March 1, 2021
The six tables were arranged in a circle and well-spaced, about eight feet apart. Two people sat at each table, Sandy and me at one, another couple across from us, and two ladies at each of the other four. We all wore masks and rubber gloves. We looked to the head table, where Carol, an auburn-haired lady with a dynamic command presence, presided.
As we settled in, Carol announced that we were gathered for the first meeting of AHOY (Advancing Health Over Years). We all looked at each other. That’s unique, I thought.
On an impulse last Saturday, Sandy and I joined the YMCA near our new home, with the idea of using the gym and pool. On Monday Sandy participated in a socially distanced Silver Sneakers exercise class and, hoping to meet new people, signed us up for a pandemic-aware Silver Sneakers Potluck and Bingo gathering. I was a little uneasy, but the Y staffers seemed conscientious about distancing, masks, etc. So we went.
It was lunchtime, everyone brought a dish. We were a little late, the rest of the group were already seated. Sandy recognized most from Monday’s exercise class. Introductions were hit or miss. We waved at Ginger, Barbara, and Al on the opposite side of the room. It was then that Carol, who’s also the Silver Sneakers swim aerobics instructor, said that henceforth the group would be AHOY. I was not sure I’d signed up for henceforth, but everyone smiled and nodded.
She invited us to the buffet, one table at a time. I grabbed some chicken salad. Two ladies had gone all out with desserts, buttermilk pie, a new one on me, and a giant cherry-and-whipped cream item.
Predictably, the lunch chitchat landed on the local vaccination race. Everyone had had at least the first shot, several had received their second. One woman said she waited five hours for hers; Sandy was able to top that with her seven hours. Al claimed the first shot provides 95 percent protection. Ginger argued with him. I had heard 40 percent. We moved on.
As we nibbled, the conversation turned to diets and weight-loss strategies. One woman swore by the Keto diet, saying it helped a friend of hers lose 50 pounds. Someone else said she had tried it, lost weight, then regained it. Carol pushed her water-aerobics class. Then we went on to surgeries. Barbara just had her second neck operation, needed to correct problems caused by the first one. Carol has had a couple of procedures on her back.
A distinguished-looking lady rose, saying she couldn’t stay for Bingo, but stopped at each table to drop off brochures providing information for women on heart disease. “More women die of heart disease than men,” she said. “I give talks on heart health. Let me know if you’re interested,” she added with a wave.
Discussion continued on that topic a little longer. Then Carol handed out Bingo cards and the tabs you use to cover your numbers. Cards were a quarter each. Most folks took two, a couple of people took three. First game: regular Bingo, fill one row across, down, or diagonally. Carol started calling: “B-6, I-14, N-27,” and so on. Within minutes a lady across the room yelled Bingo. The rest of us sighed in disappointment. Carol checked her card and awarded her the four bucks the rest of us had paid for our cards.
“Bingo is great for seniors,” she said. “It makes you focus on something. For that one game we all focused for seven minutes,” she added. “Sometimes lately, when I walk into a room I can’t remember why.” Al, across the room, chortled. “I can’t remember why I’m in any room,” he kidded. We all laughed a bit nervously.
I hit the jackpot in the next game, the “borders” variant, filling the border rows, for $4.00. Then Carol got clever. “Fill the entire card,” she commanded. Al groaned. “That’ll take forever.” Carol ignored him and started belting out numbers. A few minutes later she asked each of us to report how many numbers we’d covered. I had the fewest. “Well, I tricked you all,” Carol said. “The winner is the one with the worst card.” She picked up the quarters and again awarded the $4.00 to me.
This is fun, I told myself. But I lost the last two games, reducing my net winnings to $6.00. Sandy slid the 24 quarters into her purse. We returned our cards and tabs to Carol. She adjourned the meeting, advising that the Y is soliciting contributions for a downtown food pantry and that she’ll match all donations from the AHOY members. We applauded. She announced that our next meeting will be March 17—a St. Paddy’s day theme, maybe? Well, we’re in the mainly Protestant South, not Boston, New York, or Philly.
Cautiously we milled around a bit, chatting while keeping our distance. No one was in a hurry, we’re all retired; no urgent staff meetings to rush to. Folks then retrieved their dishes and drifted away, Sandy told Carol she’d see her at the first swim class she could get to, which is today.
Stumbling into AHOY the day before turning 72, I suppose I fit right in. Most of the others were older, some in their eighties. Sandy, four years younger than me, is the kid in the group. Yet I wondered whether I really did fit. Most of our friends are younger than us, some by a decade or more. The old-timers—my age group, from my Virginia trail-running group are phasing out, replaced by fitter young guys and gals in their twenties and thirties. That’s life, a good thing.
But I thought AHOY is a good thing, too. The slowdown that comes from plodding on in years inclines many to depression and isolation. Longtime human attachments disappear, relocate, get sick, pass away. Children may be present, they may be heroic, but they can be overwhelmed. They have their own lives, as we seniors once did.
I still say to my fellow oldsters, buck up, keep moving. Go to the swim class. Get out of the house, go for a walk, go easy on the reminiscing, your kids have already heard all your stories. Pay attention to your health, stop talking so much about it. Make sure you get to the next AHOY meeting, but skip the buttermilk pie.