A Conversation with Katherine

Katerhine is a Baby Boomer (or an Early Boomer) but you wouldn’t know it by looking at her. She had noticeable age around her eyes and her hair was thinning but she looked about as youthful as someone her age could. I met her recently just after she spoke to another Boomer about Centennials not wanting to work and calling in sick every day.

“Being hungover is not the same as being sick!” she proclaimed to the gentleman, who agreed, yet said nothing. I got the feeling this conversation started without his consent. “And to be honest, if I had done that when I was their age, my daddy would have whooped. My. Ass!”

Born in 1934, American Rock-and-Roll musician Eddie Cochran was from the Traditionalist (or Silent) Generation, meaning his father was likely of the G.I. (or Greatest) Generation. According to Cochran’s song Summertime Blues, his father’s punishment for him calling into work sick was simply not letting him drive the car on a Sunday — a punishment much less severe than that imposed by Katherine’s Silent Generation father.

When I approached Katherine, she didn’t speak immediately. It’s not uncommon for Boomers to see me and assume I’m a hoodlum, a jailbird or a drug freak because of my rough exterior. They often assume I have hidden piercings, am a heavy smoker and abuse alcohol, neither of which are true, of course. Katherine was sodden with morbid curiosity, though, so she began an affable conversation about the price of a book.

After we made some polite small talk, the topics of which are outside the scope of this blog post, she noticed I was wearing a Rock Steady Boxing t-shirt and she read the words aloud. She asked if I was a boxer and I informed her that I no longer boxed nor trained boxers but I had at one point in my life. I then explained about how Rock Steady Boxing was designed to assist folks with Parkinson’s Disease reduce symptoms and medication requirements. She then informed me — out of nowhere — that a lot of people with Parkinson’s were in Vietnam. This is where we enter this story …

“They ended up with Parkinson’s, MS or ALS. Probably due to all that shit they were exposed to out there, I tell ya! My husband had ALS. And he died just six weeks after they diagnosed him. I thought I was going to have a few more years with him but no, just a few more weeks and that was it. One week he was fine, the next thing you know he’s in a wheelchair and then he just couldn’t do anything on his own. I quit working so I could be his full-time caretaker and sold everything we owned just to be able to afford it all and they still couldn’t help him.”

I echoed her insinuated sentiment that veteran benefits are a joke in this country and she agreed. She admitted that a friend of a friend worked as a social worker at the VA and personally took up his case to make sure he received every bit of care that was available to him, “but most people don’t even get that much.”

“He was treated out in Johnson City and a lot of people don’t know this but there’s a hotel there that’s just for veterans visiting the hospital. They get to stay there for free and in the morning you go in to your appointment.”

“We celebrated 50 years of marriage in March and he was dead in May,” she continued. “I hated to lose him but we got to spend a lifetime together! We had a lot of great times and we also had a few bad times …”

At this point in the conversation I’m thinking she was referring to the occasional spat the common couple has with some regularity. I even produced a faint smirk in anticipation of this but little did I know (and ill was I prepared) for just how dark this story was about to get.

“…and the worst time was when we lost our son. He was 37 years old and he was giving a guy a ride. After he got in the car, the man robbed our son and shot him right in the head! That was the worst — the hardest — thing we ever had to live through. Now his daughter, he had a daughter, our granddaughter, she really applied herself after that and did really well in school. She went to college and studied criminal justice because of course she would!” I laughed like I knew what that meant.

“She went on to work for a bank somewhere in the fraud department. I asked her once isn’t that boring? and she said hell no, you wouldn’t believe the shit I see every single day!” Nice, a silver lining in the story, the daughter is successful and making the family proud! But then …

“Now, you see, she suffers from great bouts of anxiety and she has to have a service dog. Lots of people use service dogs! Some of them are service dogs while some of them are emotional support animals. You see them all the time around here. Some of them are regulars and others are just in training. This one time, I saw a woman in here with her service dog — it had a vest on that said Anxiety or something so that’s why she had it with her. Well, this one day she was having an anxiety attack, she was holding a shelf like this: “

She mimed how the stiff-armed, anxiety sufferer was holding on and then continued, “The dog came up and put his head right on her thigh. She just kept hanging on so it moved its head on up her thigh until it was resting just near her groin and then she just looked down at the dog and she was okay! It was so neat seeing the dog in action like that! I love seeing dogs come in here. Now the rule is for service dogs and the like but we let anyone with a dog in here because the company just loves dogs. Some of them are goldendoodles and some other breeds but one time it was a pitbull!”

“Now when they’re training the dogs, security has to follow them around because people are always asking to pet them. Now you aren’t supposed to pet service animals, especially if they’re in training! You’re supposed to not even acknowledge them but you know how people are — people are mean sons of bitches and pieces of shit, some of them.”

We both laughed — her because she made a strong point, me because I wasn’t expecting that kind of language from my new Boomer friend whose daddy was proud of her work ethic and professionalism.

“Now me, personally, I always ask if it’s a service animal. And I get so excited when I hear it’s not … Because then I get to pet it! I just love petting animals …”

I interrupted her at this point because the cutoff time for reasonable conversation with a complete stranger had been long surpassed. She thanked me for letting her eat up 10 of the last 15 minutes she had on the clock before informing me that she loved talking to me (though I said very little). All of this because I wore a t-shirt that I think makes my arms look good.

I reset the grip I had on my two Target bags, spun around on my heels and headed for the exit.



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