A Challenge for the New Year

By Rita Killer,

I am a huge fan of British television comedy in no small part because of their willingness to tackle issues and topics that American television still refuses to touch (even comedically) with a ten-foot pole.

Among my favorite BritComs was a series called “Waiting for God.” Aired between 1990 and 1994, it was the story of two elderly people who meet at the “Bayview Retirement Home” (sometimes referred to by its residents as the “Bayview Home for the Almost Dead.”)

“Diana Trent” (played by Stephanie Cole) was a cynical, acid-tongued, ex-photographer. “Tom Ballard” (Graham Crowden) was a kind, loveable, and thoroughly loony old soul with a feckless son, and a drug and sex addicted daughter-in-law who could not wait for the old man to die so she could get her hands on his meager inheritance.

Tom and Diana were as different as night and day. Tom believed in God and, at bedrock, in the basic decency of people. Diana didn’t believe in anything or anyone. Yet over time their initially rocky relationship blossomed into love and caring.

And sex.

Shortly after their first tryst, Diana observed, “It’s nice to know that I’m still quite capable of going off like a rocket.”

One of the factors that made “Waiting for God” work so well was that the residents of the (presumably fictitious) “Bayview Home” were actually older actors – not young actors dressed up to look old.

So here’s my challenge to the romance writers of America:

How about a romance novel set in or around a nursing home? Or a retirement home? That’s right. A romance novel where the two lovers are wrinkled and old – where the bodies are sagging and the hair (if there is any) is gray.

Of course, the first step in making such a story work is actually talking to some old people. If you’re 25 (or 35 or even 45) you are – quite naturally – clueless about how it feels to be 80 or 85 or older. So that’s your cue to go out and visit some old people. Talk to them. Get to know them. Even a fictionalized romance will have no credence without the necessary research.

I can almost hear the shudders. “Ewwwwww! Who wants to read about old people having sex?” Well, as someone once said, the only way to avoid getting old is to die young. You may be 25 now, but barring all accidents or acts of Nature, one day you’ll be old. Ask yourself if you will be ready to surrender your ability to love – indeed, your very sexuality – just because some kid young enough to be your grandchild can’t stand the thought?

Years ago Ann Landers received a letter from an outraged woman who, upon a surprise visit to the nursing home, found her mother in bed – and not alone. The daughter was far more embarrassed than the mother, which is interesting, under the circumstances. Even when the mother explained that she and the old gentleman with whom she was otherwise engaged, actually were engaged and planned to be married soon, the daughter still could not be mollified. (Ann Landers not only wished the old couple her best, but also volunteered to help out with the wedding!)

As a society, we treat old people as though they should put their sexuality on a shelf with all the old photographs and scrapbooks. Why do we do this? Because in our private fantasies (to say nothing of books, movies, and television programs), people who make love are invariably young, healthy, and wrinkle-free, with full heads of hair, non-creaking joints, and non-sagging body parts. But, alas, no body looks that way forever – or sometimes ever. As the late columnist Erma Bombeck once noted, “Gravity always wins.”

So what would be so wrong with injecting a smidgeon of reality into this hopeless fantasy world we’ve created?

As somebody else once said, “Just because there’s snow on the roof, doesn’t mean there’s no fire in the furnace.”