Joe leaned his cane against the counter and put the kettle on for tea. He put some biscuits on a plate and sliced some cheese to go with it. After a moment’s thought, he put a jar of jam out as well. Cups and plates completed the setting. The door bell rang; he took a final glance at the little kitchen. It would do.
He picked up the cane on the way to the front door. A young women stood on the other side of the door. Everyone looked young to Joe now, but she couldn’t be thirty yet. Youth glowed in her red hair and blue eyes. She smiled when she saw him. Joe liked that, even better were the faint smile lines around those blue eyes. He revised his estimate of her age upwards a decade.
“Hello, Mr. Baldur,” she said, “My name is Gina, I talked to you on the phone yesterday.”
“I remember,” Joe said and opened the door, “Come on in. I’ve put water on.” He led the way back to the kitchen. She put her purse under her chair and laid a pad and pencil on the table.
“Do you mind if I tape the interview?” Gina asked, “It’s helpful to make sure that I don’t misquote you.”
“Fine by me,” Joe said, “What do you take?”
“Just milk thanks,” Gina said as she fished a tiny recorder out of her purse and placed it at the top of the pad. “Gina Stapopolous, interviewing Joe Baldur, January 28, 2010 at his home. Anything you don’t want recorded just let me know and I will stop the recorder.”
“Thanks for coming by Gina,” Joe said, “It’s nice to have a new audience for my old stories.”
“I should start off with a few questions then. How old are you?”
“According to my birth certificate I am one hundred and fifty one this year.”
“That’s an extraordinary age Mr. Baldur.”
“Please, call me Joe.”
“OK then, Joe,” she said, “Do you have any other way of proving your age? It isn’t that I doubt you, but the oldest person on record is one hundred and seventeen and they live in a nursing home.”
“I’m afraid that anyone that might remember the day of my birth is long gone.” Joe smiled her. “I have no interest in trying to claim any record. I’m not interested in going through the media circus that would entail.”
“Yet you took my call and invited me here…”
“I wasn’t going to turn down the opportunity to have a pretty young woman give me her undivided attention.”
Gina laughed and marked a point in the air with her finger.
“So tell me what it’s like being your age?”
“Not many people are interested in the elderly anymore. Getting other people to take care of your parents or grandparents is big business. Put them in a safe place and get on with the important work of living. No one gives much thought to what it’s like for the old people who’re pushed to the edges. The last decent conversation I had was with the paper boy. He was collecting his money and told me all about the hockey tournament he’d played in on the weekend. That was five years ago. Now the paper is delivered by a girl in a car and I pay online for the paper.”
“That too,” Joe admitted. He pushed the plate of biscuits toward his guest. “Help yourself.”
Gina took a biscuit and put a slice of cheese on it.
“So if you are bored and lonely, why live by yourself and not talk about your age.”
“All the fuss about my age would just add annoyed to bored and lonely. I don’t want to be Methuselah.”
“The only thing anyone knows about him is that he lived to 969 years and was Lamech’s dad. That would be me. I would just be ‘the old guy’.”
“So, what do you want to be known for?”
“That’s a good question.” Joe took a long sip of his tea and looked up at the ceiling. Gina picked up the biscuit on her plate and took a bite.
“O my, this is good,” Gina said, “Where did you buy them?”
“I make them myself,” Joe said, “I can teach you how.”
“Really?” Gina gave herself a shake and looked at Joe. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to distract you from your answer. What do you want to be known for?”
“A baker of really good biscuits wouldn’t be a bad start,” Joe said, “Try the jam, it’s from the strawberries I grow out back.”
Gina dutifully spread some of the ruby red jam on her biscuit and bit into it. She closed her eyes and sighed.
“Heaven,” she said, “So what else can you do?”
“I make most of my own food from scratch,” Joe said, “It isn’t like I don’t have time to give what I’m doing my full attention.” He bit into his own biscuit and sighed.
“That sounds like good advice. My dad used to tell me something similar.”
“Sounds like he’s a smart fellow.”
“He is, but he lives on the other side of the country now and I don’t see him much.”
“Don’t have time?”
“He’s pretty busy too,” Gina said, “He’s always off golfing with his buddies.”
Joe just looked at her.
“All my friends are my age. They are just happy not to have their parents telling them how to live their lives anymore.”
“Yes, that is a weakness of the elderly.”
“Not just the old,” Gina said, “You wouldn’t believe how many times my girlfriend tries to tell me what to do with my life.”
“Is her advice good?”
Gina laughed, “Heck no, she’s into relationships like an alcoholic is into beer.”
“Right, so it’s about the effect not the taste.” Joe took another bite of his biscuit. “So you put up with bad advice from your friend, but not good advice from your father?”
“Just because he’s older doesn’t mean the advice is better.”
“True.” Joe got up and opened the fridge, pulled out a tiny block of cheese and brought it back to the table. He carefully cut a slice. “Try this.”
Gina took the tiny sliver of cheese from him and popped into her mouth. Joe watched as something close to ecstasy passed across her face.
“What is that?” Gina whispered.
“That is a ten year old cheddar,” Joe said and passed her another sliver. “Some things, like cheese and whisky improve with age. If you have the patience and the knowledge to enjoy the difference.”
“And you’re saying that people are one of those things.”
“Some people, in the right conditions,” Joe said and cut himself a sliver of cheese. “I guess what I want is to keep improving with age.”
Gina looked at him and smiled.
“I think I could say the same thing.”
“It’s no easier at my age.” Joe cut her another slice of the cheese.
“But you manage.”
“I hope so.”
Gina pushed the stop button on the recorder. She looked at the blank pad that sat in front of her and picked up the pencil.
“You offered to teach me how to make these biscuits, how about you give me the recipe, then you can teach me how to make it work.”
“Only if you promise to make some for your dad and….”
“Come back to visit me.” Joe looked at her, his heart thumping with nerves. He didn’t want to be disappointed again.
“I think I can promise you that,” Gina said.
Joe grinned, “I’m feeling a hundred years younger now.” He went to the cupboards and began pulling out bowls and ingredients. “The trick to good biscuits is in how you mix them…”