Earlier this summer, back when I hung out with The Nana every afternoon, we one day found ourselves en route to a swank retirement community to pick up her 99-year-old best friend, Gladys.
Nana had wanted to introduce us for a while and officially inaugurate me into the “ladies who lunch” club so I happily obliged, not knowing what to expect as I’d never hung out with a 99-year-old before. What would we have in common besides a love for a coral nail polish, Glenn Miller and a shared disdain for today’s youth? Turns out my knowledge of 99-year-old peeps (which doesn’t really extend beyond George Burns in that movie where he played God), was way off.
Right away I was surprised by how spry Gladys was. Sure, it had been ages since she’d driven a car and probably should have been regularly using her four-legged cane for walking, though she refused (I don’t blame her: all a cane does is date you, plus it’s much more satisfying using some nearby person’s arm if you ever need to break a fall). But “old” was something Gladys was not. Maybe she wasn’t going to be doing handsprings down her front lawn anytime soon, but she was young at heart. Though I’d only just met her Gladys still had the sharp, witty personality she most likely possessed in her formidable years -- plus she still had the energy to drag a full watering can from the kitchen to the back patio to water her hydrangeas, and still wore makeup daily. My kind of woman (age is no excuse to let yourself go).
With Gladys in tow and Nana behind the wheel of her Volvo station wagon, the three of us headed to Gladys’ favorite lunch-spot, Fresh Choice, which I was more than happy with. (Ever tried their chicken noodle soup? It’s exquisite.)
After a slight situation in the Fresh Choice parking lot that involved Nana’s Volvo lurching over a curb to nab the last handicap space from another circling car of famished senior citizens with what I can only guess was a hankering for all-you-can-eat cornbread, we arrived. During the car-ride there, when Nana and Gladys weren’t discussing ceramics projects and misplaced handicapped placards, they kept raving about the muffins at Fresh Choice.
“They’re incredible, darling,” Nana said over her shoulder to me more than once. I told her I couldn’t wait to try them.
“…Oatmeal, pumpkin, blueberry…” she continued, as Gladys nodded next to her in the passenger seat and I grew hungrier with each flavor ticked off. My flavor palate swings wide, from Taco Bell up to 6-course meals, so I knew these Fresh Choice muffins were going to be simply divine.
And they were. Until my lunching companions let me in on a little secret, or was it a ritual? Induction into the club? I wasn’t sure. I’d just brought back a plate of their beloved muffins for us to share when Nana stood up to get more food. She returned with a stack of napkins and another plate of muffins, many the same flavors I had already carted back.
Me (pointing at plate): “Oh, Nana, I already brought muffins for us…”
Nana: “I know, dear.”
Did they really expect we’d eat all these? Gladys had barely touched her salad and Nana had only one bowl of noodle soup, but thus far each had downed copious amounts of muffins. A feat in itself for a couple lithe ladies with weak stomachs.
Just as I was about to ask how we could possibly eat all said muffins, they both pulled napkins onto their lap from the stack. Without speaking, they reached for a muffin each and slyly looked around as they pulled the baked goods onto their laps and into the napkins, where they wrapped them up and slipped them discreetly into their purses.
Okay. Were we seriously doing this?
My days of poaching food from buffets stopped ages ago when I learned to get my adrenaline high from other places like robbing banks and stealing cars. (Only in my dreams.)
“Nana!” I whispered, in mock horror. “What are you doing?”
“Honey, grab a napkin,” she retorted back in a whisper.
Apparently this was how Nana lived on the edged.
“It’s ok,” I said. “I –“
“Just do it!” Gladys whispered, chiming in. “Here.” She pushed the plate nearer to me.
So that’s how these women stayed young at heart. It wasn’t that they couldn’t afford the muffins or that the delicate flavors of pumpkin spice were so breathtaking. Rather, it was akin to the rush you got as a teen from secretly nabbing an antenna ball off a parked car or sneaking alcohol from your parents’ liquor cabinet. Did you really need the antenna ball or the alcohol? (Nevermind, don’t answer that.) No, but it was the act of getting it that was the thrill.
I couldn’t remember the last time I’d taken buffet food home in my purse but I thought, “What the hell.” You only live once. And maybe that’s what I needed to feel a little young again myself (recently turning 28 did a number on me, I confess.)
Placing the napkin in my lap I peered around, straight-faced, as I picked up a muffin and pulled it slowly onto my lap with “take more, take more” being urgently whispered in the background. Once outside, our purses full of just-for-the-hell-of-it muffins, we let out a laugh over our victory and hobbled back to the station wagon, Nana and Gladys on either side of me, our arms interlocked.
It was official: I had been inducted into the club.