Minor ailments

My grandmother used to say that my grandfather suffered from “selective hearing loss.” By that she meant that he was better at hearing the things he wanted to hear than hearing the things he didn’t want to hear. There is little doubt that my grandfather did have significant hearing loss towards the end of his life. But it also was true that he sometimes wouldn’t pay attention to some conversations. I’m pretty sure that there were some times when he simply didn’t listen when grandmother was talking.

Grandmother was widowed after more than 50 years of marriage. They had shared a lot of experiences in their time together. Both were born in Dakota territory before North Dakota became a state. They had survived the Great Depression together, sold their farm, moved to Montana, launched businesses in two towns, and raised seven children. They had seen their sons go off to war and return. My grandfather’s funeral was the first time that I served as a pallbearer. There wasn’t much lifting on my part. My cousins Tyrone, Larry Lee, Walter, and Thane took the four corners with cousin Dickie and I taking handles in the middle. The taller cousins picked up the casket and we had to walk with our arms bent because it was raised too high for us to carry at our normal height. They packed all the weight, though there wasn’t that much. Grandpa had become pretty small and frail before he passed away.

I went to college in the town where my grandmother lived in her widow years. Those were tough years for her. Grief layered upon grief toward the end of her life. She outlived four of her sons, including my father. When we would visit her, one of her repeated complaints was that her eyesight wasn’t as good as it once had been. “I can’t see as well as I used to. I can barely read the newspaper and they print the news in such small type!” she’d complain. I suggested to her that she didn’t have to read every word of the newspaper each day when she would point out how small the type was in the classified ads. She’d claim that she didn’t because she couldn’t read that small type. But every time one of my high school classmates made the newspaper, perhaps by being listed in the police reports for speeding or being involved in a fender bender accident, she’d send me a clipping with the name circled in pen. When a classmate was named in some legal posting, perhaps a bankruptcy or a legal notice to creditors in the settlement of an estate, there would be an envelope from grandmother with a clipping. Despite her failing eyesight she read the small print in the newspaper with great comprehension and thoroughness.

Maybe selective hearing loss combined with selective vision loss to make a strong marriage.

I have often thought of selective hearing loss in the years since my grandparents died. It seems to be a malady suffered by politicians and media personalities on a regular basis. Just the other day a political figure stated in an interview that their party would “never go after the spouse of an opposition candidate.” The statement was so patently false that the otherwise sympathetic interviewer blurted out a couple of examples of times when members of that person’s party certainly did attack the spouses of opposition candidates. The person being interviewed continued with their statements as if the interviewer had said nothing. It seemed to me to be a clear case of selective hearing loss. Make the statements you want and ignore the questions that you don’t want to answer. It seems to be a common interview technique for politicians.

I’ve heard plenty of examples of selective hearing loss. My grandfather’s case, however, never seemed to be severe enough to be a threat to their relationship.

I got to know one set of Susan’s grandparents very well in the early years of our marriage. We lived in the same state as them for seven years and were able to visit fairly frequently. They were married for more than 60 years and would, on occasion, speak harshly to one another. If you didn’t know them you might think that they annoyed each other a lot more than was actually the case. They had both learned to accept a few harsh words from their mate without it making them feel bad. Another quirk of their relationship was that as they aged, the would complain more and more about having sleep difficulties. Sometimes we would visit when a great aunt was also visiting. The three of them would each claim to have not slept a wink morning after morning. they seemed to function pretty well for people who weren’t sleeping at all. I always thought that their complaints were a bit exaggerated. It seemed to me that they must have slept more than they claimed.

And now, we’ve been sending out invitations to the celebration of our 50th wedding anniversary less than a month away. The years have passed quickly for us and we are a bit surprised to find ourselves reaching such a milestone. My parents didn’t have that many years together. My father died young, one of the four brothers who died before their mother. We have been very fortunate in the health department and have enjoyed our life together. The upcoming event, however, has got me to wondering what quirks of our personality will be remembered by our grandchildren after out time has passed. Will they remember their grandmother kissing the top of their grandfather’s mostly bald head? Will they think we have become obsessed with certain topics of conversation that are of little or no interest to them? What stories will they tell their children and friends about their grandmother and grandfather? After all, we live just down the road from four grandchildren and we visit with another one regularly over Skype or FaceTime. They know us pretty well.

I may not suffer from selective hearing loss, but my short term memory certainly isn’t as good as it once was. I find myself saying, “What was I going to do?” a lot. I try to tone it down a bit when the grandchildren are around. I don’t want them to think I’m losing my mind. But it makes me wonder what stories about us they tell their friends. And I don’t hear as well as I once did, especially when a room is crowded and voices are loud. Perhaps I’m developing selective hearing loss. I guess you’d have to ask my wife to know for sure.

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