I flew down to Florida last weekend for Mom’s 90th birthday. She lives in an excellently run assisted-living place, with just as much assistance as she wants, which is none. It was great to spend a few days with folks such as I might become, if I make it.
The whole family was there, 17 of us, plus Mom. My favorite guy was Milt — a total stranger. He sauntered into the birthday party in time for dessert and set right in to needling Mom.
She stood it for a while, then told him, “Tell him how old you are.”
I was hogging Mom, at her place of honor at the end of the table. Milt sat across from me.
“You tell him,” he said.
“He’s 95 years old,” my Mom said.
I didn’t believe it. Milt looked about as old as I am. (None of your business.)
Old people, no matter how well they age, come to move in a stiff and creaky way. I’m an old track coach and I know this stuff. Milt, as I said, sauntered.
“I’m 94,” Milt said. “I’ll be 95 in a couple of days.”
My birthday was a few days away. I wondered if we were twins.
“When’s your birthday?” I asked.
“It’s in September.”
“That’s not a few days.”
“It is when you’re 94.”
Milt and Mom are both children of the Great Depression. I’d heard my Mom’s stories. I asked Milt for his. He assured me that no one alive today, except people as old as he and Mom, could understand what it was like.
“I’m not going to finish this,” he said, pointing to a small slice of birthday cake. “And I’ll feel bad about it. There’s no reason for me to feel bad about it, but I will. I’m wasting food.”
I allowed as some Salvadorans and Syrians of my acquaintance might understand that.
I asked Milt if he owed his longevity to exercise and good diet — or didn’t people worry about those things until the 1960s?
Milt smiled and shook his head. Exercise? Diet? Depression babies got enough exercise. What they didn’t get enough of was food.
Pardon me 1,000 times, but I’ve been a reporter for 33 years — a snoop. I have habits. I had a great interview subject here, and I didn’t want him to get away.
Milt served in World War II, then made his career as a chemical engineer. According to sources who have been reliable in the past, he spends a lot of his time walking. Hours every day, walking. These sources tell me that he saved my Mom’s life.
One morning, walking, he saw a newspaper in front of my Mom’s door. “That isn’t right,” he thought. Mom gets up before he does. He got into her apartment somehow, found her sick in bed, and had her sent to a hospital.
He kidded her about this before my eyes. I assume he kids her about it all the time.
These kids today — 90 and 94 — what are you going to do with them?
I asked Milt who was the best president he ever had?
Who was the worst?
We talked for an hour, tops, then Milt kissed my Mom goodnight — on the cheek. I shook his hand and we sauntered off in different directions, in the assisted-living community.
The next day I asked my Mom why she didn’t move in with Milt.
My Mom, a severely moral person, pretended to be outraged at the suggestion.
“What are we gonna do?” she said. “I’m 90. He’s 94. If I was 80 and he was 84, then Hoopa! Hoopa!”
And she waved her hands over her head.