We live in an older suburban neighborhood, and many of our neighbors are older folks. A lot of them have been here for thirty, forty years, some even more. I like old people. They are so much fun to talk to; there’s something so pure and innocent about conversations with people from my grandparents’ generation. So naturally, when the neighbor catty-corner behind us (an elderly widower in his eighties) started waving at us over the fence a few years ago, I waved back. Last year, we started chatting casually, then regularly. He’s got a lovely garden, and since we’re the only two on the block to grow any vegetables, it was only natural that we’d start talking even more. Last fall, I gave him three wheelbarrows full of sheep manure and a jar of apple butter, after he gave the girls peonies from his prize hedge and me a sackful of lettuces. We have a nice, friendly, neighborly rapport. In fact, he rather enjoys gossiping about the other neighbors, particuarly the one whose property adjoins both of ours.
Rose*, next-door to me and directly behind Mr. L, is a bit kooky, to say it kindly, and on this occasion, Mr. L launched into a little rant about just how odd she really was. Apparently, Rose – single, in her late 50s or early 60s- is a little loose (elderly-speak for “slutty”), because she “came on to” her neighbor-to-the-rear one summer afternoon (translation: she propositioned him by inviting him over for a bottle of wine in the afternoon). But then our conversation ended abruptly when Mr. L, after completely dismissing any notion of drinking a glass of anything with Rose, turned to me and said something along the lines of “you can come on to me anytime“. I laughed, smiled kindly, and instantly remembered a very important indoor task that had to be taken care of promptly.
Now, I didn’t really think Mr. L was serious, and I didn’t take offense (though I have to admit at being slightly weirded out). He knows I’m married; in fact, DH once helped him get his tractor unstuck from a root, and on another occasion helped him move a railroad tie across his backyard. Men bond when they work on things together. To think that Mr. L (who is 84, by the way) was hitting on me was just preposterous. But then, so was his little comment.
I didn’t think much of it, though. I did mention it to DH just because it was so strange. He chuckled, and then we started talking about Rose and laughing because the thought of her coming on to Mr. L was even more hysterical than the thought of Mr. L coming on to me. And so all was forgotten, until this morning.
We had quite a rainstorm last night, so Mr. L and I were both out early, surveying our gardens, wincing at wilted lettuces and toppled tomatoes and trying to tidy things up before more rain comes this weekend. I saw him over the fence and decided to see how his veggies had fared with the deluge. So I slogged through Rose’s rear yard (a brushy mess and one of Mr. L’s pet peeves), and said hello, and he and I had a very nice talk about what had survived the storm and what had not. And then, as our conversations often do, talk turned to Rose and her current escapades. We talked about her daughter, who is in her early thirties and a looker (except he used the very modern hot, which seemed comical). And then somehow, talk turned to age, and all the things that happen when you enter the twilight years.
“Don’t get old,” Mr. L admonished me. I laughed, because it’s such a cute play on words, and just about every elderly person I’ve ever talked with has said it just like that. “I mean it,” he went on. “You have to keep active, or you won’t be able to do anything when you get to be my age.” He explained how he had discovered some arthritis in his back, but immediately started going to physical therapy, and now he was able to bend down to tie his shoes again. “Of course,” he said, rather wistfully, “some things you just can’t do anything about as you get older. Some things just go limp, if you know what I mean…”
Oh, I hope I have no idea what you are talking about, Mr. L. I laughed again, a little uncomfortably. Exactly where was this conversation going??
“…but then you just have to improvise,” he concluded.
Did he just say that out loud?
I must have had a very strange look on my face at this point, and was really at a loss for words (what does one say, exactly, after that sort of comment from a man fifty years your senior? I ask you), because at that point Mr. L brought up our conversation from earlier this spring, the one where he sort of suggested that I should come on to him (were I so inclined). I had rather believed at the time that he was just making a risque little joke, but now there was talk of limpness and improvisation and hot neighbors’ daughters and I really just did not know what to make of it all. Maybe he sensed that his joke had gone awry, or maybe he decided that his advances (if that was, indeed what he was doing) were not being well-received, but in either case he tried to put me at ease by explaining himself a little more plainly.
“I can’t remember exactly the phrase,” he said, “but afterwards, I thought maybe you got the impression I was asking you for sex. ”
Oh, good lord. I thought your generation didn’t talk about sex? I thought you didn’t even know what that word was, for chrissakes.
“Ah, no,” I stammered, “no, I didn’t take it that way at all.” Not really, anyway.
“Because that’s not what I meant, you know.”
Wait a minute. Are you trying to say that you don’t want to have sex with me? Why do I suddenly feel insulted?
“I just didn’t want you to get the wrong idea.”
Yeah… I think we’ll stick to talking about tomatoes from now on.
*not her real name, but damn close