“Oh yes, Dollie…I still drive my car. Been driving for over 40 years it must be. Can’t imagine what it will be like when I have to give it up though. It really worries me in fact, so I’m not thinking about it ’til I have to. I mean… what do other old people do when they need to get around?”
“They take the bus or get family members to drive them. Or a taxi, maybe? A lot of pensioners are eligible to get a discounted rate – half-price I think… so that’s a bonus. Or we could find out if your council provides an Assisted Transport service… you know, to take you to the shops, appointments and stuff?”
“Oh heavens, I hope it doesn’t come to that, Dollie. Having to rely on others all the time and being a real nuisance to everyone – I couldn’t stand it!”
“Well, you could get one of those nifty motorised scooters? You see people racing along on the footpaths on them all the time. Get one with an orange flag sticking up on the back – I could definitely see you on one of those, Rhonda!”
“Actually, I’ve already got a scooter. A bright red one! But I’ve only used it the once. I took it out for a practice run to the big shopping centre… but it was such a dreadful experience. And now I’m just SCARED of it!”
“Scared why, Rhonda? What happened at the shops?”
“Well, I drove it front-first into an elevator, not really thinking. It was such a busy day and the lift filled up behind me with all these people and their great big shopping bags. Then a young mum got in with her twins in an enormous double pram…. and I found I couldn’t get out! I WAS STUCK IN THE LIFT!”
“Oh no! Didn’t it have a reverse button on it?”
“Oh, Dollie it was awful! The stupid thing wouldn’t go backwards! Instead I had everyone in there, all talking at once, trying to help… giving me suggestions. Ridiculous! In the end THEY all had to get out – to let ME out… including the poor lady with the huge pram and her babies who by then were bawling.”
“And here’s silly old me trying to do a three-point turn in that tiny space… only for that to become a TEN-point turn because I wasn’t steering the damn thing right. Kept bumping into the doors and beeping the HORN – instead of the BRAKE! Last resort, the blokes (who were all laughing their heads off) grabbed a corner each and literally lifted the scooter out… WITH ME ON IT!”
“Oh, I could’ve died with the embarrassment, Dollie. I don’t care if I have to take the bus everyday of my life… I’m not going near that hideous contraption EVER AGAIN!”
***Conversation with the fabulously feisty, albeit red-faced… Rhonda ‘Racer’ Rushwell (88)
If it’s good enough for Ghandi, then maybe we should be touching Grandma’s feet, too?
I’m pretty sure it was legendary peace activist Mahatma Ghandi, possibly during one of his enormous political passive-resistance ‘sit-ins’, who declared that a nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its most vulnerable citizens.
Smug in the knowledge that his beloved India already boasted a solid track record in the unconditional caring of it’s ageing population, he would have been totally confident bandying about such bold and impassioned statements.
In a country where taking care of one’s elderly parents in order to preserve sacred family values is not only tradition, it’s actually considered fundamental to society as a whole.
In fact, so great is the esteem and reverence bestowed upon India’s elders, that youngsters are expected to literally bow down and touch the feet of their treasured grandparents as the ultimate display of respect and adoration.
The Chinese too, stay loving and loyal to their older family members by keeping them close, trusting in their vast spiritual wisdom and believing that great fortune will follow them and their household, because they are doing so.
Greeks and Italians also maintain endeared customs where elders demand intense respect from their offspring – including blessings that are sought from, and then held in the highest of regard. With several generations of one family all co-habiting, co-parenting and frequently co-feasting on magnificent cultural banquets under one, usually fairly large, co-roof!
All the time sharing and caring galore for beloved Nonnie and Poppa – it’s just the way it is; the way it always has been. And not once are the words ‘Nursing Home’ or ‘Aged-Care facility’ considered… nor even dared be mentioned.
You look after your own and it’s a beautiful thing.
Becoming OLD and ‘being elderly’ as an Australian however, has up ’til recent times, been a whole different kettle of fish!
Not that we don’t care about the older adults in our lives (admittedly though, there’d be little chance of any feet-touching action)… and it’s not that we don’t WANT to look after dear old Mum & Dad when they can no longer manage on their own.
