`Old' people had earlier lives, too

February 04, 2013|Kate Coleman

A kind of schmaltzy poem is making the rounds on the Internet. In the voice of an old man in a nursing home, the character is speaking to nurses who see him as nothing more than the "Cranky Old Man" of the poem's title.

As he recalls his life — the joys and the pain — he says, "And I'm loving and living life over again."

Despite its sentimentality, the poem makes a good point. It's not hard to see old people as just old people. The infirmities of age can mask the vibrancy of the person's younger self.

It's a real tearjerker. And I, of course, am a real tear jerk.

I've recently lost a few people I care about. It's been important to me to "see" and think about their lives before their later years.

  Gordon "Corky" Prout, 90, died in December. He was the father of my high school boyfriend, Donnie, who's still a good friend.

I knew he was brave: He let Donnie drive — with me as the licensed driver — his yellow convertible to our junior prom. But I never knew that he had been a navigator on a B-17 plane shot down in World War II or that he was a prisoner of war for 16 months.

Mr. Prout, a winning barbershop-quartet singer, passed his musical talents to Donnie.

I don't recall ever seeing him without a smile. 

 For a few years, my friend JoAnne has been traveling from San Diego every few months to visit her parents in Washington, D.C. Her dad, Joseph E. Joers, died a few weeks ago. He was 91.

He married Jackie in 1943 and served as an officer in the Navy during World War II. He had a long career as a civilian working for the Navy then the Air Force at the Pentagon.

Jackie and Joe traveled extensively, and he took wonderful photos. They spent 20 winters in the California desert to be close to their only child.

Joe's obituary did not include details that capture for me this good, quiet man. He took care of his funeral arrangements so JoAnne wouldn't have to. His hospital bed was close to Jackie's so they could hold hands at night.

n Helene F. Crane Spranklin, 87, died Jan. 21. "Mimi," as she was known to her family — which I have long claimed as my own — was a petite but strong force. I called her our "Pretty Pink Party Princess."

An only child, Mimi had eight children. She had a sense of adventure, engineering her family's move from Chevy Chase, Md., to nearly 300 acres and a stone farmhouse in Boonsboro in 1966.

Mimi loved people and had a wonderful way of leaning in close to make sure you had contact with her beautiful blue eyes while she listened to you.

I recently watched the trailer for "Quartet," a film set in a home for retired musicians. Maggie Smith plays Jean, "an eternal diva," according to IMDB. "You must understand. I was someone once," she said.

I thought of my friends when I heard that.

Each was a someone much more than once.


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