Friday, January 23, 2009

Is this as good as it's going to get?

A weekday morning, around 10. A shuttle bus from one of the retirement homes nearby stops in front of the grocery store. The driver turns off the engine and walks over to the side with the steps. He stands there, with a smile on his face and a ready joke on his lips, as his charges walk down the steps, one by one. He reaches out his hands to help them. Some of them lean on canes, some are completely bound to their walkers. They're mostly old ladies, but there are a few men too.

They shuffle in through the doors, two by two. Who's leaning on who? It's hard to tell. There's something forlorn in that sight. It reminds me of the time C was in pre-school, as he and his friends walked into class in twos, his tiny hand seeking comfort in an equally tiny hand.

They bypass many aisles - most of them have no use for fresh vegetables or meat or uncooked pasta - but still it takes them a while to go around the grocery store. As I rush through the store with D perched in her seat on the cart, having to hit most of the aisles but also having to attend to ten other things on my to-do list for the day, I can't help but slow down as I near one of the old ladies. They can hear D's high-pitched voice and eagerly turn to look. I shuffle right along with them for a couple of minutes as they coo to D and try to get a smile out of her.

By the time I get to the check out counter, there's already a couple of them laying out their purchases on the belt.

Two ripe bananas, one apple, one can of beans or corn or peas (pick your canned veggie), one bag of chips, one package of crackers, one package of deli meat. And then they carefully remove the coupons from their wallets, checking the monitor to make sure they're receiving the price they're supposed to.

There are a few variations here and there, but the sparseness of the items and the smallness of the quantities never fail to get me. I too have lived alone, when all I bought was enough stuff to sustain me. But I was young, my whole life was ahead of me and I knew it was temporary.

Here I am now, with the two of us and two growing kids in my family, my grocery cart chockful of the good things in life - cartons of milk, variety of fruits, fresh veggies, boxes of pasta, packages of tortillas, a dozen eggs, ingredients to bake goodies with, etc., etc., and I can't help but imagine the lonely meals those items on the checkout counter will go on to make.

Related Post: NRI Parents: Empty Nesters, But Lonely No More


naperville mom said...

this is a tear- jerker... I think about it too:(

Me and Rustom're planning to do some serious travel, if all else works fine (god willing), into the twilight.

Sujatha said...

What's even sadder is when their bill rings up, and it seems a shockingly large amount for the tiny quantities they purchase, despite the coupons. I think the meat and processed foods tend to be harder on the wallet than fresh (non-organic) veggies.

Anonymous said...

"Is this as good as it's going to get?"

I hope not. I'd like to believe that what you captured so poignantly is one slice of their life and that it also includes companionship, memories and laughter to relax them after a long life's work.

And reports from retirement homes about seniors and their .. extra-curricular activities indicate that some of them are enjoying their sunset years!

There are old folks whose vigour and zest for life puts me to shame. Ohers are prisoners of their failing bodies or fearful minds. I can only hope that we grown into the first category.


Sujatha said...

N'ville Mom, that's a wonderful idea. Here's wishing you a joyful ride with your Rustom. :)

Sujatha, that's the irony, isn't it.

DS, I fervently hope you're right! I don't know for sure how life is in a retirement home, but if the ads are true then they make an effort to provide a lively atmosphere for their residents.

choxbox said...

that was beautifully written suj.

Sizzlingtree said...

That just makes me really sad.

Nino's Mum said...

I suddenly realised why the fridge seems more empty than full on trips back home. Why there are only two mugs next to the sink instead of the set of six we grew up with.
beautifully written, Suj, and like so often with you, so true.