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Eighty-six years old

Sara Lingafelter
Sara Lingafelter
4 min read

“Some people are just warm-blooded,” the man in the cap sitting on the bench at the bus stop observed with a smile.  He was watching a teenaged boy with spiky blonde hair out for a run.  The boy jogged in place at the corner, waiting for his light to turn. He wore a white tank top and red basketball shorts; I second-guessed the light jacket I’d chosen, as the chill of the upcoming fall is already in the air in the mornings and evenings.  I smiled, and nodded.

“Not me!” I said, loudly, knowing that he’s hard of hearing, since we’ve chatted about the weather at the same bus stop on a number of other days.

“Me neither,” he commented with a smile and a shake of his head.  “When you get older, you get colder,” he continued, “and that’s the truth!”

He was chattier than usual.  Perhaps I appeared more engaging this morning with our old 35 mm camera slung around my neck — I have to finish this roll of film and get it developed before my class next week, and the camera wouldn’t fit in my backpack.  So yes — I’m THAT girl.  Analog camera slung around my neck, while I wait for my bus.  I’d been composing a photograph during my walk up the block — him, on the bus stop bench; the fence in the yard across the sidewalk, the trees framing the view — how could I frame it, which way would I have him look — I do this in my head, and then I don’t take the picture.  That’ll change — one of these days I’ll just ask someone if I can take their picture; tell them I’m a photography student if I have to, to feel less like a creep — but for now, I’m still stuck in my own shyness, when it comes to street photography.  I get to keep the images in my memory, so it’s not a total loss.  But it means there’s no photo to go along with this post, and it gets published today instead of in a week when I get my roll of film back.

Different people have different reactions to our old cameras.  They’re definitely eye-catching, in this day of digital and iPhones.  It’s impossible to pull out either of them — the 35 mm or my Yashica Mat — without someone making a comment.  “That’s a cool camera,” is the norm.  During one day out with my Yashica, a man asked, incredulously, “Is that an old black and white camera?” and I smiled and said yes, because, at the time, I had black and white film loaded in it, so technically, he was correct.  The camera IS old.  Or, rather, it’s older than me — likely hailing from sometime around 1963 — and the photos that would emerge from that roll of film (if it hadn’t been destroyed by the photo lab) would have been black and white.

“I’m eighty six years old, you know,” the man at the bus stop observed.

My “old” camera (and myself, despite another upcoming flip of the calendar pages) are mere puppies.

I shook my head, squinted my eyes to get a closer look.  “Did I hear you right?  Eighty-six years old?” I asked, incredulously.

“Eighty-six years old,” he reiterated, with a smile, and a twinkle in his eye.

“Well I’d like to know your secrets to longevity,” I remarked, patting myself on the back for taking the time to apply sunscreen this morning before leaving the house.

“That’s why I go downtown — to get out of the house, and keep myself moving.  You have to keep moving.  Move your legs, to move your heart, I say.  And that’s the truth.”

I nodded.  He gazed down the street, toward where our bus would come from.

I asked what he does when he goes downtown, gesturing north, toward the direction we were both about to head.  He has breakfast, and drinks coffee.  This is Seattle, after all.

“I’m Gracie.  What’s your name?” I asked, using the nickname I’m known by close to home and starting to extend my hand, to introduce myself.  He didn’t hear me; and didn’t see my body language, he just watched for the bus.

I can’t imagine the amount of change he’s seen, I thought to myself.  I wondered if he’d always lived in Seattle, and where else his path had taken him.  The communication challenge was a tough one:  I don’t think he hears much, at all.  I couldn’t think of a gesture to pantomime, for “How long have you lived here?”

“I’ve lived here since I was five years old,” he started, unprompted.  “I’ve seen so much change,” he continued.  “My father and I lived over on Rainier Beach, Columbia City.  We moved to High Point when I was five.  High Point was a forest, back then.”

I stop asking questions, because he can’t hear them anyway; given thirty seconds or so of a pause, he’ll launch into another topic, usually strangely responsive to the question that’s framed like a thought bubble in my head.  My phone stays in my pocket, this morning — I’d rather listen to his stories.  I studied his face, the light, the shadows.  I didn’t take a picture.

I think of my grandfather.  After he retired, he kept his office at the University, and would go to his office for office hours long after he no longer worked there.  The man at the bus stop reminds me a little bit of my grandpa.  He wears glasses, and the skin on his face and hands is weathered like my grandfather’s was.  He wears the same kind of hat — a flat cap made of soft wool.

Sara Lingafelter

Sara (Grace) Lingafelter takes steps forward and backward toward a right-sized life on a daily basis.