Monday, February 7, 2011

The thing about old people....


Old people are a curious phenomenon. They’ve done more than the rest of us and seen more history than the rest of us.

But we are uncomfortable seeing them and don’t want them around.

This thought hit me today at the bank, when a wizened old lady was regaling a young customer service manager with a story from her youth and assailing him with her book of memories.

“Yes, yes, very interesting,” the young man replied with the air of someone who was on the sliding deck of the Titanic and has just been informed a lifeboat berth has become vacant.

“My mother was born in 1891. She died from TB,” the old woman rattled on regardless.

“That’s fantastic. I wish I had more time,” the young manager said and then spied his clients approaching through the door. I assumed he had texted them asking if they could come in two hours earlier.

“Ah sorry. I have a meeting,” he said, beads of relief breaking out all over his forehead, and moved across the floor with the speed of Ben Johnson on performance enhancing drugs.

The manager did what they tell you to do on the management course. He promptly delegated.

So it was down to a young woman to talk to the old lady, complete with a smile so phony it must have been causing lines of hurt to open up behind her ears.

“She was an executive on Chicago Corporation back in 1901 the old woman continued.”

“Nice,” the young woman spat between her chewing gum.

Meanwhile I tapped my fingers impatiently on the counter because the young woman had been diverted to the old woman, leaving no woman or man to process my request.

I looked over waiting for the old woman to say: “I’m 91 you, know.”

Old people say that sort of thing. It’s funny but you’ll never hear a young person saying: “I’m 21, you know.”

Or: “I’ve still got all of my teeth,” for that matter.

My own theory is that we don’t want old people around because they are wrinkly and not very photogenic. We are secretly look-ist and in the fast-moving 21st century we can only really be bothered to spend time around people we’re hitting on.

It’s sad but true. It’s like an experiment Tyra Banks recently carried out when she stuffed cushions down her dress and pretended to be a fat person. At this point the owners of boutiques seemed rather less willing to hang around and talk to her as they were when she looked like Tyra Banks, for instance.

It’s a shame because old people can be interesting. I wonder if this would take off as a slogan.

“Excuse me sir, would you be interested in donating to our Old People Can Be Interesting initiative, sponsored by Kelloggs Froot Loops and the Rahm Emanuel for President campaign?”

The more gray hairs I get the more I become interested in this theme. Of course, I don’t have as many as Anderson Cooper. And even when I do I doubt if I’ll have so many women wanting to clutch me to their bosoms.

The fact is old people can have many interesting stories to tell. The only drawback is they can take rather a long time telling them.

I once covered a story about an old guy called Stan and his land dispute. It was a sympathetic story and he was very grateful. The trouble was he latched onto me after that and would call me frequently to regale me with undiscovered aspects of his life.

“I used to collect furry caterpillars in my toilet bowl …. I’m 82, you know.”

I tried not to be rude but when you have a fast-moving demanding job, you just don’t have the time.

I’d gesticulate to my colleagues to call the other line so as I could pretend I had another urgent call. I even feigned dropping a heavy book on my foot once to escape.

I’m not proud of my actions because when you are in the bank and you see other people going through the motions it’s scary how transparent the Enduring Old People charade can be.

In some cultures elders are treated with respect and dignity.

But in the west it seems a token old person is a dribbling, nonsense spouting individual who we tolerate on Christmas day and maybe the day after if our patience lasts.

26 comments:

  1. I've had thoughts along this line recently. Pogo said it best, "we have met the enemy, and he is us." I think seeing elderly people for some is like looking into a portal mirror of the future. No one wants to know that much about what's going to happen.

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  2. Makes one think...Even in cultures that treat with dignity....time is ticking....sometimes I feel sad for them...no one to talk to and no one with time to listen...thank God I am not a talkative person....I prefer to talk to the only person who understands me - myself :D besides I got my first grey hair at 16...so ageing gracefully already..

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  3. maybe there could be a commercial for your OPCBI (old people can be interesting) initiative & at the end, there could be a little rapidly spoken blurb like on the playdough commercials where they say "fun to play with, not to eat." but in your initiative, it could say, "fun to talk to, now to view."

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  4. I like old people as they very often have great stories to tell. And I have been told many times that I am an old person in a young persons body because I tell some crazy long stories.

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  5. This is so true! Mind you I remember being in hospital as a child and an old woman there would tell me the same story over and over again and I was too young to understand why. Either that or she'd come into my room and pick up random things like my rabbit slippers and walk out with them!

    She gave me a bit of a fear of old people! Of course now I'm much older and wiser and don't have rabbit slippers to be stolen!

    Rapunzel x

    *Tales from the Tower*

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  6. I do wonder if a lot of the problem is due to the dramatic shifts in technology that have happened. There are still so many people 'of a certain age' who don't know how to use computers, access the internet, use mobile phones etc. It increases the differences between age groups and also decreases the amount of time it is considered acceptable to talk to shopkeepers/bankers etc. It is something I have noticed frequently in the last decade.

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  7. I had exactly the same thought a while ago. I think we are missing out on some great stories about life back then. I was recently at a restaurant and saw a gentleman who had a military ball cap on. I asked him which branch of the military and he was Navy and had served in the Korean war. We bought him his breakfast and really would have loved to hear his story... but we were rushed. I think we need to spend more time and listen to their story, don't you?

    p.s. the bosom thing has really thrown you hasn't it?

