The cast is busy rehearsing Driving Miss Daisy, the second production for the 2012-13 season at Van Wert Civic Theatre. Rehearsing a small cast is always an intimate thing, with lots of laughs and fun guaranteed. It's also a great time to work some wonderful theatrical magic and produce a great show that will stay with the audience long after they leave the theatre.
This country has been undergoing a demographic shift in the past few decades. The largest generation, the baby boomers, born after World War II, are aging. You may have noticed a plethora of television commercials aimed at the 60+ age group. We're learning more and more about adult incontinence, impotence, arthritis, and multitudes of other conditions associated the aging process; in fact, we're probably learning more about them than we ever intended to learn!
From the time I was a young girl, I went to nursing facilities to entertain the residents. Granted, we didn't go every day or every week, but my mother, sister, and I went to local nursing homes on a regular basis to play and sing for the folks there. We always made a point to talk to ladies and gentlemen who lived there, as some of them had few visitors. My mother always told us that it was important to give of our time to our elders, since where they were was where we were heading if we lived long enough.
And Americans are living long enough! Unfortunately, many of our health and financial programs were instituted when 65 was considered old. Now, more people are living long past that point, and in many ways, Americans as a whole are not really ready for the financial, social, and health implications of hordes of centenarians living among us.
We once had families structured to take care of their own elders. Now many children don't see their grandparents often because they live in different cities or states. Divorce and remarriage have blurred the lines of the extended family until we're not always sure what constitutes family, past parents and their children. And, those families are not always equipped to handle caring for aging elders, with their own special physical and emotional needs.
Driving Miss Daisy, among other things, comments on the problems of aging from the viewpoints of both parent and child. Daisy Werthan is the stereotypical strong-willed woman of her generation, which came of age around the turn of the century. She was strong enough to raise herself up from a life of relative poverty to a comfortable living first as a school teacher, then as the wife of a rising Atlanta businessman. She is used to doing things for herself; I think she probably believes the old adage, "If you want something done right, do it yourself."
When she reaches the time of life where she is less able to do the things she always did, Daisy is not willing to go quietly into some sort of geriatric miasma of relying on others to do for her. At the beginning of the play, when it becomes obvious that she can no longer drive a car safely at the age of seventy-two, she is so determined not to rely on a driver that she is willing to go get her groceries alone, traveling on public transportation!
Hoke Coleburn, the slightly younger African-American man Daisy's son hires as her chauffeur, also ages in this play, from the age of sixty to the age of eighty-five. He is representative of the a large percentage of elders who are unable to retire. He must continue to work in order to live. Like Daisy, he too has health issues, but they must take a backseat to his need to earn a living.
In many ways, he and Daisy are both being forced into roles they would really rather not take. Daisy would much rather remain independent, setting her own rules and running her own life. Hoke would much rather be able to be his own man also, not dependent on the whims and latent prejudices of his employer. However, they find themselves more and more dependent on each other as time passes.
Boolie Werthan, the long-suffering, hard-working son, takes his own journey along with his mother and Hoke. As time passes and Boolie assumes more and more responsibility, Daisy and Hoke both begin to rely on him for all manner of daily tasks, from running interference between them to making sure the car is regularly serviced. Although he rarely mentions it, Boolie has little time to give, since he is a large business owner and a harried husband of a demanding wife. So the changes that come with aging not only affect the elder, they also affect all those around him or her, creating real tension between the generations.
As you watch this play, I believe you'll start to draw parallels between Daisy and Hoke and your own family, perhaps even yourself. I read somewhere that aging is not for sissies. Well, coming from the perspective of middle age, I know that I feel my body changing more and more as it begins to wind down. We all need someone at times in our lives, and the story of Daisy and Hoke is a modern fable of how human beings must rely on each other for companionship, for help, and, most importantly, for emotional support and love.
The songwriter John Lennon once wrote (taking his cue from the poet Robert Browning), "Grow old along with me; the best is yet to be. When our time has come, we will be as one. God bless our love." My sister sang that song at my wedding, and I believe its sentiments more and more as time passes, and not only as it applies to me and my husband. Let's all keep in mind that, like Daisy and Hoke, we all will reach a stage when we must ask for help. God grant us the grace to know when that is, and to accept graciously what is offered us.
See you at the show!