by Ben Small
Back when I was a kid, so long ago, I dreaded being around old people, not only because they seemed to do nothing but sit around while I developed one new race path around or between their chairs after another. Rocking chairs were my favorite. My father's mother would sit in one. She was quite patient if I miss-timed my roll with her rock and plunged into her lap.
Also, because so many conversations I overheard when older people got together related to complaints about aches and pains. Always. To anybody who'd sit or stand long enough to catch an ear. Well, not necessarily to someone actually listening, but to everyone in proximity who might listen.
Any my grandmother was a pro.
She stands large in both my sister's and my memories for her accomplishments and lessons -- and always has -- but lunch or dinner with my grandmother at Terre Haute's Goody Shop was painful. A college literature professor, she was well-schooled in talking, period. But when our grandmother would order fried chicken, mashed potatoes and peas, we'd wince. After de-skinning, a process that might take an hour if on a roll, that woman would shred each torn-off piece of chicken, carefully selected of course, until she had just the right mix of meat and sauce, and then often put the fork down to discuss some new ache or pain. And then she'd go on often until one of us had to physically pick up her fork and stuff it back into her mitt. She'd remix, and the story would go on. And don't start me on the peas. One by one, each personally selected and dressed with the proper mixture of sauces, both gravy and cranberry.
Tick, tick, tick...
My grandmother's Goody Shop meal would take over three hours. And she wasn't French. For two teenage kids doing the faithful go-visit-your-grandmother chore, we considered these meals boredom endurance tests. Fast eaters both, she and I would fidget, squirm and stare each other down or flash cut-throat hand signals if one of us dared ask a question. By time a Goody Shop - Grandma meal concluded, my sister and I would be hungry again.
Right. Our little secret.
We'd hear about all my grandmother's aches and pains and those of her sister, a woman who married my father's brother. Yep, two brothers married two sisters. My grandfather was gone, but the others survived, and they'd visit every day.
And what would they talk about? Aches and pain. Old ones, almost Groundhog Day-ish, and any collected since...yesterday. Sibling competition. Sort of a Can You Top This, repeated daily.
I'd say that for a kid a visit to Aunt Helen and Uncle John's was more taxing than three hours at the Goody Shop, but at least at my aunt's house my sister and I could play with the old, sleepy dog -- you know, tease the poor thing to under-the-couch relief, where even there we might poke him with a broom, or try to scoot under with him. So, there was some escape.
So now, here I am at 65, my sister 62, and what do we talk about with our friends and family?
Our aches and pains.
Thank goodness, none of us eat fried chicken. I'd fear for my granddaughter and expected grandson.