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  8. I love hearing the elderly tell their stories. I used to volunteer at a nursing home and they certianly have some really good ones to share. However, it was very easy to listen to their stories because I was there to spend time with them. It's heartbreaking when I'm working or having to rush when out on errands and I have to cut someone short.

    This was a really great post. We've all been in that position. I just wish we had more time.

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  9. Another great topic. :)

    It makes me sad that our society disregards the elderly. We're all about looking forever young and acting young and keeping up with the young. I feel like in America, we can't wait to get rid of the past (tear down old buildings, ignore old people, etc.). As someone who LOVES history, this perplexes me and worries me.

    When I was a reporter, I would often interview old people for feature stories. The interviews would last forever because I really enjoyed hearing their stories, whether it be WWII experiences or how they hooked up with a future spouse of 60 years. :) I find the past fascinating...

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  10. Good post David, but I really love all the comments. What lovely readers you have.

    How's the FiL? (or have I missed something?)

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  11. Hi Mollie - I like that, portal mirror of the future; too funny Sherilin, profound as always, Rek. That's sound familiar Oilfield. There are certainly some great tales. Yep Rapunzel, it would be a tad worrying if you had rabbit slippers now. I know Frog, and I havw written articles re why people get more angry because they expect things on demand. 4 sure Nubian, there are some great war tales that we are losing. The bosom thing is a blog theme. Thank Marnie, that job must have been rewarding. They have some great tales Jennifer, glad you liked the post. that's true Sue, my readers are the best! Oh he's not good at all, I will post on that soon. thanx for your concern.

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  12. I enjoy talking to the elderly as they always have fascinating stories to share. If they are still sharp-minded they often have few people to talk with as many of their friends and relatives have passed on or are incapacitated. My grand uncle once told me (when he was 95) that he wanted an 80 year old girlfriend so that she could drive and they could go out and have fun. The stories he shared with me are amazing!

    http://rantersbox.blogspot.com/

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  13. Old people are some of our greatest treasures. It's sad that so few realize it.

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  14. Last month I spent about seven days with my 82 year old daddy. It was crazy-boring at times and crazy-interesting at times.

    I love listening to all the stories, even the ones I've heard a millions times, because I know I won't get to hear those stories forever.

    You may have just inspired a post for me. About geezerdome and how it relates. Thanks Mr. David!

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  15. You played the "Gotta go, I just dropped a heavy book on my foot" game, too? Just kidding. I never did that, but I find it humorous. I agree that old people can tell fascinating stories, but some people are just boring no matter what their age. We just feel guilty being bored with someone who is actually boring and old. Or maybe I'm just referring to my relatives.
    xoRobyn

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  16. Thanx Empress, they sure are. I know Daisy, sad that so few people give them the time of day. Always glad to inspire you, Deborah...

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  17. sorry - missed you there Robyn. You have a good point. My great uncle Bertie could bore the pants of a donkey at 20 paces.

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  18. Aw - I guess I'm not one of the "We." I'd take that old lady by the hand and want to chat with her all afternoon.
    This post is so timely. I just--today--got a handwritten (yes!) letter, snail mail, from a 93 year old author who I, after much digging, had contacted by phone (no computer in his house, no email) because I wanted to quick purchase a book of his. No such luck. I had to wait for the snail mail - which included a slip of paper for the book order and his beautifully penned letter, wherein he wrote much more than he needed to (as I'm doing here!), but yet not enough. I wanted more. I can't tell you how much I loved this. Made my day. Probably my entire week. And the book will be so worth the wait - that much more meaningful for it.
    Only the old folk can do this now. They are a treasure, and they ought to tell the whole world how old they are. Slow down people and listen! ;)

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  19. It's when you've heard the same story for the 50th time told as if it's the first that you want to scream "YES I KNOW!!!". Sometimes I have to let on that I've heard it before "ooh, yes, I remember you telling me about that..." which works :)

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  20. I agree with Sarah - I don't want to hear any more stories from my grandmother. By now, I know all of them. It really makes me wonder - why do they always mention how old they are?

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  21. You could well be talking about me there David, well almost. I'm not quite 80 but getting there rather fast I thought, biologically at least, if not chronologically.

    Luckily for me I'm like Rek - talk to myself a lot, and to the trees too, so I'm prepared, in some ways.

    Over here we find only old people at banks, as the younger ones do their banking and many other errands online.

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  22. Thanks for the comment Jayne, a letter has a lot more character than an email. ha Sarah - I know someone who fits into this description. for sure Olga. Thanks Grandpa, I think talking to trees is the answer to a lot of problems. True re banks.

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  23. The problem is that the elderly generally have far more time on their hands than the young, which is counter-intuitive, now that I think about it...

    Pearl

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  24. I think the real problem is that not every old person is interesting. Some people live very long, boring lives. Unfortunately the boring old people give the interesting ones a bad name.

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  25. I think that society tries to take care of old people generally these days. Mobility aids and stairlifts are becoming ever more popular. However, I do take the point that we feel uncomfortable, probably because we do not want to become old ourselves. We will all be old one day and it's as well to think about what we will need.

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  26. Thanx Pearl, it is sort of ironic, don't ya think? Sure Christopher, although I'd say the same could be said of people in general. Good point Martin, thanks for visiting.

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