First, let me say thank you to everyone who has heeded the call in my last post and have told me about yourselves and your blogs. I have soooo enjoyed checking out your responses and am looking forward to checking out your blogs too, if you have them! It's been a lot of fun for me. I also want to thank you for your sweet comments about Ranch Dressing and my writing and such. It means the world to me. More than you'll ever know, actually. If you have yet to tell me about yourself, please do if you're up to it.
Today, I went out to do some errands and first on my list was buying some film at Walgreens. I moseyed up to the photo department counter and asked the barely-out-of-diapers clerk where I might find it. He stammered, "Um...uhh....film?" as if I were asking for a solid gold pig. "Yes, you know....film?" I replied and took his photo with a little "click!" in the air of my imaginary camera's shutter. He stood there for a minute behind the photo department counter and looked at me like I had just asked him to answer the final question on "Jeopardy". He eventually walked me over to a tiny display nestled between the batteries and the compact disks where he stared blankly for a minute and then said, "I think? this is where the film used to be?"
There was nothing on the display except for a few disposable cameras and blank, dusty spots where film could have once hung. I thanked him, grabbed a few chocolate items to soothe the ache that is being old enough to remember film and left the store. Now, I know that film is still sold and when I got home, I flexed my "I'm still hip to the technology of today" muscles and ordered some on the internet just so that I wouldn't have to go from store to store feeling like Methuselah. I think what's bothering me is just that I realized that one can no longer walk into any store and buy film. And that makes me feel ancient.
I moved on to the post office where I saw that the one grumpy clerk was up against a wailing wall of waiting customers. My postal branch office is heinously understaffed and they don't mind showing it. The line was almost snaking out the door and you could just feel the impatience thick in the air. Even on a good day, it feels like at any moment someone is going to snap and start yelling and won't be able to be stopped.
The customer who had the attention of the clerk at that moment was THE cutest little senior citizen lady who had obviously just returned from the beauty parlor. She had her "got my hair done on Friday because I'm going to church twice on Sunday hair". It was round and it was fabulous, complete with a flip at the ends. She was teeny tiny and very well put together in her smart wool coat with matching handbag.
From what I could gather, she had already been through the line once and was now back again. She told the clerk that she'd meant to put an outgoing letter in the mail slot when she came through the first time...and now she couldn't remember if she had. It was a bill that she needed to pay and she was afraid that she'd lost it, complete with the check inside which she described as "too large to lose". The clerk didn't understand so the little lady went around and around with her and matched the clerk's gruffness with the sweetest little voice until she got her point across. I could feel the crowd around me collectively shuffle from foot to foot as they calculated how long their wait was about to be. In a huff, the clerk walked to the back and we could all hear her slide out the mail bin that sits under the collection slot outside. Then we all couldn't help but hear her let out a huge groan when she saw how much mail she was about to have to sort through to find the envelope that the little lady may or may not have remembered to mail. She continued to huff and groan as the unyielding sounds of her unhappiness and the mail being shifted wafted to the front. I hoped and hoped that the little lady could not hear her.
The line continued to grow. I looked around me and exchanged glances with a couple of other women in line, both of them older than me. We smiled nicely at each other as if to say, "She's a little old lady. This could be us next week." Unfortunately, most everyone else around us seemed out of touch with their own mortality and aging processes and sighed and grunted as if they just could not take it anymore. I'll have to be honest with you - it really bothered me. Has our society shifted completely to a place where we can't be bothered to wait politely behind a little old lady who has lived many decades before us and has seen more and done more than we might ever do or see? I have to tell you - she has been reared in and experienced generations where people knew politeness and social graces - and even if they weren't in the mood to use them, they usually did. What must this new era seem like to her? Does she feel an abrupt shift like she has been thrust ahead in a jolting time machine - or has she slowly noticed the changes as they took hold, bit by tiny bit?
