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Letter From America: Our Time Will Come

Do not be impatient when elderly fumbling fingers delay your progress through the supermarket check-out. Your time will come!

Ronnie Bray, with an unmatachable flow of of thoughts and words, pleads for patience, compassion and love.

To read more of Ronnie's brilliant columns please click on Letter From America in the menu on this page.

It was a scene with which we are all familiar. That is, if we have ever queued to escape the purchase-compelling atmosphere of a supermarket or a "We-Sell-Everything" emporium. Usually, we are in a tearing haste, having popped in on nothing more than a whim to pick up a tin-can of pop, a deli sandwich, or a bunch of flowers so that the wife will let you back in the house.

You join the checkout with the shortest line only to discover that the person being checked out is a dissolving nonagenarian whose arthritic fingers point due east on the one hand, and due west on the other. Not only that, but her swollen fingers are repulsed by the smallest purse as it grips the few coins it holds in its farthest corners with the jaw-force of a full-grown alligator, thereby adding insult to injury on the shuffling journey of a life nearing its close.

The dear old lady is a real character that Gay encountered on a recent foray into one of the Temples to Commerce - familiarly called Wal-Mart. She was twenty-seven cents short of her total and didn't want to split a note and end up with more change than her miniature reticule would hold and let her snap it shut.

It is a ritual that Gay and I will engage in when we are really old and the road ahead exceeds the one-in-four incline of our present time, and takes on the challenge of the cobbled road in Whitby, close by the steps that go halfway to heaven and to the ruined abbey.

We ancient pair believe that scrabbling about for elusive change is part of the formula for enjoying old age whilst concomitantly evaluating the patience and tolerance of the underclass of young ‘uns of eighty summers or less.

We have a few more gentle years to deal with before we enter the lists as grey-haired warriors and let folks know that we are old, but not stupid; crippled, but not knocked out; ailing, but not yet among the departed, no matter what stories our pale, stiff faces and ‘creaking-and painful-if-they-are-still-working,’ or ‘silent-and-painful-if-they-not-working-but-are-seized’ joints reveal to them of our joint and several conditions.

We will, of course, wear the Diluvian Survivors’ uniform, including powder blue canvas shoes that let our feet breathe, and are soft and roomy so as not to nip, cramp, squeeze, or otherwise impinge on bunion, corn, ingrowing toenails, plantar warts, or calluses, and soft-soled so that we can creep up behind people and frighten them to death by our appearing from nowhere when they thought themselves alone.

If we cannot find a finger-nipping small purse, we will instruct our local leatherman to fashion one. It will be of such dimensions that will prevent inflamed finger joints to pass through its mouth, and just of size enough to hold small change that adds up to ten or eleven cents short of what we must pay.

We will go out minus wristwatches, because we will have superannuated time, yet we shall understand – whilst ignoring - the misery this provokes in time-bound slaves not yet freed from the tick-tock tyranny of a troublesome timepiece.

The extended time we spend chatting inanely but cheerfully to the cashier whilst chasing the wild geese of change in the dark confines of our unco-operative purse with cursed fingers and blithe indifference to tapping feet and increasingly loud murmurs of complaint from behind us, will seem to us as a fleeting, careless moment.

If we can be bothered to wear socks at all on our excursions they will be odd ones installed on our twisted tootsies and limping legs upside down. When others point at our hoserial discord we shall smile toothlessly at them as we tell them that we have other pairs at home just like them.

We will sling the authoritarian Oswald Colour Circle, and dress for comfort, never to impress, and we will always never be fashionable. Our mission statement will be,

"Oswald was colour blind!
We just don’t care!
So there!"

Repeated ad nauseum until the hearers become either convinced enough, or else bored enough to quit our vicinity.

We will have enormous fun with hats. In summer, we shall sport colourful Norske knitteds with Lapplander flaps. The chills of winter will find us donning topless opera hats, or sticking on our nodding heads what is left of our old straw boaters.

Not just yet, you understand, but when our time comes. For the present we have to be content with watching Masters or Mistresses of the arcane arts of ageing who are a ahead of us in the train of Old Father Time, who, like the Pied Piper, marches along with the retinue of ancient children who have rediscovered their sense of couldn’t-care-less fun when all seemed lost and austere.

