They call them “the golden years,” but they could also be called “the waiting room years” since the elderly spend a lot of time in waiting rooms in search of repair, reassurance, or surcease from pain. Still, as I find myself now — strange, so strange — standing at the threshold of old age, I also learn that there is, without question, gold to be seen in the view from this height; from this point on the path that leads to the back country.
As she nears 103 years of age, my mother sees more of her doctor than she has in decades past, but it is usually routine. On occasion a visit is prompted by a trip to the emergency room the previous evening. This time, however, her scheduled visit was routine. So routine that the doctor, who had scheduled her, was unsure of exactly why she was there.
My mother still mildly resents that fact that my brothers and I quietly made her car disappear when she was about 96, but she’s also glad she had the foresight to give birth to a chauffeur some seventy years ago. That chauffeur, of course, would be me.
As the appointment was late in the afternoon, I came down to my mother’s apartment in Chico from my home on the ridge to drive her to the doctor. I always budget plenty of time for these missions since everything “elderly” always takes three times as long as the everything “not elderly.” This is true regardless of whatever estimate you’ve made the day before.
By the time the doctor visit was over it was a bit too late for lunch and somewhat early for dinner. So I took my mother for a drive around town.
We took a quick circuit of the neighborhood and she remarked on how striking the sky was. My mother is a keen observer of clouds and seasons. She favors the early spring days when fat clumps of cumulus scud on the far horizon of the great central valley.
Then we took a drive down Chico’s Esplanade. It’s a mile long stretch of boulevard which, if you set your speed at precisely 28 milers per hour, allows you to cruise the length of the Esplande into town hitting all the lights. It’s a smooth and sedate ride and one my mother made sure would remain unimpeded during her political phase at age 101 to save the Esplanade from roundabouts. She won.
As we cruised down the Esplanade my mother was disappointed that the ginkgo trees had not yet turned to gold. I assured her we’d drive down the Esplanade often this autumn so she wouldn’t miss them.
Then, after a slow turn around downtown Chico in which my mother reminded me of several stores that had been and gone over the years, we decided to have an early supper. We went to one of my mother’s preferred places, the Tea Bar, and had salmon and salad at tables outside facing the avenue and watching the afternoon fade into evening. We discussed the news of the day and told stories about ourselves and laughed at something trivial and foolish.
And so there we were. Just an ordinary old man in his 70s in an ordinary town having an ordinary dinner with his mother at 103; both laughing as the dusk deepened around them.
I don’t really remember the details of what we talked about, but all this time in the back of my mind I’m thinking, “This. This is gold.”