Grumpy Old Me

(Chatter letter from the editor, June 2010)

In the 1995 comedy Grumpy Old Men, we find the elder father “Grandpa” discussing his eating habits with his also-now-elderly son “John.”

But before I share it with you, let me tell you why it came to my mind in the first place. The other day at Tom Thumb I spent 10 minutes helping a grumpy old man find the prune juice. I grocery shop at the headquarters for geriatrics, the Tom Thumb at Hulen and Bellaire in Fort Worth, and I love shopping there because I love really old people as a general rule. My husband Gordon thinks my obsession with cute little old men in particular — and the inevitable day he will become one — is a bit inordinate.

The man was thin and stooped and was cussing up clouds of sulfur on aisle 7 just as I rounded the corner with my toddler and pregnant belly in tow. I would record our conversation here, but would need to censor it beyond recognition. We looked all over tarnation for it (the prune juice, that is); but like most elusive things in the grocery store, it was right there in front of us…on the bottom row. Although I knew why prune juice might be important to someone of that age, my new friend’s persistence was nearly unnerving.

He could have taken a lesson from Grandpa:

Grandpa: Well let me tell you something now, Johnny. Last Thursday, I turned 95 years old. And I never exercised a day in my life. Every morning, I wake up, and I smoke a cigarette. And then I eat five strips of bacon. And for lunch, I eat a bacon sandwich. And for a midday snack?

John: Bacon.

Grandpa: Bacon! A whole plate! And I usually drink my dinner. Now according to all of them flat-belly experts, I should’ve took a dirt nap like thirty years ago. But each year comes and goes, and I’m still here. Ha! And they keep dyin’. You know? Sometimes I wonder if God forgot about me. Just goes to show you, huh?

John: What?

Grandpa: Huh?

John: Goes to show you what?

Grandpa: Well it just goes… what are you talkin’ about?

John: Well you said you drink beer, you eat bacon and you smoke cigarettes, and you outlive most of the experts.

Grandpa: Yeah?

John: I thought maybe there was a moral.

Grandpa: No, there ain’t no moral. I just like that story. That’s all. Like that story.

I like that story too. Sometimes we need to tell stories for their own sake because they make us feel like we’re still above dirt. And it’s also a side effect of grumpiness that we want to tell somebody a story about pretty much anything — bacon and cigarettes for example — for at least 10 minutes before we remember why we are grumpy and start grumbling again.

And you don’t have to be old to be grumpy. I’m Exhibit A: eight months pregnant. Maybe that’s why I’m telling you THIS story.

I think pregnant people and very old people have at least one thing in common: both have physical obstacles that prevent them from doing all they want to do without discomfort. This accounts for at least 80% of my grumpiness, anyway, but at least there is a fast-approaching light at the end of my tunnel, and hopefully my blood won’t have turned to vinegar before then. At some point, though, you just have to choose to be…nice. And happy. And to stop fixating on the frustration of elusive prune juice and bad eyesight and aching hips and stretch marks.

I would like to say this reminds me of a quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson, but really I just Googled “quotes about grumpiness” because I’m tired and swollen and grumpy, and I found one that supports my point:

“The sun shines and warms and lights us and we have no curiosity to know why this is so; but we ask the reason of all evil, of pain, and hunger, and mosquitoes and silly people.”

~Ralph Waldo Emerson

If you are grumpy like me today, can we make a deal? Let’s plan to stop asking why people bug us so much and why it is so hot and why we are retaining so much water, and begin fostering our curiosity towards the things that are inexplicably good in life. Like the taste of cold milk; the deafening moment when you realize you are in love; the smell emanating from a whole plate of bacon or the crunch of a bacon sandwich. Inexplicable. Joyous…curious.

Why should life be so good? Because we have a Good Father who called it good in the first place. To paraphrase Oscar Wilde: “Even in the pit, we can still see the stars.” (Thanks again, Google. I owe you one.)

Julie

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