But with our frantic materialistic lifestyles, we fair dinkum Aussies barely have time to look after the kids, let alone take on care and responsibility of ‘The Olds’ as well. Having to sometimes move away from our home-towns to go where the money is (the hole for a new swimming pool won’t dig itself, you know) we abandon our ageing parents as we strive for bigger and better.
The once close-knit family dynamic is left in tatters and sadly, as our children grow up with little or no interaction with their grandparents (no, Skype doesn’t really count)… it means even less understanding of the issues older people face existing in today’s frenzied modern world.
BUT, thanks to an outstanding healthcare system and an unprecedented change (albeit, gradual) in attitudes toward ageing in general, there is a revolutionary new emphasis on embracing one’s Golden Years. Older generations can now look forward to a potentially long, joyful and productive retirement with due diligence placed on seniors having rights, dignity and an invigorating abundance of empowerment HOORAY!
Yet, should we worry that our youth think it acceptable to treat mature adults in a dismissive and disparaging way?
That our seniors, because they are retired from the workforce and are all (supposedly) sitting about idle and ‘being frail’, clearly can’t have creditable opinions and therefore have little to contribute to society anymore?
Well, today… as I stood waiting in the checkout queue of a large Electrical, IT & Furniture store (can we say Harvey Norman out loud?) I discovered all might not be as hopeless as we once might have presumed.
Amid the din and techno-bustle, I watched as a man of advanced years with abundant white hair and rosy cheeks, walked tentatively into the shop… only to come to an abrupt halt. I knew immediately what would most surely be going through this nervous bloke’s mind.
“Crikey… where do I start?”
To be honest it was pretty similar to what I’d thought myself when I’d charged in earlier. Being one of these enormous retail outlets it’s always daunting until you get your bearings, as well we know.
Thankfully when I’d arrived, I was greeted immediately by an efficient middle-aged-ish customer services lady labelled ‘Brenda’, who duly pointed me in the required direction thereby saving me from a lot of time-wastery and roaming about.
Brenda, however, was noticeably absent in coming to the aid of this gentleman.
Still hovering in her official capacity at the entrance, directing customers, dispatching them off to the relevant departments… I watched as she quite literally favoured others coming in, over helping him.
And STILL he stood there…
Was she blind? How could she not see him? Surely, she wasn’t outright ignoring this lovely misplaced chap on purpose? For goodness sake… it was like he was The Invisible Man!
OK, so being that I work in Aged-Care and am used to attending to the whims of my clients on a daily basis, you might argue that perhaps I’m just overly-sensitive to this type of carry-on.
Call it what you like, NEGLECT IS STILL NEGLECT!
And regardless of age, it was just wrong that anybody should be treated in such a blatantly disrespectful manner. Such a calm unassuming man… on behalf of all the rotten Brendas out there, I felt utterly pissed off ashamed.
By this stage, too, the poor guy was really getting jostled about. Customers were pushing past him with their large parcels and important busy lives. Finally, as I contemplated the ridiculous logistics of leap-frogging over the counter to go help this now visibly shaken senior, low and behold…a zippy young shop assistant guy appeared.
I braced myself, dreading what awfulness might come from this young whipper-snapper’s mouth. Would there be yet more disinterest, some degrading comments… in an equally demeaning and patronising tone?
Or perhaps a reprimand for causing congestion on the shop floor? Indeed, if Big Bad Brenda had trained him – he was doomed!
Blow me down, ‘Arden’ (as per name badge), turned out to be the loveliest, most patient and caring lad you could ever have wished for! Upon touching the old boy gently on his arm so as not to give him a fright, Arden tactfully drew him away from the main thoroughfare and into the safety of the near-empty kitchen appliance aisle.
Looking him right in the eyes and talking directly to him, Arden was giving this most relieved pensioner his fabulously full attention! And after asking how ‘Sir’ was, suggested that he might like to sit down?
Oh, it was just wonderful to see – I could have cried!
