TAHOE CITY, Calif. - You probably hear people talk about someone's recent illness, surgery, critical condition, complications, misery and death every so often. Those are conversations for boring, old people, or so I once thought.Actually, it was more than once. I thought it every time. I come from a very large immediate and extended family. There were more old people than you can find on a Carnival Cruise from Miami to the Bahamas. Gruesome story telling was their specialty. Kids tell scary stories too, but theirs are much more imaginative.I can't remember exactly when I first started hearing the elderly talk about all the bad things we had to look forward to, but, like most children, I was not really interested. The last thing a kid wants is to destroy the illusion that life is a dream and a bowl of cherries. Few kids like to sit around and listen while a bunch of old worry-warts ruin their fantasy.Besides, we were all too busy competing with brothers, cousins and friends for the title of King of the Mountain. We pass the torch of Top Dog back and forth to this day and, as far as I know, a winner has not been crowned, except perhaps in his or her own mind. We have our suspicions as to who is the most deserving, or un-deserving, and are constantly being challenged and amused by the bragging rights claimed by some of our competitors.Like so many boys growing up, it was easy to keep an eye out in order to avoid two or more adults freely associating, or make a quick getaway if we ended up accidentally stuck in their company. And, like most boys, we didn't care what the adults said about much of anything let alone bed pans and hospital gowns.But their inclination to talk about broken bones, heart attacks, major surgeries, death, burials and cremations was all the reason we needed to make haste for the TV or the door. In our twenties, we headed for the nearest bar with live music and dancing.When I was 9, I slammed the door of my grandmother's pink Cadillac on the little finger of my left hand. My mom had to open the door and pick up the tip of my finger off the street. We got back in the Caddie and went to see Dr. Frey. He sewed it back on, splinted and wrapped the whole finger and made me the most popular kid in school.After a few weeks, while my finger tip was decomposing, I could remove the gauze and splint, which made for some very impromptu educational, entertaining show and tell sessions.Most of the girls were quite repulsed, and made explicit sounds with their throats and noses when I showed them the damage. It had me a little worried too, but I didn't talk much about that. I knew long before the doctor knew that I was becoming deformed.It didn't heal. The tip turned black as a burnt marshmallow and had to be discarded.When you're nine you don't quite understand things like losing body parts, or how lucky you are to be whole, or have what remains. You try to make it fun, but it's not. It's more of an adult thing, and I was slow to embrace my new found maturity.It wasn't until recently that I acquired more than enough personal experience of chronic heart problems, blood clots, ambulances, morphine, physical helplessness and death's door to have a seat at the table with all the other morose, morbid adults, and have something juicy to contribute to the session, and give the kids a good reason to skedaddle.Still, I try to resist. I'd rather watch Jeopardy and Wheel Of Fortune, fly a kite, do the dishes and talk about the weather than listen to words that end with "oscopy".But I have my right of passage now, which is an ominous way to put it when you're "old."We have to face the cold, hard facts of life sooner or later. I hope this column is the extent of it for you today.Bob Sweigert is a Sierra Sun columnist, published poet, former college instructor and ski instructor. He has a B.A. and an M.A.T. from Gonzaga University. He has lived at Lake Tahoe for 30 years.
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