A Celebration of the Elderly

Normally, on this blog, I like to write light-hearted pieces, or short posts about any random topic that tickles my fancy; but sometimes, a girl’s got to do what a girl’s got to do. And I cannot shy away from writing this any longer.

In Africa, where I grew up, there is an oft-used adage, “When an old person dies, a library is burnt to the ground.” This proverb has stayed with me through the years and moves me every time I think of it, because its very essence is based on the utmost respect and regard for the elderly, for the wisdom they possess, for the value of their experiences.

So today, in the spirit of the Easter holidays and commemorating the renewal of hope and life, I’d like to use this forum to celebrate the elderly: the values they stand for; the rich, cultural and familial histories they symbolize; their infinite patience and forbearance; their love for even those who are at their most unlovable; their special bonds with their grandchildren. The list is simply endless.

Indeed, such recollections remind me of various unique “only-with-the-elderly” moments in my life. Memories that I wouldn’t exchange for all the gold or diamonds in the world!

A darling Grand-Aunt has often surprised us with some astounding slips of the tongue which undoubtedly deserve a place of honour in the family hall of fame. Indeed, the family has often ended up in stitches of laughter, literally laughing till the tears flowed from our eyes, with priceless name gaffes such as Graffi Stef (Steffi Graf), Silver Stallion (Sylvester Stallone), Madeline Fullbright (Madeline Albright), not to mention a dear personal friend whose name is Arish, but is known to Grand-Aunt Dearest as “Ashar”.

Then there was the family acquaintance who was in hospital recovering from operative surgery. Grand-Aunt, ever the concerned mother-hen, called him up to enquire how his “elastoplasty” went. The patient was gracious enough to reply that all was going well. Meanwhile, myself and the rest of the family busied ourselves in prayer that his stitches wouldn’t come undone from the hysterical shock of hearing Grand-Aunt’s ‘minor’ mispronunciation of his “angioplasty” procedure. It was not an easy task, I assure you, as the image of the poor chap being constantly “twanged” with elastic bands by the nurses continuously replayed in our minds.

My all-time favourite though, has to be when Grand-Aunt was telling a friend of hers, during a serious conversation, that my mum used to be a “medieval” reading teacher. She meant remedial! – but since then, whenever I tell people about my mum’s work, I visualise her dressed up in apron-topped antediluvian clothes with a bonnet on her head, perched upon a barrel in a castle courtyard, teaching phonics to children of aristocratic knights and proletarian cottiers.

When it comes to economic issues though, no one brought a brighter smile to my face than my grandfather. For in his “real world”, his haircut used to cost a whopping thirty Rupees (equivalent to current £3)! Of course darling Grandpapa was blissfully unaware of the additional two hundred Rupees (equivalent to current £20) that my Uncle used to secretly slip to the barber. God rest both their souls in peace.

Even more amusing were the various covert acts that the family had to resort to whilst taking Grandpapa shopping. It still makes me smile to recall an incident when, as a student, I had to buy some stationery items. As luck would have it, I was accompanied by my grandfather into the shop. I tried unsuccessfully to get him interested in the various books on display, but by the time I had selected what to purchase, he was right there with me at the cash counter. Initially, I tried to make eye-signals at the shop-keeper to convey the hint that he should follow my cue. However, either the man had never seen a James Bond movie, or read a spy novel – or he thought I was making eyes at him! Literally. Actually, in hindsight, as I reflect on the episode, I fear it must have been the latter case. Oh God. The horror of it all! Poor man. Needless to say, it’s one shop that I never had the mettle to visit again.

Anyhow, as you might guess, when the actual tab was drawn up and announced in full hearing of Grandfather Dearest, his outrage lasted for quite some time. For months on end, the family was treated to the story about how “Saneeya was conned by a shopkeeper,” having paid a mind-blowing hundred and twenty Rupees (equivalent to current £12) for a set of markers (Crayola ones, mind you!) and some manilla sheets!

There are so many respects in which the elders around me have enriched my life. For me, they are a much-beloved source of strength and courage. They serve to inspire me during my own tough times and to bring out the best in me.

For every time I think of the worth of elderly persons, I feel humbled and blessed to have them around me. To me, they are indeed, one of God’s miracles. A celebration of what hopes and dreams still lie in the future. A celebration of all the goodness that still exists in this world. I salute them all!

Saneeya Qureshi © 2017

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