And as I watched them chatting away together and joking about last weekend’s woeful football results… I felt my faith in humanity (and young peeps everywhere) had been restored.
Hooray for you, Arden! Maybe there’s hope for us all yet.
Indeed, if Mr Ghandi had been watching on from behind the row of chrome toasters and absurdly-priced food mixers, I reckon without question, he would have been most peacefully and passively… chuffed to bits!
I witnessed the most perfect display of selfless and unconditional love today. An unexpected, yet beautifully-presented scene that just randomly played out before me – in a rotten old Target store, of all places.
And while I’m pleased that I happened upon such a thought-provoking little interlude, I’m also doubly chuffed that I managed to snap a very nice photo of it as well. Working in the aged-care industry, I’ve long since realised the value of capturing the special moments as they come along – no matter how inconsequential they might seem at the time.
A picture is worth a thousand words, don’t they say?
I hope you’ll find this heart-warming photo, which I’ve saved ’til the end of my story (can you bear the suspense?) – worthy of being talked about. Clue: it is.
In the meantime, a picture of some cheeky-looking Galahs to tide you over:
Let me set the scene:
Firstly, and you may not know this, but shopping centres during the week days, transform into what can only be described as the perfect ‘pensioners paradise’!
Yes, indeedy. For while the rest of us are off being dutifully occupied at work or school or whatever, teams of opportunistic Retirees get to roam freely in herd-like fashion throughout the malls. Albeit often a silver-haired, slowwww moving herd – but a herd all the same.
Chatting leisurely with other like-minded Golden-Agers, casually pushing trolleys or towing low-maintenance free-wheeled trolley devices… they get their errands run unhindered, un-flustered and un-pressured. Enjoying the shopping experience at their own pace and without judgement or frowning upon from any of us raucous unruly lot, thank you very much.
Not to mention packing out cafes and teashops to the brim when they’re primed and ready for the proverbial nice hot cuppa – and creamcake too if blood sugar meds allow it.
Fear not though, for by the time we self-appointed important peeps all barrel into the shops and supermarkets to hunt and gather for the family feast, these older folk are long gone. Back at home, unpacked and un-shoed…they’ve completed their quests and are now poised in recliners snoozing, or awaiting the early edition News update on the telly.
Yet, here I found myself, thanks to a late cancellation, breaking all of society’s sacred unwritten rules… I decided to make an impromptu visit to my local shopping centre.
And as I stood in the Toiletries aisle languishing in my glorious mid-morn freedom, deliberating on whether to go the strawberry or the vanilla flavoured lip balm (it’s a tough life), I could hear a softly-spoken male voice at the cosmetics section behind me. Upon changing my angle, I saw it was an older gent with white hair standing alongside what was evidently his matching elderly wife in a wheelchair.
With stiff stooped shoulders and her wasted hands lay motionless in her lap, she clearly had serious health problems (a stroke or maybe MS?). However, that wasn’t an issue for this pair who, oblivious to me and my life-threatening lip balm dilemma, were focused on choosing LIPSTICKS.
And even more fortunately for her, I thought – her husband was doing it spectacularly!
“Honey Beige, Melting Melon, Glazed Caramel… what the heck? Some of these colours, Lois… sound more like food to me. That reminds me, we’ll do the groceries after this”.
Lovely-sounding-hubby was now donning his reading specs in order to decipher the ridiculously teeny tiny writing found on most lippys. A man on a mission and with no shop assistant in sight, he clearly felt at ease in what was typically a woman’s domain. Regardless of her health state, his wife was still a lady and therefore there was no reason in the world why she shouldn’t maintain the beauty regimes that allowed her to feel feminine and ‘normal’.
“Pink Opal… Berry Beauty… Flushed Fuchsia. But they’re ALL pink! There’s just such a lot to pick from, Lois. And I was thinking ‘pink’ was just PINK!”
In my head I had to agree…. STUPID SAME-COLOURED LIPSTICKS!
“Good gracious me, darling… a bit naughty-sounding some of them, might be a bit much?”
I laughed out loud at this comment, nearly blowing my cover but managed to change position while edging closer to the action.