We will mimic their routines so that when our turn comes, we shall have developed such finesse that Semi-Senile Senior Supermarket Soldiery is forced into the Olympic Games as a physical art form, flying the banner of Anti-Ageism.

You understand that this is not a ramble through an agglomeration of disconnected jottings, but a way of life being systematised in our tiny minds whilst yet the flue of fun and creative genius still has a fire burning in it, ere the dark days come when we shall move, think, speak, and act solely by the smoking ruins of our memories, that are, it is increasingly evident, already half devoured by the Black-Mawed Fire Breathing Recollection Obliterating Monster.

Any effort we are then able to muster on the field of spontaneity and originality will be vanquished on the shores of the Plutonian Terra Incognito that lies beyond the reef, on which we shall be cast when the light dims, and the irresistible tide that washes us up on its shredding shoreline, ebbs and dies.

Making plans for approaching senility might not be as profitable as videographing Living Wills, but it is a lot more fun.

Back to the nonagenarian in the supermarket. Remember her? That’s where you came in. She was two ahead in the queue before Gay (who waited with customary patience for her to complete her transaction), and she, the little old lady not Gay, became agitated as her efforts to lure the recalcitrant coins from the belly of her little pouch become more and more evident to her in her increasingly futile quest.

"Oh, dear," she mumbled, obviously in distress at being unable to do what she has done tens of thousands of times in her life, but which now seems to her to be an impossible task.

"Oh, dear," she repeated at intervals, "I just need to get this twenty-seven cents out. I know I have it, I counted it this morning."

When held up in the madrush of life by someone whose notion of Time conveys nothing more than a weekly news magazine, the enterprising person has two ways of dealing with the situation.

First, they can let everyone know how much they are suffering by moaning about how valuable their time is; that their time is money; that they have to sup with Betty on the lawn at Buck House in ten minutes; that they left the bath running before they dashed out to pick up a scouring pad, a Donkey stone, a loo plunger, a small white cabbage, a better mousetrap, or a bunch of straight bananas. But, irreverent tendencies in ‘behinders’ serve only to increase the nervousness of the aged and impair their faculties even more.

Of benefit are the positive people, who do not fulminate at aged frailty, even when it is inconvenient, but step forward and help. There was such a noble spirit in the line, sandwiched between the innocent but troubled offender, and Gay.

The unknown heroine told the cashier, "I will pay the twenty-seven cents, I have it right here." Her hand reached the cashier’s and the coins tinkled from there into the cash drawer of the till. A short round of effusive gratitude flowed from the little old lady, the cashier, and Gay.

When she got home, Gay mused aloud about what she had experienced. It helped her to revisit a recurrent idea she had about how people treat people and how we can be effective in treating people with greater respect, more understanding, increased tolerance, and – above all else – with more abundant love, for "the greatest of these is love."

It didn’t take too much brain power to realise a great lesson of life had been enacted between an old lady stricken with the misfortunes of creeping enervation, a patient cashier, a Greek chorus who mourned only for the loss of their time, and not for the loss of abilities in the old, that they take for granted, and a enlightened lady whose heart was sufficiently open and generous to have her open her purse and end the embarrassment of one who stood before her in so much need.

Their greater blindness of the demurrers was not their failure to recognise in an ancient a trivial but pressing need to be treated with courtesy, kindness, and meekness, but their failure to recognise their eventual selves in the person of the debilitated dowager, and to treat her as they will wish to be treated when their turn comes.

It is certain that one day they will stand in her shoes with their crabby fingers stuck inside her little satchel, as a crowd of chafing faultfinders wait behind them, acting as they acted when they stood impatient and complaining, behind a queue, at the checkout, behind an old lady, that day, at Wal-Mart.

When the pressure of protest from the mob builds up and forces them into bigger mistakes than they can deal with when they are not flustered, then, perhaps, they will remember. That is, if they can still remember.

As for we two, when we reach that station in life, we will be inured to jibes, taunts, and insults, because we are getting used to it now, ready for the day when our turn has come.

You will run into us, so watch out for us, and remember that "You have been warned." We are the couple with the piled-up shopping cart blocking the ‘Twelve Items of Less’ lane, two places ahead of you, and we cannot for the life of us remember how the money works!

Copyright © 2008 – Ronnie Bray


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