The other day my sister-in-law, E, and I were on the tag sale circuit. We'd just pulled out onto the road from the last sale on our list and were headed home, congratulating ourselves on our brilliant finds and assuring each other we were done for the day when a tag sale sign at the edge of the road dragged the steering wheel from my hands. E and I looked at each other and shrugged. "May as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb," I said as we clambered out of the car and set off at a trot toward several tables piled with unexamined treasures.
Half an hour later, our hands full, we returned to the car. I'd rolled the front windows up while we drove so we could hear each other talk, but the rear windows were halfway down. As I opened the back door to set my purchases on the seat, the keys in my hand caught on a plastic bag. I disengaged them and tossed them into the front seat. As I did, I must have squeezed the button on the car door opener because I heard a beep. It didn't register though. I slammed the back door, reached for the front door handle and nearly wrenched my elbow. The door wouldn't open. Nor would the back door. I'd locked us out of the car.
"Well, hellfire," I muttered. I tried reaching through the open back window to the front seat but my arm was not long enough to reach the keys. "I'll go see if someone here has a wire coat hangar," I told E. I'd no sooner turned my back on the car when the alarm went off. E looked sheepishly over the hood.
"I reached in the open window and unlocked the back door," she said, tossing the keys over the hood of the car. Huh. I stood there for a second, feeling impossibly foolish. That had not occurred to me. I got over feeling foolish and began to feel distinctly unnerved. E is a year older than I but apparently she still possesses all her faculties. Why had I not thought to simply reach through the open window and unlock the back door? Was this a sign of early dementia?
As we were pulling out onto the road I remarked, "This reminds me of the Frenchman who locked his family in the car and it took him a week to figure how to get them out."
E turned to me, horrified. "I didn't hear about that!" she exclaimed.
"It's a joke," I said, explaining that it was a slur on the French intellect. "None of them had thought to simply unlock the doors from the inside."
"Oh," she said, not cracking a smile. I felt immeasurably reassured about my faculties.
I was relaying this misadventure to J, my friend in aging, who told me a story of her own to make me feel better. "Yesterday my son hurried in saying he needed a bag of ice so I pulled the bin out from under the automatic ice maker in my freezer, emptied the contents into a plastic bag, and set the bin down on the counter while I put a twist tie on the bag. We were in a rush so out the door we sped without a backward glance.
"Later that afternoon while I was making dinner I kept hearing a strange clunking sound, a sort of intermittent ka-thunk, ka-thunk. It continued through dinner and into the evening. During a TV commercial I got up to get some ice cream. I opened the freezer door and WHOOSH! I was inundated with ice cubes. They flew in all directions, there were so many of them. And there on the counter next to the fridge, right where I'd set it down, was the ice bin. I must have looked at it a dozen times but it never occurred to me to put it back in the freezer."
We looked at each other. "Who's going to take care of us?" she asked, only half in jest.
The three of us can take heart, however, that things can always be worse. A mutual friend fell asleep in his chair one afternoon. When he awoke he looked at his watch and saw with alarm that he had only a minute or two before he was due at the nearby high school with the bus he drove. He wheeled into the drive and pulled up to his usual spot, surprised to see he was first in line. "Hmmm," he thought, checking his watch again, thinking perhaps he'd read the time incorrectly. Nope, only a minute or two late. He sat there pondering for a time before he noticed that not only were there no other buses in line, there were no cars in the parking lot. That was because it was Saturday and school was not in session.
"I felt really foolish," he confessed, "but there's no way you can sneak home in a big yellow bus." He drove down the road scrunched down as far as possible behind the wheel, parked the bus in his yard, went back into the house, sat down in his chair, and pretended to himself that what had happened had not just happened.
We're all obviously slipping down the hill toward dotage. But, I take heart from a report I read stating that there are currently over 9 million 80 year olds in the US. That gives E, J, and me about ten years to get our act together before we can use really old age to explain our actions.