Make Mine a Double
With a splash of Geritol
By Annie Gray Sprunt
“Call Dickie Andrews! Call Dickie Andrews!” was the early-morning mantra of my grandfather for the last several years of his life. Every day he thought it was going to be his last day among the living. As soon as he realized he was, in fact, going to survive, he would get up, get dressed and head to his workshop, where he would putter around with a few Saltine crackers and an O’Doul’s near beer. He lived for 95 years. For those of you who may not know, Dickie Andrews was his friend and the owner of Andrews Mortuary.
Both sides of my family live long, long lives, and our survival tool is humor. (We are long livers but I doubt anyone would want our livers, just saying.) We will spin anything that happens into an opportunity to laugh because the alternative is not much fun. Years ago, my maternal grandmother had to have her leg amputated due to complications from diabetes. She was 90. She was so proud of that stump that she would randomly and spontaneously whip that thing out as if she were in a Mardi Gras parade flashing mammaries to score some purple and green beads. New version of tooting your own horn — flashing your own stump! At the time, my daughter was 5 years old and my grandmother explained that since she only had one leg, she wasn’t able to walk, and my daughter said, “Well, at least you can hop!” That’s my girl, always seeing the bright side.
My paternal grandmother, for whom I was named, lived for 91 delightful years. Her greatest summertime joy was to sit on the edge of the ocean with the waves lapping onto her legs. Sporting powder blue cat-eye sunglasses (she called them her “smokes”), well-worn straw hat with pink faux flowers atop her lovely gray hair and a long swim dress, she enjoyed the simple pleasures of summer, making drip drip castles in the sand and digging for sand fiddlers. Along comes a 5-year-old whippersnapper. He noticed that she had well-earned wrinkles and her skin was soft and for lack of a better word, saggy . . . essentially that she was no spring chicken. After curious and innocent observation, this little fella said. “Hey lady, your skin don’t fit.” I’m sure his mother wanted to dig a hole to China and jump right in, but my grandmother howled in hysterics, embraced the hilarity and retold that story many times.
Years ago, my cousin Hardy received a phone call that a great-uncle had passed away. He asked the customary question: “Was it expected?”
His mother said, “Yes, it’s been expected for the last 97 years.”
Even when we reach the stage of life when the proverbial horizon is approaching, we pre-emptively strike with a pithy nugget or sarcasm of self-deprecating sass. My father lived an extraordinarily long life and could find humor at every opportunity. The time came when we had to call in hospice, which is always a difficult and sobering experience. Sensing the weight of the situation and realizing the imminent doom we were all feeling, Daddy summoned his well-honed humor and asked the lovely hospice nurse, “What is your success rate?”
Crickets. The poor lady didn’t know what to say until we all fell over laughing, and we knew then that everything was going to be OK. Humor is the best medicine, although that morphine really does work.
My mother is in assisted living. Primarily because if she lived with me, one of us would not survive. On one occasion, she had to transfer from one room to another, which meant that someone had to be there so that the cable man could switch the account. I arrived to meet the technician for the 10-12:00 service window which, of course, meant that I was still there at 3p.m. Then, a nurse walked in, clearly a nurse, in a nurse uniform, name tag which declared that he was a nurse, nurse bag and standard-issue stethoscope around his nurse neck. He introduced himself to my mother, identifying himself as a nurse, asked my mother if he could perform traditional nurse duties, taking her temperature, blood pressure, blood oxygen cuff on her finger. He asked if he could check her feet to ensure that indeed her circulation was circulating. She obediently did what she was told, answered his medical question and complied with his requests.
He then said that he needed to inspect her backside to make sure she wasn’t exhibiting signs of bedsores. She did as she was told and provided a vision of her backside, whereupon she turns to me and asks (drumroll, please),”When is he going to turn on the cable?”
Oh, yes she did!
Annie Gray Sprunt’s (eventual) life goal is to emulate Chrysippus of Soli, the Greek Stoic philosopher who died from laughing at his own jokes.