Wednesday, November 7, 2012

They were young once too


This morning I got up early and rushed to turn my computer on because I was waiting for a special email.  And as I hoped, there it was!  You see, I have spent the last few days trying to track down the owner of a wonderfully patched WWII army jacket that is being kept safe at the Te Papa museum.  Its owner isn't quite who you might expect and I was dying to find out how it had made its way from Holland to New Zealand after the war.  So I was delighted to find this beautifully written, concise email in my inbox.  Wow, despite now being in her 80s, this woman had such an incredible zest for life and a sense of adventure that filled me with admiration.*  It was such a good reminder that old people were once young too!

Have you ever stopped to think that the old man waiting at the bus stop steadying himself on a shaky walking stick, probably left home for the first time as a young man to go and fight a war half way around the world.  That he might have danced until the sun came up, drank too much whiskey on more than one occasion and fell in love with numerous women.  Maybe he travelled home via the Middle East, shared a meal with a Bedouin tribe and slept under the desert sky. 
And the old woman that shuffles across the road so slowly that she can barely make it to the other side before the light turns red again, she might have been one of the most beautiful dancers of her time.  She probably graced the stages of France and Britain every night in the most elaborate costumes, fluttering her long eye lashes and receiving standing ovations.   Maybe she met somebody so wonderful one night that she gave it all up for him and followed him to New Zealand.

My point is that everybody has a story!  And most people, if they only thought we were interested, would be bursting to share them. I got my first job when I was 15 at a retirement home.  My official title was 'tea girl'.  I was basically responsible for helping to prepare meals, setting tables, taking food to those that couldn't make it out of bed and then cleaning up afterwards.  Not very glamorous at all.  But I will never forget the residence that lived there.  Sure some suffered from severe dementia, had illness' that left them bed ridden and unable to communicate, or were just generally pissed off because they just wanted to hurry up an die already (and why was it taking so bloody long?!).  But many were still as sharp as could be and clearly had no intention of letting up any time soon.  There was gossip and scandal, love affairs and flirts, there was the popular group and there were the loners.  The only difference between them and I was that their hair was grey, their teeth clattered when they talked and every now and then one ladies fake eyeball would get stuck and she would appear to be gazing intensely at the empty chair next to her rather than you.

I'll never forget my grandfather (who is now 85 years old) saying that he still gets a shock when he looks in the mirror sometimes.  In his mind he feels like the same person he was in his 20s and it's only when he catches his reflection that he is reminded of the fact that he is an old man.



* Unfortunately you'll have to wait for the first edition of Glory Days magazine to come out early next year for the full story about the adventures of the army jacket.


8 comments:

  1. I'm working in a charity shop at the moment, and the manager is full of SUCH great stories. She brought go-go dancing to the county. She used to race a local policeman on her motorcycle. She completed postal rounds with less than she might have been wearing.

    It's terrific. I'm in awe.

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    1. Wow, amazing! I love it! You just always think of old people being... well old and boring really but I'm sure many of them have lived much more wild lives than we have.

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  2. When I see an old woman or a man, I often stop to think what their lifestory might be. Sometimes I can even see it in my eyes.. I am so sad that I have no-one to ask about what their lifestory, what did they do during war, where they met their future husbands or wifes and so on. My grandparents are all gone.
    This was a very beautiful post!

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    1. Thank you for your lovely comment. it makes me sad too to think how forgotten they are, when really they have so much to share with us. I only have one grandparent left too but have often considered volunteering at my local retirement home. Many of these people are so lonely and have no family to visit them. I think they would love to have somebody spend time with them once a week or so.

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  3. I loved this post too Malayka, beautifully written. One of my favourite books is "Tuesdays with Morrie', where a man reconnects with his old tutor, and shares his wisdom and all his stories in his dying days - so sad, so beautiful. x

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    1. Thank you :). I'll have to check that book out, it sounds really beautiful.

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    2. Wonderful post! It makes me so sad to see the way some treat older ones, not thinking about how maybe one day they, too, will be old and in need of empathy.
      We're all young inside. :)

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