing. While she was being reeled out with an oxygen mask attached to her face, she was laughing and hitting on the firemen, calling them “Cuties” and “Sugar Muffins.” I was told she proclaimed that if it was her time to go, at least she was going out with a set of good looking men. I will never mourn her death, but celebrate her life, as I now do with my own. Thank you, Mae!