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Julian Barnes' The Lemon Table: stories of the old

SOMETIMES I wish I were older, living a steady and quiet life, devoid of youthful passions, haughtiness, and pride. I like talking to old people; I learn a lot from them.

My great-grandfather Lolo Otim was a nonagenarian before he eventually succumbed to an infection that got the better of him. He regaled my brothers and me with stories of the war and talked about the drinking sprees he had with his friends. His humor often escaped us. We were too young to understand the nuances of some of his stories, but we wouldn't forget his hearty laughter as he clutched on to his wooden cane.

That was the picture I had in mind while reading Julian Barnes' short story collection, The Lemon Table. Barnes ruminates on how it feels to be old—looking back at love that could never be, regretting one's unfulfilled ambitions, philosophizing on what makes the old irritated, leaving a decades-long marriage that was never really a happy one. It is a vignette of experiences by random people—fictional characters but they may well exist in real life. The old are misunderstood, and their sentiments are echoed by the narrator in the story, The Silence: "I merely repeat and insist: misunderstand me correctly."

No, the tone isn't all depression and disappointment. There are light moments, too—for aren't the old among the funniest people in the world?

While reading the book I couldn't help but miss our family's old people. My grandfather Lolo Polding has long been dead—diabetes. He used to bring Manong and I to the park each morning. My maternal grandmother Lola Ugol is often depressed. Her bestfriend died years ago and she no longer has anyone to go to Mass with. My paternal grandmother Lola Gloria is having symptoms of dementia. The last time I had visited she could hardly remember any of us anymore.


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