Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Bulletproof © by adrian

I just came back from my uncle Rocco's
one hundred and first birthday party.
To have lived this long the man must be bulletproof.

One hundred and one years old – extraordinary!

I thought I would write a little about him in this chapter of my memoirs. I’m almost seventy and he’s lived close to half again as long as me. We have the same genes and he was one of the people who saved my life by giving me a direct blood transfusion when I was a baby (see my story; My Mother, the Sister) so maybe some of it will rub off on me and I can look forward (or dread, depending on the mood of the day) to living another thirty years or so.

He attributes his longevity to eating three bananas a day and never having gotten married. I could have tolerated three bananas a day I guess but I enjoy the company of women too much to ever have attempted the latter.

Rocco stayed at home almost all his life and then became the caregiver of his parents as they aged and died. He lived alone for the next twenty years in a three storey house until he was ninety five years old. Then came "the fall" it seems all active elderly people are destined to have. He lay on the floor for a day and a half because he couldn’t get up. Since being found he has lived in his own apartment in an assisted care facility.

Each year after Rocco turned eighty-five my cousin and I would get in touch to talk about going to uncle Rocco’s probable last birthday party. We don’t bother with that anymore, now it’s simply, "I’ll see you at the birthday party this year."

When he was going on ninety-four he announced to anybody who would listen that what he really wanted for his birthday was one of those long garden hose extension poles so he could clean the eavestrough on his three story house easier because he was now starting to find it a bit difficult to get up the ladder.

The extended family took him to a restaurant for his hundredth birthday and when the cake came (yes, with a hundred candles, anything less would have insulted him) he broke into operatic song to prove to all present that his lungs were easily up to the job of blowing the candles out.

It seems fashionable to always say the elderly are still sharp, but in his case I swear the man is as sharp as a tack. He still reads the paper everyday. You can start a conversation on almost any current subject and he will join in. Linda and I had a major house disaster a few months ago that has disrupted our lives tremendously (the reason I’ve been off line recently, a story will follow) and as soon as he saw us he called us over and commiserated with us about our difficulty and related details he had been told about the event that even we had forgotten.

All his life he was an avid photo hobbyist and among other things he used to make his own emulsion to coat paper for making prints. Up to a couple of years ago he always said that as soon as he could get some spare time he was going to set up his darkroom again. He still has one of those old Omega enlargers that uses four by five inch negative film (good grief, I just realized I still have one of those in my basement too). Nowadays he is fully knowledgeable about digital equipment and when I showed him the first professional digital camera I bought he ran around the residence he lives in like a kid excitedly showing it to anybody he could find. While I was shooting some digital photos today he joked about how amazing it was that all this happens without any chemicals and then reminded me that we used to cart around cameras that used single sheets of four by five inch film just to get one or two shots. He and I have both used cameras whose film size is eight by ten inches.

He's not always in top form and sometimes he gets into conversational loops that are a little tedious. Reminds me of my old stoner days when you would listen to someone talk for twenty minutes (sometimes yourself) before you realized you had no idea what anybody was talking about. If you've read any of my previous stories you will notice I have a bit of the same approach to communication. Anyway, I can get him to refocus by simply telling him he's in a loop and he should change the subject or I will pass out. He just smiles and starts on a different thought. Maybe he's faking it, but it sure always impresses the hell out of me. I should be so lucid when I'm over a hundred years old.

At one point in today’s festivities as my cousin and I were helping Rocco get to a different chair, he explained to us that as soon as he gets back to his house he will start exercising again and then be able to get around without needing any help.

I tell you, the man is bulletproof.