Just Another Day for Nan and Pop

The couple were in a compact car just in front of my van, waiting at a four-way stop, trying to make a left turn onto the main drag that leads to Costco. They were probably both in their early eighties; well dressed, both wearing hats; his, a fedora, hers, a knitted tam.

That hat-on-head silhouette, viewed from the back, is generally a give-away that the driver is elderly. Younger people either just wear ball caps or go hatless. Out of respect you usually try and cut the older drivers some slack, right? The driver was having a hard time of it. Four-way stops are efficient and civilized when drivers follow the rules: first to arrive goes first and from there everyone takes turns, one at a time,  going counter-clockwise.

Not here in St. John’s, though. Most drivers just push their way through, regardless of order, heedless of the rules and just taking a turn whenever they want. Generally if a driver goes through, the one directly across the intersection and heading in the opposite direction just decides to go for it too, at the same time. Either they figure—incorrectly—that’s the right thing to do or they just don’t care, justifying it as, “I can go now since there’s no way it can cause trouble. It’s just little old me, doing my thing! LOL.”

That’s just dead ignorant and stupid. First, they totally mess up any semblance of order since the remaining two cars at the four-way have no idea who is supposed to go next. More importantly it totally fools it up for the poor person who’s trying to go left since the car coming from the opposite direction just barges out and cuts them off.

That’s exactly the position the elderly couple were put in. Car after car bullied its way through, oblivious of any sense of order. I waited behind the couple, knowing that eventually there would be a break and they would finally get to do their left turn, despite the many rude drivers. Besides, I was just going to Costco; no biggie.

The driver behind me did not feel that way, though, and soon leaned on the horn. I looked in the rear-view. There he was, eyes flashing with impatience and mouth going, “@%$!&.” Clearly he needed to resolve some emergency at the retail giant…or something. This had the desired effect, though, and the car ahead started to nose out, despite the horns and protests of the oncoming vehicles who were just not in any mood to follow the rules. Eventually he got through. I let three more cars through and then, when my turn should have come around I just pushed out in the intersection and made the oncoming car stop. She leaned on her horn too. “Frig it,” I murmured to myself. It was my turn now, “so go hit my 5-year old van if you want.” Buddy behind me came through with me, maintaining around ½ inch distance from my bumper.

I wound up parking just a few cars away from the couple. The driver had backed his Toyota into a parking space, the only driver I could see in the area that’d bothered to park correctly. Buddy with the big old truck roared past us and front-firsted his truck into a spot. Badly; way too far over on the passenger side but plenty of room for him, of course. He opened his door wide, jumped out and, snorting all the while, barreled for the store. He rushed past the elderly couple, but they paid no heed to him whatsoever. I went just behind them.  They were in no great hurry. The old gentleman moved stiffly, probably some arthritis. The lady, who could have gone much more quickly, remained at his side. They chatted quietly all the while.

Once inside they got a shopping cart and joined the throng of shoppers. I went off and did my thing too. After about an hour I was finished so I headed for the checkout and took my place in one of the lineups. Once again I saw the elderly couple. Their cart was now fairly full; gift items mostly. They were still talking quietly to one another.

He was pushing the shopping cart and clearly heading for one of the shorter lines. A lady with a full cart breezed past them at the last second and inserted herself in the line just ahead of them. She then stood, looking around with that smug, self-entitled look some people seem to wear whenever in public. Once again the couple didn’t react to the obvious slight, other than to stop the cart fairly abruptly owing to how she’d cut them off.

I was midway through putting my items in the van when they came along. They were surprisingly efficient in putting their purchases away, double-teaming the process. Instead of putting them in the trunk they laid the items across the back seat, he from one door and she from the other. I was putting my last item away when they drove off. I watched until they were gone from of sight. There they were, still conversing softly. Clearly the conversation had been ongoing for a very long time.

Just an old couple out doing their business; no fuss. Just another ordinary day, one of many, many, many.

It occurred to me that, somewhere, some people were probably lucky enough to know that couple as “Nan” and “Pop.” I believe I smiled to myself the whole way home.

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About Maurice A. Barry

Coordinator: Teaching and Learning Commons, Faculty of Education, Memorial University of Newfoundland, Parent & Husband. eLearning consultant/coordinator. Program Development Specialist - eLearning (Department of Education; Retired). Writer: over 40 Math/Physics texts/webs. Developer & Manager of web content. Geek. Not into awards but loves comments.
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18 Responses to Just Another Day for Nan and Pop

  1. Tiny says:

    What a wonderful every day story, Maurice! So vividly told I could “see” the couple. Life had taught them patience and manners. I smiled too.

    • Lessons that are hard to learn. Yes just about anyone can be taught that them at some level but the real test comes when you’re put under stress. I get the feeling that Nan and Pop came by their skills the honest way 🙂

  2. jennypellett says:

    Lovely tale, Maurice, poignant as always. When I go out with my own mother now, I see that she is turning into my Nanna – infuriatingly slow, uncharacteristically indecisive and I know that in years to come, that will be me too. It does us good to remember that all folks have their own vibrancy, even if it is disguised by old age, and to exercise a little patience in their respect.

  3. SJ O'Hart says:

    Sometimes, I hate people. I hate people who are impatient, who cut off other drivers, who drive in an unsafe manner just because they’re oh-so-important and whatever they have to do *surely* outweighs your right to a journey that isn’t fraught with mortal risk. I hate people who disrespect the elderly. I hate people who cut queues.

