My parent’s tales of the goings on in their retirement village are fast becoming my favourite part of the week. sofadad visited the in-house hairdresser the other day. He got a natty trim and thanked her profusely for ‘fitting him in”:
“Not a problem” …. she said, “most of my clients don’t know their ass from their elbow anymore. So, whether they turn up today or in a month – they still think they are in time for their appointments.”
“Must be frustrating” commented Roy.
“No hon” said the pragmatic hairdresser: “I just say: Hello, hello – good to see you. Off course I remembered, I have you right here in my appointment book. Then they sit and have a chat and a cup of tea and I get to them when I can. And sometimes they forget why they were even here and wander back off again without me touching their heads.”
I love the atmosphere at the village … there is a shared understanding and tolerance of each other. People ask their questions without meander or malice and you usually get a full and frank response. Men are at a premium, so Dad is getting to know all the ladies. There is also full disclosure on ailments. It seems everyone at the village is au fait with what everyone else is enduring. Especially Aunty Mo, who got to know half the residents in the few days she spent with my parents.
We all went for a walk to the Duck Pond the other day, spurred out of our chairs by Riley who thought nothing of the hurricane blowing outside. . “Come ON,” she said: “Let’s all go and we can feed the ducks. And meet some other people” As we (all women but for Jasper) were swept along, Mo kept up a running commentary: “Gammy leg on the right, can you see how she’s walking? Weird, hey? That one has diabetes, not surprising (indicating the woman’s girth), her doctor has told her she will have a stroke if she doesn’t lose some of that weight. Hello Rita, hello, how’s the hip today? See that one there – terrible arthritis, everywhere, if you know what I mean. Fingers don’t work at all. Husband has to help her go to the toilet. God, Susan, imagine that … but it’s going to happen to all of us, hey. Isn’t it, Susan?”.
It is, Aunty Mo, it is.
When we got back to the village, the Manager opened the bar for an hour and we all sat down to the cheapest (50c/R6) gin and tonics in Cape Town. Aunty Mo fetched some chips and popcorn that she had been hoarding for just such an occasion and got the kids to pass it around: “Don’t leave it sitting with anyone,” she instructed them: “you know what these old people are like, they will eat the lot.” She’s over 80, so the kids just giggle, loving the whole adventure.
‘Getting in somewhere good’ is always an issue. So news of vacancies in the prime retirement spots is shared immediately with waitlisted pals. My parents’ friend Marlene called to report that the list at their retirement village got shorter by seven places last week (and there’s only one way that happens): “So be sure and tell Maureen”. Everybody laughs heartily.
In a recent article about McGregor, the writer tells of an elderly couple who ordered Irish Coffees for their lunch. Which they enjoyed thoroughly – chatting happily while they sipped. As she was leaving, she heard them order a second round and marvelled that they had turned the day on its head – having post dinner drinks at noon. I knew immediately who they were. These two have decided to live in the moment. If they wake up and fancy going to the beach – they grab their swimsuits and a sandwich and head off in the car. Chores can be put off to another day. Seems simple, it’s not as if they are working. But consider this – they are both in their mid-eighties and the beach is a four-hour round trip. What would give most of us pause, doesn’t deter them in the slightest.
Lately I have been writing quite a bit about getting older. But it’s all for good reason. What I am seeing and hearing now is showing me what tools I am going to need as I age. There are challenges that we can’t anticipate, for sure. And having money as an assist is important – but, if we are going to grab this ‘getting old’ thing by the bollocks, more than anything we have to embrace spontaneity. We have to learn to choose the unknown over the routine or safe. We have to take chances, show up, say yes, explore, and sometimes be uncomfortable. Which isn’t easy when we’ve spent a lifetime scheduling our days in 15 minute increments. Letting go of what we think we know is going to be tough – but, as Bette Davis smartly pointed out: “Old age ain’t no place for sissies”.
(PS: If you haven’t already – do yourselves a favour and watch The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (for the elderly and beautiful). If you’ve seen it and loved it like we did – there’s a sequel coming later this year.)