“Here, let’s try this one, Lois. Forever Precious it’s called… that’s definitely you, darling. And it’s such a pretty pink.”
As Lois sat motionless, in her purely supervisory capacity, her adoring spouse crouched down before her to apply yet another shade of pink to the back of his wife’s lifeless hand. They’d obviously been at it for a while because they seemed to have the routine down pat. He would mark her skin for testing, pause to stand back and admire, then discuss yes? Or no? (with himself) before a gentle wipe with the tissue in preparation for the next one.
So, yes by now I was melting on the inside – it was just gorgeous to watch!
“This Smokey Pearl one here… that’ll match your new pink blouse, Lois. The one we bought for Bryce’s graduation. But let’s get the Charming Coral one as well. Just in case, yes?”
Apparently, Lois could speak but it must’ve been only just, as he had to lean his ear right into her face to hear her.
“Ha ha yes! ‘Charming’ – just like me! Ha ha ha… good one, darling”
Brilliant! Lois was being silly too!
“Here’s one…Spiced Coffee. Oh, for goodness sake, Lois! How about we have a think about it all and go get some ‘spiced coffee’ of our own at that nice café over there; they might have some ‘glazed caramel’ we can have for morning tea. What fun!”
As they wheeled off out of the shop, I couldn’t see Lois’s face, but I felt sure she would be smiling and thoroughly enjoying herself. Having such a kind and genuinely loving man by her side, helping her choose lipstick no less.
WHAT MAN DOES THAT?!
And how he spoke to her…. the way he interacted with her! Such patience and grace, the undeniable care and commitment he showed for his dear disabled wife; it was truly truly admirable.
In fact, I had no doubt that Lois, in her sad wheely-bound existence, thanks to this sweet and devoted man – got to smile every single day of her life .
As a rule, there’s not much in the way of kindness on offer in busy shopping centre carparks – especially from strangers performing the same tiresome routine as you.
Well today turned out to be my lucky-ducky-day!
Having pushed a way too over-loaded trolley out to my car (I detest the weekly supermarket battle but it’s just got to be done), I was puffing a bit and probably looked as hot and bothered as I felt.
Whilst then transferring the weighty grocery bags into my car boot, I remembered a couple of essentials I’d forgotten to buy (why didn’t I make a goddam list?) so my head was miles away when an older man with lush white beard and dainty gold spectacles appeared beside me asking if he could perhaps give me a hand?
Gesturing towards my now empty cart he smiled and said in a most gentlemanly voice, “Can I return that for you, dear?”
My initial reaction was to decline politely this neatly-dressed chap’s offer. For heaven’s sake, I was the carer who looked after elderly people – it should be ME offering to help HIM!
And he was clearly no spring chicken. Although still quite sprightly, his light-weight frame and obvious hip issue made him look far too frail to be flinging other people’s grocery carts about.
Not only that, but I had to go back into the shopping centre anyway, which meant walking directly past the Trolley Return bay. How easy-peasy it would be for me to whip my own cart (with it’s annoying dicky wheel) into the loading bay as I dashed by.
However, something in this earnest senior’s eyes made me zip my lip and realise that this was in fact, not about me.
Turns out that Ray (yes, we got chatting) was having his 90th birthday next week and he was really looking forward to the afternoon High Tea his family and friends (“the ones that haven’t dropped off, yet!”) were holding in his honour. He told me how he had never felt so good – perhaps he might even have a gin or two on the BIG DAY!
“Gee whiz, I’m excited to be alive, Dollie!”
Ray then went on to explain how having something to look forward to and feel special about, had made such a difference to his life. Especially after losing his wife Anne last year ‘to the Cancer’ had left him feeling lonely, depressed and quite lost.
Indeed, I recognised there was far more significance in allowing lovely, high-spirited Ray assist with my ridiculous supermarket trolley than there was in me trying to save time and supposed unnecessary fuss.
And it wasn’t because Ray just happened to be passing that he’d felt obliged to make the offer; nor because he thought I actually really needed any real help.