When I visit my mother in the multi-level Care Home she lives in, I have occasion to meet many of the residents there. And they are always willing to share a bit of their life stories or small bites of wisdom they've gleaned through a lifetime of living.
There are so many stories in that building...it is almost bursting at the seams. Each resident has unique experiences. Each resident suffered joys and despair...each resident is an encyclopedia of knowledge.
The women are more hesitant to tell their stories. They are more accepting of their state, of being alone, of being infirm. It takes coaxing, sometimes, to win a smile or a hello from them...even when they are in a group, it is mostly silent, with a giggle here and there.
But their eyes show their interest or humour. One particularly garrulous English lady, who has a wry sense of the ridiculous, shrugs off her lifetime stories, preferring to tell me, instead, that she finds it very odd, as a former chef in a well-known hotel, that she is reduced to eating the "pap they call food" here, in the residence.
It does no good to remind her that the beleaguered chef of the facility has what must seem like a gazillion different menus for each resident there. There are diabetics, heart patients, GERD sufferers...the list goes on and on.
It is mostly the same story from all the women. Their eyes light up when food is mentioned...most of them were good cooks, putting meals on tables for most of their lives, for their families. They know what good food should taste like. And they have little sympathy for the chef.
The men are different. From childhood on, these men have been fed by the different women in their lives. They are used to eating what is put in front of them. They are grateful for it; their food arrives on time, with no fussing in the kitchen with implements that feel strange in their hands.
But each and every one will tell me how good their mother's cooking was, or their deceased wife or wives...one gentleman told me that wife No. 3 was the best cook, out of the five wives he had. She made the best cookies, too, he tells me. And he tells me, further, that the food in the residence isn't the best he'd eaten, but he can no longer eat many items anyway.
And he rolls his eyes, and says...Whatcha gonna do? Indeed.
I remember taking my father-in-law out for dinner, when he was in care. He had fantasized over what he would have in his favourite restaurant for weeks before we took him. Short ribs...he could taste, long before he actually sat down in the restaurant, the silken gravy, the succulent, tender beef, the mashed potatoes with Spring Onions and the wonderful, wonderful green globules of Peas, cooked to perfection.
He ate the whole plateful of food, and would have licked it clean, had he not been as fastidious as he still was.
And then disaster struck. It started with a rather loud gurgling, slushy sound coming from Dad's innards...and suddenly we were dashing back to his care facility, through rush hour traffic, Dad moaning and saying he couldn't hold it...
And he didn't.
But did I mention how fastidious he was? Calmly, after moving to his wheelchair out of the car, he tucked his pants into his socks...saying...There, that should keep it in.
And then, he allowed us to wheel him back to his room, somehow still managing to look kingly and dignified. I had never loved him as much.
Often, I wonder how I will be, when I am in my declining years, living in a care home. Women and men have changed; no longer are the roles in life so well-defined. Men cook, clean and care for their families with ever more frequency, women are often the family earner. Gender no longer determines the role in life.
Computers are an integral part of lives, these days...not so for the seniors of my mother's generation. And computers allow us to visit every corner of the World, keeping even the infirm well informed at a touch of a finger. I will have my computer keeping me in touch with the way of the World.
And I like to think I will still be interested in telling stories, to anyone who will listen to my slow, halting, elderly speech. To my out-dated ideas. To wisdom I have garnered through the years. I still like to think my eyes will show my emotions, when speech and brain don't mesh...
And I like to think that my generation...the sixties generation...will show what seniors can do, given the choice. Perhaps a lady chef will be invited into the kitchen to share her knowledge...perhaps by sheer numbers, we will all be invited to share our collective wisdom, on whatever it might be. Perhaps multi-level care homes will be places that are revered for the people who live there...the people who have different ideas...the Yoga teachers, the musicians, the writers and sports authorities, the builders, the artists.
It seems to me we evolve with every generation. I hope when the time comes for me to choose a Care facility for myself, they will be perceived a little differently than they are today.
In my sunset years, I want to be able to look forward to where I live, as a child does with a promised trip to Disneyland. Is that even possible; is there a shift that happens when I become very old?
When I become very old, does it instantly somehow mean I will close my mind? That I will no longer be able to accept circumstances? It is all very well for me, now, to state that I will be different, when I am not there yet, in my declining years.
It is another one of my unanswerable musings, another one where I will have to wait to find out. But I want to remember that once upon a time, I had a positive outlook towards life, mostly.
I want to carry this goal forward.