Brian Crane, creator of the syndicated cartoon strip Pickles, has a knack for finding the whimsical side of older adult married life. His two main characters, Earl and Opal Pickles, live in retirement with their eyes trained on what’s humorous about being together for over 50 years. Crane’s characters are able to find what’s quirky and playful about this stage in life. The insights of their daughter, grandson, cat/dog duo and miscellaneous neighbors and relatives help readers see how this stage in life can be full of capricious, imaginative insight about small-but-important matters. To Crane’s credit—and soothing for my admiring spirit—he never crosses the line that separates appreciation from critique. Earl and Opal know each other’s quirks and faults—sometimes poking gentle fun at each other—but they also enjoy each other’s company. They live simply and seem rich in life-wisdom.
As I read this cartoon strip each morning, Earl and Opal’s experiences ring true about life at this age, about being husband-and-wife for decades. As they engage the small foibles of life—losing a toothbrush to one of their pets—they also help me reflect with quiet joy about the oddities of my own older adult life. I see myself in Earl’s thoughts and actions, realizing that there’s some hope for retaining perspective in the middle of my idiosyncrasies. I recall how life at this age can be full of irony, whimsy or humor inside what seems otherwise ordinary or unremarkable. I feel validated in using the funny side of my elderhood to add sparkle to life. There are times when a series of Pickles strips reminds me how God can redeem—with God’s own whimsy?—what would otherwise seem stressful.
Except for the shrewdly observant pets Roscoe and Muffin, each of Crane’s characters can be simultaneously astute and absurd, sensible and naïve, aware and oblivious. But like many of us, they somehow carry themselves past their shortcomings to lead satisfying lives. They don’t give in to despair, self-absorption or disregard of others. They remind me of beloved older people who I already know–a shout-out to Phil and Arlene here!—and inspire me to find humor in my own life when circumstances gang up on me.
I would love to ask Crane how he continues to mine the depths of elder ordinariness and come up with witty nuggets that are universally understood and appreciated. Although he is not yet the age of his characters, he exhibits his deep knowledge of life in its later stages. He must certainly pay attention to his older relatives, to his readers and perhaps even to his own approaching elderhood. That suggests another possible benefit of this comic strip: Encouraging all of us to observe more closely the delightful details of older life that are worth celebrating.
Without directly asserting implicit spiritual truths, Crane still reminds us all to remember every day that God blesses us with humorous possibilities every day.
Just like this cartoon strip….
(To see how Brian Crane uses his comic strip to lighten up older adult life, visit Pickles at https://www.gocomics.com/pickles/ .)