by Dr. Jeffrey Lant

Author's program note! Do you know the great Irish tenor John McCormack? If not, your grandmother surely did. "I tell you Mary Louise, he has the voice of an angel, an angel..." One of the multitude of songs he popularized and made his own was the famous tune "Silver threads among the gold". You couldn't listen without a tear or two dropping gently on your lap... no matter who you were or what your situation. There was that in the singer and his song that made even the most stoic lachrymose.

And so I have selected for the occasional music to this article, "Silver threads among the gold", perhaps the most popular ballad of the period starting with its copyright in 1873 right into the 1920s. The all affecting lyrics are by Eben E. Rexford, music by Hart Pease Danks. You'll find it in any search engine. Go now; find it; listen more than once and sniffle... because this music, these lyrics, this article are all about..... you..... the you getting older and stranger by the day.... you old coot, you.

Pity the poor coot.

I want you to know -- and coot lovers worldwide demand that I tell you -- the coot is an honorable, hard working, entirely meritorious fowl. It is a medium-sized water bird in good standing, well known and up-to-date in its membership in the rail family Rallidae. They constitute, and proudly too, the genus Fulica with eye-catching predominantly black plumage. They are common in South America, Europe, and North America, too.

Now hear this: they vigorously oppose the appropriation of their good name to describe eccentric or crotchety persons and are herewith filing a declaration and grievance with the United Nations. They aver and make clear: there is nothing wrong with coots in general, and old coots must be venerated, never, never derided and made the object of ridicule and derision. However some more insightful coots realize the only bad publicity is no publicity... and so these progressive birds use the expression themselves with glee and impunity.

Are you an old coot?

Consider the case of my honorable father and his telephone answering machine. Over time, this once pristine and useful device has deteriorated. First the machine lost about one in ten calls; then about one quarter of the calls went unrecorded... until now the number of lost calls and messages is hovering at a perfect 100%. It is just about impossible to leave a message for him.

When told of this situation, as he now constantly is, he says "I know. Other people tell me that." And each and every one of these folks wishing for immediate connection with my venerable sire says the same thing: "You need a new answering machine." But my father has a firm response based on his current age (86), likely check-out date, and a gnawing belief he will not get his full and complete money's worth out of any new answering machine... and so the matter rests from day to day... his standing as an old coot now entirely secure and certain. What's more, if he was to get as a gift, for Christmas say or his next birthday, a telephone answering machine, he probably could not be induced even to take it out of the box, for, after all, he didn't really need it; his current machine, despite its foibles and idiosyncrasies is still working, never mind that it only performs its necessary function at the most intermittent of occasions.

Out of range.

The same is true with Dad's O*Keefe and Merritt range. It's, 25, maybe 30, years old, or even more. And whilst it is no doubt a fine company producing a fine product, this particular product has seen better days; to the extent that it cooks the food he likes hot and just so only about half way. And this, as one may well imagine, irritates the old fellow. But because he is not just an old fellow but an old coot, he is not about to let that range go; after all it still cooks about half his food reasonably well.

And so, instead of calling the Sears appliance center or other venue offering stoves at fetching prices, he called..... O*Keefe and Merritt to see if they had the part that was defective on his unit. The representative he ultimately connected with laughed aloud when he gave her the part number, "Honey, we haven't produced that part for over 25 years." And that should have been that... trip to oven store at once... new machine to be installed next Thursday.

But old coots don't think that way.... no indeed.

All but useless... still good enough for coots.

If there's a penny's worth of value left in any object, no matter that that object can not do the job you need done, a coot, any coot, will die rather than lose that value. That's why dear old Dad, not only did not get a new range, but told the flip wench that he would keep looking for the part until he found it. Then he called a couple of repair places to see if they could help; they couldn't. This continued until he had the bright idea of going to Ebay, and there the matter rests because he doesn't know how to use Ebay and daren't ask me because he already knows what I'll say and getting rid of the friggin' stove is just the beginning.

I'd make him chuck the toaster that doesn't quite toast... "but I only got it 15 years ago, and it should be good for another 5,000 pieces at least..."

The typewriter he hasn't used, not to type a single letter or address label in a couple of decades at least... "but it's an Olivetti, top of the line"... Then the punch line, "They discontinued this model years ago, and you can't get ribbons anymore." Of course.

Even the bromo seltzer in the medicine cabinet... that he picked up for "Just a penny, I tell you" at the estate sale of my great grandmother, the sale held when I was just 13 or 14 or so; (I'm 64 now). Then, in 1959, it was already over 20 years old. But she'd say when people told her to get rid of it, she'd say with horror, "Why, what an idea, Lura Marshall"... and then these unanswerable words: "You never know"... and these unanswerable words were rendered with the hauteur of a queen... or at the very least of someone who knew a great, dark, secret, like maybe it was a poison reserved for her Satanic rites. But it was worse, far worse than that.

Now I know what that secret is.

You see, that bottle of bromo seltzer arrived the other day, compliments of my father who decided he needed the space, but absolutely couldn't throw this away. Why, it was owned by his own grandmother.

When I opened that box, I knew; I knew not only I wouldn't... I couldn't throw it away.

And so I came to know.. and now I tell you the secret, that .. becoming an old coot is a matter of heredity, genetics, not choice, which makes me a Young Coot.

Thus I called Poor Old Dad (it took over a dozen attempts to reach him on his wonky answering machine) and promised I'll find him that part if it takes a year, or more; he's right, that range is far too valuable to discard, and new ones cost the earth.

You don't have to have silver threads among the gold to know that, although I most surely do. Why if I find that part, and I shall, that range has at least 20 good years left.... Dad says he's leaving it to me...

*** Your comments on this article are invited.

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