There are different schools of thought about those of us who love vintage things and who have a deep and abiding interest in learning about the times before us. Many people think that we're delusional or that we think that everything that happened in eras past were good things. I for one know that not to be true. I am from the South, people. I am well aware that generations before us made some grievous and often irreversible mistakes in decades gone by. I can't explain them away and I don't know why these things happened.What I do know though is that my Grandparents used to tell me about the neighborhoods that they lived in - how nobody locked their doors and how every neighbor would look out for everyone else's homes and bands of roaming children. How when someone got sick or died, their family dinner table would be heaped full of casseroles and cards from neighbors before nightfall.
When I think of my own late Grandmother being that lady in line today, with fellow citizens behind her acting as if their time was more important than hers, I get sad. I get sad when I realize that besides my very next-door neighbors, I don't know a single person on my long street of houses - and they don't know me. Last year, I found a lost dog on my street. It was snowing and the ground was frozen over and as I walked from house to house and porch to porch to try to find the dog's owner, nobody would answer their doors to me. I could hear televisions and see lights on inside the houses. Cars were in the driveways. I knew that my neighbors were home. Out of dozens of houses, the only people who dared to open their doors to me were one young couple and an elderly lady. The elderly lady seemed quite pleased that I was there. We talked about her own dogs for a bit and even though I could have been a danger to her, she opened her door to me and we stood there and chatted on her porch with the wind whipping around us. In the end and with blocks of ice for feet, I eventually learned that the lost dog lived right across the street from my house. I didn't know my neighbors and I didn't know their dog and to me, that is a shame. I can see their house from my front window even.
Sometimes, I think that we've become a society that becomes more and more about the "me" of it all everyday and less about the "we". We take care of our own and often times, never look beyond our own noses or front windows. The error in this is that when the chips are down, most of us will never be able to make it through this world alone. We all age and get sick and die. We're all going to need someone to help us bring our groceries in - or a sympathetic postal clerk to help ease our minds that our bills are paid. Every single one of our lives and experiences and sorrows are important. They really and truly are. None more than another but equally.
Hmm.....so, I started out talking about feeling old because I couldn't find film and before long, just in the short timeframe of writing this to you, I realized that I am still relatively young and have a very good chance to expand my circle a little bit and if nothing else, realize my own inequities in not realizing when I get caught up in the "me" of it all. This post went from aiming to be a funny story to a full-on appeal for us all to slow down...take a breath....consider what it might be like to walk a mile or two in someone else's shoes. We're all here doing the same things. We're being born and aging and dying and it's the in-between parts that will affect how those around us do the very same things.
Practice kindness and patience when you can. And for God's sake, explain to your children and grandchildren about antiquated but important things like film and cassette recorders and old ladies. And civility and The Golden Rule. I promise that I'll do the same - well, with other peoples' children and grandchildren, of course. I can assure you that my cat children will neither listen nor change the world so I won't be wasting my time there!
In the end, the postal clerk found the little lady's letter and she had indeed mailed the check that she'd been worried about. As the clerk briskly waved the piece of mail at her, the lady said to the clerk sweetly, "Thank you for allowing me to sleep soundly tonight." The postal clerk (who clearly didn't care if the lady slept or stayed awake forever) bid her farewell and barked out "Next!" as the senior lady moved slowly out the double doors, down the hill and onto the sidewalk where I could no longer see her.
I think it's interesting that that one little lady in line at the post office has made me think about all of this. I know that I'll be her one day. She'll never have any idea that her worry over the lost mail or her transaction with the clerk has made me spend half the afternoon, questioning my own mortality and the steps and falls that will get me there. I've decided that when I get the ordered film in the mail, I am going to use it to photograph only things that are fading away and that won't be with us forever - as a tribute to that little lady with her Sunday-Go-To-Meeting hair and the way that she continually treated the postal clerk with the kindness of a different era, even though she herself was treated with less than that.
Until next time,
x's and o's,