Twice in three days I faced my future. Only I got the distinct impression I was supposed to think of it as my present.
The banged-up, butchered, and bedraggled veterans of rehabilitation gathered in the adult day care center at McLean's Health Care Center in Simsbury. I went expecting to show off my sturdy twin oaks just a half year after bilateral knee surgery.
It was a mistake. I mean going there. No one really wanted to see my scars. My personal therapist was on her day off. But worst of all, I was, if not the youngest, the hale and heartiest, save one woman in her early forties.
I sat alone for a while. I chose a table as far away as I could from the Rockabilly trio playing such favorites as "Red Sails in the Sunset." Visions of innumerable nursing home assembly rooms rushed to mind. I all but gasped, "My Lord, now it's my turn." An eighty-four year old retired insurance executive (hey, we live next door to Hartford, remember?) in shorts and hearing aid sat next to me. We chatted over the strains of "My Gal Sal." That is, he chatted and I shouted. He wanted to know what I thought of Ronald Reagan. I told him I didn't want to go there.
The president of the facility stood at the podium. With his black pompadour and cherubic countenance he looked like he had just gotten his diploma from a graduate school of health administration. But from the distance of seventy-two, everyone under fifty looks like a child. He reported that he had sampled his own product, having had rehab following knee surgery a few months ago. He wasn't limping. I was envious.
It wasn't hard to figure, why we had been invited to a reunion of the rehabilitated. Just like Buick courts brand loyalty, McLean knows that a satisfied customer will be happy to return when necessary. And judging from the limps and coughs and canes, this clientele will... return.
I cut out as quickly as I could after the speechmaking. I looked neither to the left nor to the right. I was thankful for knees that sped me on my exit. Others more objective than me might conclude I was simply trying to escape my future, my immediate future.
The other dose of reality came at a college reunion. We drove Saturday (6/12) to Williams College to watch our youngest child and her child march in the alumni parade. Granddaughter Alanna is a purple enthusiast. She was in her element. Everyone in the line of march wore purple, the school's colors.
It would be fun, I also thought, to see and visit with members of the Class of 1954 whom I had not seen for the past fifty-one years. That class, would you believe, presented the college with a check in the amount of $17.3 million on the occasion of their own golden anniversary. And I did manage to catch up with a couple of clergy and find out how it went with them in the Lord's pastures. Some of the youngsters of '54 remarked on how nice and shiny brown was my pate, its lack of hair explaining why they drew a blank when they saw me. I, of course, responded in kind, lifting their souvenir hats and asking them why they were imitating Michael Jordan.
The truly sobering event, however, was the luncheon. It's named The Joseph's Coat Luncheon. Joseph's Coat, for those of you who haven't visited your Old Testament in a great while, refers to the coat of many colors and over-indulgent father Jacob bestowed on his youngest son, much to the envy of the older ones. That coat is awarded annually to an alumnus of 50 years + who has distinguished himself in some field of endeavor. This year the pastel linen plaid went to Bernie Auer, former publisher of Time magazine.
Once again I found a table on the periphery of the dining room. While Barbara took advantage of the facilities, I welcomed to my obscurity a couple of greater age than me. It turns out he was a professor whose course in American culture I had taken in my senior year. He even remembered me! Fred Rudolph steered me to greater accuracy where in my book in Chapter 1, the eighth paragraph, the first sentence, I would have written "most of the graduates." He knew it should be "many of the graduates." We basked in each other's gentle and favorable remembrances of the other. Only later did it dawn on me that he was wearing a Joseph's coat.
They'll not likely give me one. I shall probably return in succeeding years. Still I couldn't help but note that I was the youngest old alumnus present that noon for a heart-wise luncheon of greens and broiled chicken.
Dottie Rudolph, Fred's wife, nudged me when the President of the Alumni Association remarked from the podium that a certain ninety year old should be around for another fifty years. "I'd hope not," she murmured, thinking of the degradations age and time visit on the healthiest of us. I nudged her back and cited an observation attributed to President Eisenhower when he answered the rhetorical question, "Who would want to live to a hundred?" with "Someone who is ninety-nine, I suppose."
Yeah, yeah, I know what you're thinking: "Get used to it, Howard: you're old."