I’m no expert on things fashion or beauty, but I’ve decided that 90 is officially the new 30. Or 25. Or whatever.
The point is, seniors don’t often get the starring role in most stories, but recently I’ve come across some examples that made me think it’s time we stopped overlooking the elderly as a source of entertainment.
Take my 94-year old grandfather, for example. His memory may be lacking, but he still manages to be the center of attention wherever he goes, bursting out into little ditties of his own invention, and referring to everyone he meets as “old chap” or “lovey”. (He’s very British). However, we sometimes have to be careful- his advanced age and state of mind means his social graces can be somewhat lacking, as he’s never afraid to point out (often loudly) when someone has a “tremendously large bottom”. (His words, not mine).
Before his decline in health, my grandfather’s fierce independence put me in mind of the title character of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce. It’s both a heartwarming and hilarious tale about a man determined to make peace with an old friend as she lies dying in a hospice miles away, and the lengths he goes to achieve his goal. Literally. It was one of my favorite books I read last year, alongside The Little Old Lady Who Broke All the Rules by Catharina Ingelman-Sundberg. It’s another story about a spunky senior who breaks out of the retirement home where she lives, along with a gang of unlikely friends.
If you like break-out stories, The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared is another tall tale out of Sweden that delivers one hilarious hijinck after another. (It was an international bestseller, and got made into a movie in Sweden. The author, Jonas Jonasson, has a larger catalogue of work that’s recently been translated into English that’s worth checking out if you enjoy his dry, Scandinavian sense of humor.)
Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell (which is one of my most frequently borrowed books) features six separate story lines, one of which involves a struggling, eccentric publisher trying to escape the retirement home where he feels he has been wrongly imprisoned by his rich, conniving brother. I’m biased because Cloud Atlas is one of my favorite books, but those who find it too heavy or convoluted may find comic relief in this particular character. (Jim Broadbent played him in the movie and he’s pretty funny.)
One of the things I admire the most about my grandfather is the love and affection he had for my grandmother; the quiet strength he showed getting dressed in his suit and hat and driving down to the nursing home first thing every morning just so he could be the one to feed her breakfast. He did this for seven years straight until her death in 2011. It’s one of the truest, most honest love stories I’ve ever had the privilege of witnessing.
In honor of their love I feel obliged to include a romantic story on this list, and in this case I think Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson is the most fitting. It’s beautiful and well-written, so well-written you often to have go back and re-read a sentence before Simonson’s humor makes itself apparent. When it does it catches you off-guard- I was surprised at how often this book made me chuckle out loud, and how it made me cry just as often.
Major Pettigrew is a lonely widower in a small English village who finds himself forming an usual friendship with the owner of the local corner store. It’s so touching to see their relationship gently blossom underneath the shadow of race and class tensions within the community, and within their own families. I was remiss in leaving this off of my list of favorite books of 2016- that’s how much I loved it.
Climbing out windows, impromptu cross-country hikes, art gallery heists- the things these retirees get up to makes my list of accomplishments look a little boring. Ok, so maybe I’m not aspiring to anything as daring (or in some cases, illegal) but these fun, quirky characters that remind me of my grandfather also give this young whippersnapper some hope for the future. They’re literary proof that frail bodies don’t necessarily equal frail hearts.
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