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Penkava: Pickin’ and grinnin’ in the Golden Years

Published: Monday, Dec. 16, 2013 11:53 p.m. CST

(Continued from Page 1)

They say that when you retire you need to find activities to keep your mind busy. One suggestion was to learn a new language, so I took up Spanish. Every day I try to discover a new phrase to use. Did you know that “La luz de la luna hace brillar tu cabello como un pollo en el mercado” means “The moonlight makes your hair shine like a chicken in the marketplace?” That’ll come in handy some day.

Another idea to keep your mind active is to take up a new hobby. I tried birdwatching, but the parakeet just kinda stood there staring back at me. Ballroom dancing was a bust because evidently one should not incorporate Bollywood moves in a Viennese Waltz. And my attempt at being Assistant Apprentice to the Master Gardener found me languishing removing weeds from sidewalk cracks and schlepping mulch because apparently my Master Gardener wife lost confidence in my ability to distinguish between a flower and a weed. Geesh.

So there I was, a Spanish-speaking, ex-birdwatching, former Bollywood-dancing,  erstwhile Assistant Apprentice to the Master Gardener retiree. Ay carumba!

I was beginning to think that perhaps my mind-stimulating activities would simply become a string of failed hobbies. Frustrated, I muttered to myself, “Creo que deje mis zapatos en su bano” (Translated: “I think I left my shoes in your bathroom.”) as I sat down in my Amish-glider chair to stimulate my mind with some TV.

The program that popped up was called “Downton Abbey.” “Aha!” I thought, “Here’s my new hobby … Perhaps I could study the lives of fictional aristocrats and their domestics in the post-Edwardian era!”

So I mingled with British social hierarchy for an hour as I watched Cora override Isobel’s meal schedule, Violet quiz Mary about Lavinia, and Sybil having a deep conversation with Branson. To top it off, O’Brien alerts Mrs. Hughes that Mrs. Patmore and Daisy went to the village and, oh, by the way, Ethel is pregnant. “Blimey,” I sighed as it ended, “this is like Survivor with servants.”

Before I could recover my wits, the next PBS presentation started. It was a concert by comedian Steve Martin playing the five-string banjo. I thought to myself, “La lata de los frijoles es fresco, pero no puedo abrirla.” (Translation: “The can of beans is fresh, but I cannot open it.”) 

As I sat and listened to him play, I was astounded! Man, could Steve Martin play the banjo! Later I found out that he had actually won a Grammy in 2009 for “Best Bluegrass Album.” As I watched his fingers fly across the instrument, I suddenly discovered my new hobby: I would become a banjo player!

My first challenge was to get a banjo. Being left-handed, I figured it would be hard to find a banjo of the alternative persuasion. But with a quick click to Amazon.com, I found all kinds of them.

My next challenge was to present my new hobby idea to my wife. It went easier than I thought …

“Honey, can I get a banjo?”

“Sure, Mike. And while you’re at it, why don’t you get a pipe organ, too.”

“Okay, thanks honey!”

A few days later my banjo was delivered. Sure, my wife was surprised. But when I reassured her that I didn’t order a pipe organ, too, she was greatly relieved.

So now I finally have my new hobby. I’m picking and grinning my way through the Golden Years. It’s like I always say, “El jugador del banjo hace mucho ruido, pero su corazon esta en un lugar feliz.” (Translation: “The banjo player makes a lot of noise, but his heart is in a happy place.”)

• Michael Penkava is a retired teacher who taught for 35 years at West Elementary School in Crystal Lake. Within 24 hours of getting his new instrument his wife made a cloth sound muffler for his banjo and told him he sounds a lot better when he plays in the basement. He can be reached at mikepenkava@comcast.net.

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