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Penkava: A serious case of the old man noises

Published: Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2013 12:00 a.m.CDT

Well, it finally happened. My wife is a witness. In fact, she was the one who called it to my attention. It happened when I was getting up from my Amish glider chair in the living room. It was sincerely involuntary and unintentional. And, no, it wasn’t gas.

It was worse than that. It took me all of 64 years, but I finally did it. I finally made what I call an “old man noise.” You see, as I got up from that chair, I uttered a sound that I hoped to avoid for many years to come. I said, “Umph!” I don’t even know if I spelled it correctly. But you get the picture. It was an old man noise. And I made it.

After that I started noticing all kinds of old man noises seeping out of my mouth. I made them when I got out of bed … “Uggg.” I made them when I put my shoes on … “Oomph.” I made them when I reached into the kitchen cabinet for my cereal bowl … “Arrrgh.” Why, I even made them when I was just thinking about my old man noises ... “Eeehh.”

But it was as I was scratching my head uttering a spontaneous “Arugrump!” when suddenly a barrage of memories was released that painted a faded but unforgettable picture in what was now rapidly becoming my old man brain. It was my grandpa and me. We were just hanging out. And HE was making old man noises. In fact, that’s where I had gotten the idea to give a name to all those grunts and groans that he shared so frequently. Old man noises. Me. “Oh my goodness,” I thought, “I am becoming my grandpa!” Harumph!

I remember sitting with him on his outdoor porch in the cool, fall evenings, just gazing out into his backyard. There was little conversation, just mostly staring and thinking. That was when he said something I will never forget. Those words still ring in my ears today as if he was sitting next to me now. Two words. Old man words. As we sat there in our bright red metal lawn chairs with the water lily-shaped backs, he breathed a long sigh, hesitated, and then said, “Oh, boy.” When he said it I wondered just what he meant. Was he thinking about me? Was I the “boy” in “Oh, boy”? I had certainly given him enough grief over the years. But surely he had finally forgiven me for burning down his garage with my homemade gasoline-powered flamethrower.

No, I wasn’t the “boy” in the “Oh, boy.” I think that “boy” was a lot of things. Maybe it was his bad back that now prevented him from doing his beloved gardening. Maybe it was his dear wife who had forgotten his name. Or maybe it simply was his wonder of the new-fangled television that actually had programs in living color. But whatever it was, it was enough to squeeze out those two words from somewhere deep inside him.

But wait. Sure, I am starting to make old man noises, but at least I didn’t say the dreaded “Oh, boy” yet. I may be slowly becoming my grandpa, but I’m not quite there. However, just to be on the safe side, I am taking steps to delay the inevitable. I am starting to use the phrase “Whoa Nelly!” instead of “Oh, boy!” to express surprise or bewilderment. I figure if it was good enough for Bozo, it could work for me.

Thus, in the future, my grandson and I can spend cool, fall evenings together, gazing out into the backyard sitting on our red metal lawn chairs with the water lily-shaped backs. And if at some point I breathe a long sigh, hesitate and utter an impromptu, “Whoa Nelly,” he won’t assume that I’m just a befuddled old man. Then again, he may think, “Gosh, Grandpa is now talking like an archaic clown.”

Oh, boy.

• Michael Penkava is a retired teacher who taught for 35 years at West Elementary School in Crystal Lake. He is now rethinking his favorite expression of surprise or bewilderment. He is leaning toward “Sufferin’ succotash!” or “Sweet lemony Lincoln!” He can be reached at

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