I’ve been writing Death in a Ghostly Hue for several months now. The third book in my Art Center Mysteries, it brings forward a new group of “older characters” at the art center. Never mind that I’m a stellar member of that age group, having received my AARP invitation so long ago I can’t remember that milestone. When I thought about how I’d approach this fictional senior group, I began considering some of the events from my own life that have shaped, let’s say, the last twelve years since I turned sixty-five.
Realization about how our culture views my age began when I got a handicapped sticker for my car seven years ago. I have an underlying health condition that is helped by not having to walk long distances through parking lots in harsh weather. However, my gait is fine, and I’ve replaced nothing with titanium. At first, I was a bit sheepish about this sticker. Then the realization hit me: no one even questioned my status when they saw me leave my car in that handicapped spot. Quite a shock, indeed.
Shortly before the handicapped sticker came into my life, I had a frantic call from one of my children. Now mind you, I was in my late sixties on this day. She was worried, she said, that I hadn’t answered my phone when she called, and she wanted to make sure I wasn’t fulfilling the meme of the single senior, living alone (with or without cats), who died and wasn’t found for weeks. At the time of her call, I was at the dentist with my phone turned off. But it rattled me to think she worried that I might be alone, dead, and no one would find me. Seriously. I wasn’t that old, decrepit, or without friends to whom I spoke on most days. However, I appreciated her concern since all my children live clear across the country from me and wouldn’t be any help in an emergency. I’ve managed to toddle along for another ten years since then, and I’ve assured her that she doesn’t need to worry. I love my children, but I understand that at some point it hits them that their parents aren’t as young as they used to be.
However, I’m not as old as they think I am.
My brother passed the eighty-mark last year. When he went to a doctor’s appointment last week, the receptionist noticed he’d pre-registered. She asked him if someone had helped him do that. Wow. It’s good he isn’t a violent person. No, he explained. He’d registered on his computer, a laptop he uses to write novels. And at his age! (I might add when I asked him about his recent golf round, he said he’d shot a seventy-nine, a stroke less than his age. Shooting less than his age should become easier with time, right?)
I’ve not even noted the fact that I don’t recognize a lot of “celebrities” these days in social media, and I’m praying for the good health of Mick Jagger, Ronnie Woods, and Keith Richards since most of the other bands I knew in my youth are no longer with us.
Our local art center has a senior group named OFTA (Old Folks Talk Art.) It is an amazingly energetic group that volunteers for all kinds of activities at the art center. They meet regularly for programs about art, provide food for gallery openings, handle outreach to schools in the area, present an art appreciation program throughout the grade schools, and help with classes for kids with disabilities. Right now, they are helping with a huge capital campaign that has already raised over a million dollars in a Midwest, downstate, small town that isn’t exactly on the high end of the economy. (Seniors know everyone and are very persuasive.)
I’ve decided to use this local group as the inspiration for the senior group in my art center mystery. In my fictional world, they’ll be putting on a wonderful radio show based on the Oscar Wilde novella, The Canterville Ghost, complete with hand-made and recorded sound effects, period costumes, and backdrop. The local group is amazing, and their enthusiasm for all things defies the earlier incidents I mentioned about seniors. There will be no ageism or cultural disdain for seniors in my new book. I have a feeling they’d be a fun group to hang out with.
Some days are simply a win.