You know how most people get all mushy in the heart when they are around a baby? I get that way around old folks.

You know how most people get all mushy in the heart when they are around a baby? I get that way around old folks.

Maybe because I think they've already earned my affections. Racketing around this rock for however many years it takes to be deemed geriatric deserves a bit of respect and admiration. Don't you think?

After all, if it's true that only the strong survive, our octogenarians and beyond must have done something right.

There are lots of cracks about the aged and their foggy memories. How geezers clog up the roadways like Mr. Magoos driving through molasses. Little old ladies shuffle down store aisles peering at boxes of prunes. Some even have the audacity to write checks for their groceries. You can almost hear the mental fuming from shoppers delayed by a whole minute. "Get a debit card, Grandma."

Perhaps it's a defensive response to their own mortality that makes some people so impatient with the slower pace that oldsters often exhibit.

All I know for sure is I've always felt more comfortable around old people than babies.

No doubt it has something to do with my birth order. I was the youngest of five generations growing up in what amounted to a familial compound in Pasadena. There were no more babies tumbling from the family tree after me — at least until my cousins and siblings started producing fruit from their own loins. Being the indulged baby in a large extended family, everyone in my world was older than I. I remember my grandparents as the embodiment of love and patience. And I found every wrinkle, age spot and arthritic twist in their loving hands fascinating and beautiful.

I remember asking my mom once why I didn't have any interesting angles in my smooth, straight fingers. Or why there were no "big brown freckles" on my hands. I couldn't wait to get those neat little crinkles in the corners of my eyes which so enhanced their smiles.

In a nation obsessed with youth, erasing age spots and crows feet is practically mandatory. These "blights" are abhorred as signs of "decay."

To this child, they simply looked like love.

I'm starting to get some of these "character" marks myself. And I'm struggling to remember my youthful opinion in the face of an onslaught of ads designed to erase the passage of time from my skin. I wish everyone didn't tell me I'm supposed to perpetually want to look like a baby's butt. I'd like to embrace resembling my favorite pair of riding boots, softened by time and miles in the saddle. They may be a bit battle-scarred. But they're way more comfortable than a new pair of the finest Dehners.

Perhaps my lifelong love affair with the aged explains why I landed in Rogue River after moving to Oregon a decade ago. I can't remember the exact census stats, but the town is teeming with oldsters. The average age of those serving on the city's volunteer boards, committees and town council seats seems to be at least 70.

While there are some who say Rogue River could use a B-12 shot in the form of a few more youthful leaders, mostly the place is peopled by those who respect that with age comes wisdom. Assuming you weren't dropped on your head as a child.

But as understanding as many in the higher-digits may be, I've learned that advanced age offers scant defense against the needs of the heart.

There's a certain bench in the small town's shopping center that operates as the geriatric equivalent of a local pick-up spot. Like many a Lover's Lane, the spot looks pretty nondescript to passersby. Kids sometimes sit there with boxes of free kittens. Teens hang out drinking Coke and talking on their cells. But put a couple oldsters on that bench — and watch the sparks fly.

Who knew?

Possibly my mom.

Mom loved to poke about in the old "Guns and Drugs" store. A child of the Great Depression, she liked to hunt and peck through the sales bins for bargains. But her 90-plus legs sometimes got a bit weary. Usually Mom headed for the car when she had wound down. But one day she took a seat on this certain bench.

Mom urged me to take my time as I headed into the grocery store to pick up something for our dinner.

When I came out, Mom had two beaus seated by her side. One had offered to take her to dinner. But it was the other fellow, an 84-year-old charmer, who'd captured her attention.

"You're just a spring chicken," I heard her tell the fellow with a sly glance. "I'm 91."

Apparently "How old are you?" is the "What's your sign?" of their generation. As they flirted with each other, the ice cream melted and my heart warmed.

"Take a lesson," Mom said, when I finally dragged her away.

"I've still got it."

I can't glance at that bench without remembering that day. And missing my mom. Yesterday, as I was leaving the market, two senior citizens were just turning to face each other on "Lover's Bench."

"My name is Ida," the spritely little woman said. "And I'm 94 years old."

The answering gleam in the old fellow's eyes was clearly visible through his glasses.

"You don't say," he responded with a wide smile.

It's nice to know the timelessness of attraction remains — wrinkles, age spots and all.

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 776-4497 or e-mail sspecht@mailtribune.com.