Old people rock. I recently had the pleasure of going shopping with my mum to the Pick n Pay in Musgrave Centre on a Saturday morning. Now I don’t know what it is about the Pick n Pay in Musgrave Centre on a Saturday morning but it’s crawling with old people.
First, there was the cranky grey-haired couple arguing in front of tomato sauce bottles as if it was a routine chore. Then there was ol’ Mrs Pepperpot with half her body in the freezer, sorting through the cold meats, looking for the best sell-by date, I presume. I’m waiting for mummy to pick some flour when I notice another fine senior citizen in the same aisle as us. He is shouting: “Red lentils, red lentils, red lentils!!!” So eventually, I put him out of his misery and point it out to him. He then starts shouting out: “No! Crossbow! Crossbow! Crossbow!!” and turns to me and asks: “Now tell me, where can I find the cotton wool?”
We move from flour to the toothpaste aisle and there we come face-to-face with my brother’s class one (grade one) teacher. I’m instantly surprised because, well…I’m embarrassed to say, I didn’t expect her to be alive after all these years. So I yell out with glee, “Miss THOMAS!!!” and give her a big, squeezy hug. She replies: “Oh my word! Oh! Oh! Oh! Just tell me about my boy, my timid little boy. I just want to know about him.”
Miss Thomas then proceeds to tell us a story about the gift my brother, Avish, gave her at the end of the school year back in 1988:
“It was a square Pyrex dish and do you know I still have that Pyrex dish. I use it for macaroni and I have a name for it. It’s my macaroni dish and I bake my macaroni and cheese in it and then we can cut into squares and everybody can just help themselves Did you know that Warren Lazarus gave me a round Pyrex dish too and that one’s called my trifle dish and I make trifle in that. And every time I make macaroni and trifle, I tell everyone about my boys.”
I like old people. It’s not just the waddly skin under their chins. Or the hairy moles. Or the cute slippers with socks. It’s the sprightly, grumpy spirit they wear proudly like floral housecoats. It’s the hanky they keep squished up in their palms and the folded notes in their bras. It’s the Brylcreem hair and safari-suit shirts. The black comb and the newspaper under the arm. It’s the fact that their stories take winding curves and follow breakaway paths like a labyrinth. It’s because they’ve earned the license to shout in shopping aisles, to burp loudly at dinner tables and to flirt playfully with younger people.
Not all old people are charming. There are those whose pension card doesn’t come standard with wisdom. And there are those who remain cynical and bitter and stuck in their ways like chewing gum under the school desk. There are those who remind you of the miseries and sadness in life. And the loneliness and pain that comes with the winter of existence.
Then there are the good ones. The good ones adapt with the times, play cards on weekends and still enjoy a good whiskey. They always find a way to be surprising. These old people always have stories. They ask embarrassing questions. They bounce out words of truth and fling one-liners your way. They smile knowingly, laugh like babies and tell dirty jokes. They cry on demand and they know what’s coming. They know how to cook up a storm. They’re always super proud of you. And they always have time for you.
If you’ve never hung out with a geriatric, you should sometime. It gives you a better view of the world. And it makes you thankful that you don’t have gout and varicose veins. But mostly, it makes you realise the importance of growing old with grace.
This is a little poem by Maya Angelou that I’ve always loved. And it is for all the old people I love. No, ma, not you. You’re still a spring chicken (even though I saw you squinting at the price of ice tea on the top shelf).
Old Folks laugh
They have spent their
content of simpering,
holding their lips this
and that way, winding
the lines between
their brows. Old folks
allow their bellies to jiggle like slow
rise up and spill
over any way they want.
When old folks laugh, they free the world.
They turn slowly, slyly knowing
the best and the worst
Saliva glistens in
the corners of their mouths,
their heads wobble
on brittle necks, but
are filled with memories.
When old folks laugh, they consider the promise
of dear painless death, and generously
forgive life for happening