It’s a few days after Thanksgiving and we are getting ready for bed.
“Now don’t forget,” my Mom tells me. “Tomorrow, I want you to go straight to Aunt Sarah’s. She’ll be waiting for you. You’re going to keep her company and help her with anything she needs.”
“Okay, Mom.” I reply. I know that I am really going to Aunt Sarah’s because she is old, really, really old. I am really going there to babysit her until Mom’s friend Audrey gets home from whatever it is that she has to do.
Aunt Sarah is like our furniture. We are secure with her and she is secure with us. She is warm and round and she loves us very much. She is not really our Aunt, but there is no kid in the neighborhood who does not call her “Aunt.”
The front door is not locked. It never is. And I come bustling in with my schoolbag in tow. Aunt Sarah sits in her chair. Her eyes are gentle and blue. Her skin hangs in folds from her face, her neck, and her arms. There is always a little curl at her lips. She wears a sweater even though the house is warm. She welcomes me as I enter after school. “Would you like some cookies,” she asks me. I stop to ponder. Should I say, “yes?” Because surely, I do want some cookies. Would it be right to let her take care of me? Because, after all, I am there to do her bidding. I settle on, “yes, please.”
Aunt Sarah rises ever so slowly from her chair and ambles slowly on into the kitchen. She pours me some milk and sets out some cookies. And so our afternoon continues. Aunt Sarah chats with me and the lilt of her voice delights me. Her wise words fill me with awe. I tell her about my day and she listens intently as if she were right there, in the moments I describe. We watch a show on the black and white TV screen and I ask if there is anything she wants me to do for her. She sips tea. I think there is milk in her tea and it strikes me as odd since my Mom doesn’t take milk in her tea.
Too soon, Audrey arrives home and it is time for me to go. I scurry on over to Aunt Sarah as she sits in her chair, and give her fluffy, soft body a hug and I plant a kiss among the folds of skin on her soft face. She kisses me back. She smells of Aunt Sarah, that beautiful, older than life lady, that I am in charge of.
I feel important and Aunt Sarah does too. She has listened more intently than words can describe. She has nourished a little girl with cookies and love. And she has kept me safe while Mom was away from home.
The real joy of knowing Aunt Sarah was in the lessons we learned, in running errands, and babysitting (even though she was also babysitting us). In fetching things for her, and sharing a cup of tea, or having a discussion about school, or toys, or siblings, we learned compassion. In soft, warm hugs and kissing the funny folds of skin on her aging face, we learned the value of human dignity. We learned so much more than any class could have taught. We learned to respect the elderly. We learned that we should be compassionate and caring toward the infirm. We learned that the elderly still had so much to offer. We learned to slow down. We learned that we were not the center of the universe (even as that person made us think we were). We learned love, unconditional love.
Do you have an Aunt Sarah? What lessons have the elderly taught you? Please leave a comment below.