My father is 82, will be 83 in a couple of months. He is in good shape, sharp mentally and relatively healthy, thank goodness. He lived in the San Francisco Bay Area until my mother passed away 12 years ago, and then moved to the Sierra Foothills, close to where I lived. As one or another issue arose – a hospital visit, surgery, a little more than minor illnesses – I became happier that he lived close, that I could help him out and help see that all the questions were answered by doctors and maybe help to act somewhat as an advocate for him.
Then a year and a half ago I moved from California to Nashville, leaving the closest daughter more than three hours away from dad. With a lot of input from all of his four daughters and some grandkids etc., dad decided to move to be closer to one of us. That gave him the choice of San Francisco CA, Orange County CA, Philadelphia PA, or Nashville TN.
I know that we are luckier than many folks. I have seen many people my age who are forced to take away their parents cars and keys because they no longer can manage driving on their own. For many seniors the car is their last bit of true independence and for many families it truly becomes a fight, and not a pretty one.
My dad decided on his own that he no longer felt that comfortable driving and in fact, it at times made him nervous to drive. He decided he wanted to move somewhere that he no longer had to own a car. Okay that took Orange County and Nashville out of the picture. (Although my daughter and I told him, we would happily drive him where he needed to go if he wanted to move to Nashville … he didn’t think that was the answer).
So … we looked at apartments in San Francisco. Dad loves San Francisco, the city itself, the restaurants, the culture, great public transportation and one of his four favorite daughters lives there. But, San Francisco is expensive, really expensive and finding a place that fit all his needs was not as easy as we had once thought.
Dad decided Philadelphia was the place for him and he sold his house, packed up and flew east. He stayed with one of his other four favorite daughters for a time, about an hour outside of the city and found an apartment in a high rise close to what is known as Center City.
Philadelphia also has great public transportation, wonderful cultural attractions, outstanding restaurants and even sports teams that actually win championships. Huh, go figure.
This week we are making all the preparations for his move into the apartment and for his belongings to arrive on the eighth. While there, we have visited a little restaurant that appears to be fairly well known and is on the same property as his apartment. There are often residents of the complex there, and many of them are rather elderly as there are lots of seniors in these apartments.
I have read and people have told me, when you are thinking about characters for your writing, take notice of people around you, eavesdrop a little, you will find bits and pieces of conversations, style of speech, accents, all of which may later be true inspiration for a story, for a character, or for a setting.
Yesterday, while in this little restaurant I decided, if I truly want to write books, I should hang out in this restaurant every day. I was trying not to eavesdrop but they were sitting pretty close to us and you know how some people get when they start to lose a little bit of their hearing … the talk pretty darn loud.
So here are these three ladies sitting together. Probably all in their late 70’s maybe early 80’s. All looking’ pretty good. Although they were clearly of my dad’s generation, there was a sense about them that could transport you to another place and time, you could imagine these gals in their younger days, I would bet some real firecrackers at times.
One was wearing the obligatory purple velour workout suit. Another was wearing slacks and a beautiful sweater, make-up and hair perfectly done, even wearing stockings and heels.
The other was wearing a black dress and a hat and had quite a lot of makeup on. She had plenty of face make-up, rouge, lipstick that was a bit outside the contour of her own lips and eye make-up that included eyeliner on both the upper lid as well as the lower lash line. A little over the top. She was the one who dominated most of the conversation. Kind of made me think of Bette Davis in "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane" without the homicidal crazy part.
“You would not believe what I did last night, I amazed even myself, it was unbelievable.”
“What did you do?”
“I took that Yoga class. You should try it. When it started there were about twenty people they were all standing on one leg, you try that, go ahead stand up, try and stand on one leg, I couldn’t do it either but everyone else in there was standing on one leg.”
“Oh, I couldn’t do that.”
“I know, I didn’t think I could either but when it was over I felt like I was 15 again! Limber, flexible, you know, like I was 15 again! Then we went out for a lovely dinner. And we had a great time and closed the place down. You should try it you end up feeling like you are 15 again!”
“I don’t want to do Yoga. I saw Miriam yesterday. You know Miriam, the gray haired lady? She made a comment about your makeup.”
“I think my makeup looks good!”
“I do too, I told her …”
“My makeup looks good I think I look good! It makes my eyes look bigger.”
“Would you shut up, I know I think it looks good too, I told her I thought you looked very pretty but would you get rid of that black spot?”
“What black spot?”
“Right there on your forehead.”
“I need a mirror, see this mirror, it is a great mirror, you know where I got it? I got it at the dollar store for two dollars?”
Then the waitress breaks in and says, “The dollar store for two dollars, they ripped you off!” and walks away chuckling.
“And what about how Miriam looks?”
“I agree, she doesn’t look that good.”
“Her makeup doesn’t look very good.”
“I know, that is what I just said, she doesn’t look that good.”
Now you know why I could have sat there all day listening to these ladies gab. Although it did bring to mind the song from the musical “The Music Man” when the ladies sing, “Pick-a-little, talk-a-little, pick, pick, pick, talk, talk, pick-a-little more …..”
I finally had to pull myself away as our waitress came up, “Anything else I can get you hon? No? Okay sweetie, no dessert? Okay, here’s your check”.
I know there are characters or a story in there somewhere.
I also realized dad, who is in relatively good shape compared to lots of people around there, and probably some even younger than him, may be fighting the ladies off with a stick!