I have been reading lately about growing old and how to stay content and how to find meaning to life (Gerontology studies.) I wrote this because of that. How memories of the life we have lived will carry us on when we are old, but also how they can destroy our happiness, if we can’t let go and accept both the good and bad we have gone through. Human existence is perplexing for sure, but sometimes I wonder do we make it more complicated than it has to be?
There are those moments that define your life, both good and bad. For me, it was one late afternoon on a park bench, watching the ducks swim around in a pond. Now, it’s a memory eroded into my whole being. Those which have come after pale compare to it even when it was just a funny story with no consequence whatsoever. I had been sitting there waiting for a friend to come, but instead, an older woman took the seat next to me. At first, I was uncomfortable with the mothball smell and the stertorous breathing, but then I relaxed, falling back to my own thoughts.
But the woman turned to face me and asked, “Waiting for someone, dear?”
I took off my headphones and nodded like an idiot who didn’t see that my life was about to change fundamentally. I’m not sure now nor then, had I been lukewarm because of never being around old people. Never actually having anyone to call grandma or pa. Or because something else bothering me. Now the older they are, the hungrier I am.
“Yes, Mary is meeting me here,” I said. How child-like I sounded back then?
“That’s nice. Friends are important, you’ll find out that when you get into my age. Day after day you lose one, and you wonder why didn’t you collect more along the way.”
I nodded, wishing to lift back the headphones and be done with the lady. But with the old, it was never that easy. They know how to use that one-second opening to their advantage and start blabbering. At first, it had been about how the city park had changed during her lifetime. How the pond had come to be. Then when I readied to stand up and leave the old lady behind and move to some other spot to wait for Mary, she mentioned a tricker word.
“…my sister and I used to come out here every Thursday when I was working in that office building there.” The lady pointed at the enormous white building rising over the park’s tree line. “I use to be a secretary there before I got married.”
“Did your sister work there as well?” I asked, clinging to her words.
“Oh, no. She wasn’t one made to be a shorthand girl. She worked at the shopping department a couple of blocks from here. But that building is long gone. Now, being a secretary was a glorious profession back then, it meant I could—”
“Did you see each other here to have lunch?” I interrupted her.
“Yes, yes. We would eat our lunch in this bench and share stories what it was like. But—”
“About this and that.” The lady narrowed her eyes. “Why are you asking?”
“Sorry, it just sound so wonderful. I never had a sister to grow up with. Do you see each other still?”
“No, she died. But I guess, I should count my blessing having one even how difficult she could be. I remember one time she went out with two boys. Two! Can you believe that? But that was those makeup counter girls for you. She would have been better off coming to work with me…”
I could see her. Red hair, freckles, that freeish look in her eyes that told all boys and girls that there was no saying to her what she should do. I smiled.
“Did she work there all her life?” I asked, interrupting the older women again.
“It was the fifties darling. As soon as you got married, you stayed at home. And the way she was, it was only matter of time when she had to settle down…”
I listened to their life-stories. How the lady had been the older sister, getting a respectable job and husband and how her little sister had taken her time. But she had ended up marrying a cop eventually, who made a respectable woman out of her.
“Did she have kids?” I asked.
The older lady frowned again. She fell silent and looked at the pond as if searching for a clue what we had been talking about. “I…” she fell back to her thoughts again. I never heard her answer as I saw Mary approaching us.
I stood up and said my goodbyes and ran to meet my friend.
“You are in a good mood,” Mary said. I still remember how she had said it, almost laughing out her words.
“Yeah, I was just thinking about my sister and her life.”
“I didn’t know you had one.”
“Haven’t I ever told you about her?” I took hold of Mary’s arm and off we went, leaving the old woman sit alone on the bench.
Memories are important, I know that now. And if you are like me who never had good ones, never remember a thing from their past, then how are we supposed to be contented when we grow old? After the encounter with the old woman, I started to talk to people, ask about their lives. And more I talked to them, the more whole I became. I don’t think I’m a bad person. I have my life ahead, and their is already gone. I need the memories more.
Thank you for reading! Have a lovely day!
© K.A. Ashcomb