I stand in a throng of people, yet I’m alone.

People rush from one store to another, hands filled with shopping bags. Small clusters of teens move slowly through the mall, obviously more interested in gossip, laughter, and fun than spending their advance allowance.

I know, because I used to be them.

The other people, most of them toting a kid or two, dart around the slow walkers, bee-lining their way from one store to another, possibly returning the shoes their son refuses to wear and buying hand soap at Bath & Body Works.

I know, because I used to be the kid trying to keep up with mom.

A few older gentlemen amble past. I notice their grandpa sneakers. You know the ones I’m talking about. They’re barely outdated, like they came from the clearance rack, and even though they are last year’s models, they look oddly out of place on an elderly man. “Just getting their exercise,” I think to myself, “But why are they inside when it’s 70 degrees outside?! I’d way rather walk around the lake.”

And since I didn’t know anything about what makes elderly people do the things they do, I followed them closely, careful not to lose them in the crowd.

I laughed when, the one that took short quick steps, snuck up behind someone he knew and tapped their shoulder. His face broke into a smile, he said a greeting, then walked on, his buddy by his side.

I figured they were going to turn around when they got to Macy’s at the edge of the mall, and not wanting to be a full-out stalker, decided against following them back the way we had just come.

That’s when I saw one of the men whisper to the other and nod in the direction of a kid begging next to the large display of bubblegum machines.

The man dug in his pocket and I slowed my walk, expecting him to deliver a Hallmark moment for me.

The old man knelt, put a quarter in the bubblegum machine closest to the child, then turned the crank. Momentarily, the kid quit his whining, and watched the man bending next to him, possibly holding his breath to see what color of gumball was going to pop out.

The man looked at the child and reached for the gumball.

Then, very slowly and dramatically, he popped it in his mouth and walked away, leaving the kid staring in dismay.

I laughed out loud.

I still don’t know what makes elderly people do the things they do, and I wondered if maybe the grandpa was trying to teach a lesson to the kid.

Whining will get you nowhere.

But as I laughed again, I knew better.

Just because they have gray hair doesn’t mean they lack spunk. And just because they wear outdated sneakers doesn’t mean they can’t be ornery sometimes. They’re still human, after all.

As I walked to my car, I suddenly couldn’t wait to grow old and ruin a Hallmark moment or two.

-Duane Scott

the old man and the gumball

by Duane Scott time to read: 3 min