    And then I remember that hate gets nobody anywhere, and I temper my feelings, and I try to show patience, and to show respect, and to make a special effort to extend that respect to the elderly and the very young and the people who look, all told, like they need a little understanding.

    And then I remember that includes everyone. So, I try to adjust my behaviour accordingly.

    I don’t always manage it, but the important thing is: I always try.

    Thank you, Maurice, for this post. It reminds me how important it is to treat this world and everyone in it with gentleness. (As well as that, it was a darn fine story, told well).

    • I am reminded of a conversation I had just two weeks ago with my friend Rick C. We, along with others, were on our usual Friday morning breakfast outing and were talking about the deplorable driving we’re increasingly seeing around the city. Rick put it thus: “drive as is everyone else is an idiot and sometimes you are too.”
      I like Rick. He comes by his wisdom honestly too. 🙂

  4. elkement says:

    Great story – traffic is such an apt metaphor! I feel people often compensate for more important frustrating experiences in life by trying to ‘win’ on the street (or in a queue). I had a cartoon above my desk for a long time: The cartoon hero was a tragic figure, ridiculed by his family and humiliated by his boss. But then he gets into his cars and transforms, putting up a diabolic smile when he ignites the engines (and then the cartoon car had that shark-like smile, too).

    It is is good thing if you don’t feel the need to prove something and just aim at getting from A and B and being a responsible driver. But commercials for cars try to invoke these feelings of freedom for a reason – if those will once change (not showing cars driving Grand Canyon etc.) society will have made a leap forward.

    • That’s a good point. It’s often such a surprise to see sweet, gentle people turn into maniacs when they get behind the wheel. You, however, have explained the phenomenon perfectly. You’re also right about the car commercials. Over here, the push is on for the pickup trucks and it’s laughable how they find a melodic masculine voice, add a slow southern drawl and then go on to build an image of honest machismo all around … a vehicle. Just a vehicle. But it works.

  5. Tend to agree with SJ on all counts. Interestingly, my mother speeded up as she got older, impatient with everyone when she had all the time in the world. Strange.

    If the couple were loading from either side, where was the trolley? Didn’t that involve toing and froing to the rear?

    • He’d backed the car in so they just left the trolley by the front and each took around half. The items were large but light (biscuit tins and such) so it did not take a lot of trips.
      On the topic of impatience and older people, often this is a sign of an underlying pathology such as frontotemporal dementia or Alzheimer’s. In these, as well as other disorders you sometimes see a decrease in executive function. This, in turn, manifests itself as poor judgement, impulsivity, impatience and poor planning. When present in fairly mild form — early stages of a larger problem, for instance — you’d certainly see it as increasing impatience.
      Or then again, perhaps some old people look around and say, “you know what, I’ve just spent 70 years putting up with other peoples’ crap and that’s enough.” Fair enough!

  6. Nicely told. I hope that someday I can assume that ‘Don’t worry, be happy’ attitude in all that I do. I have been accused by some of being, from time-to-time a Type-A … and I must agree that that is so. At other times, however, I know I am fairly ‘chill’ … kind of a Margaritaville-type of person. I do hope that I can, with increasing frequency, adopt the latter attitude as I age … gracefully. Thanks for putting a second-generation-smile on my face this morning. D

    • What you’re describing sounds quite like me. I think that’s how it should be. Sometimes we do need to get worked up. Perhaps someone is doing us wrong, making bad decisions or just plain being stupid and selfish. At those times it’s completely inappropriate to be laid back. I think the real trick is in determining where the markers are, that is, what’s the threshold for stuff we should put up with and where’s the line we don’t cross. With a fair idea of where those two markers are then we have three distinct regions: (1) some things we put up with, (2) normal life where we’re under no major stress and (3) the place we just don’t go.
      I say all of this thinking of a conversation I had with someone else this morning. We were talking about morale and how some places tend to have a very stressful climate and others have a more relaxed one. My point was that, while undue stress is something none of us wants, the relaxed climate is nor necessarily a good thing either as it may be just symptomatic of malaise, apathy or plain old laziness. When people care about life conflict is sometimes unavoidable.

      • True. Humans are social creatures, each instilled with a mind of its own. So … what’s that … N Factorial number of different sorts of interactions between and among us all? Conflict, by definition, must be one of those facts-of-life. So stressful though. It seems that I spend a large fraction of my mental and emotional energies doing all that I can to diffuse conflict before it happens and trying to smooth-the-edges when it does. That mountain-top refuge on 1000 acres and a very tall fence sounds really good to me.

  7. Maurice this brought a tear to my eye, such a well written piece and I imagine this lovely old couple taking this crazy festive season in their stride. How many times have we all seen this kind of rudeness. The kind where people rush through with no thought or respect for anyone else. I hope you have a wonderful christmas and I am sure whoever is related to Nan n Pop will too.

    • yup–sometimes people just fall and let their baser instincts make their choices. Sometimes, though, we get to encounter those among us who have come by their wisdom and grace honestly. When we open our eyes to them they have such valuable lessons for us. Around here we call them “senior citizens” and, when the name is taken literally I think it illustrates just what it should, namely that these elders among us have great lessons for us. Too often, though, people just mis-translate the “senior” part to mean “old” or “broken down,” some people to be tolerated; not respected. When that happens it’s such a tragedy in terms of lessons lost. Wishing you all the best too from the cold north. The height of summer approaches and I admit to being just a little envious!

  8. margber says:

    Nan and Pop! I think I have met all the people in your story. Like you, I sit behind and wait my turn. I don’t use my horn and don’t cut people off. What’s the rush? You’ll eventually get there. Loved this!! thanks for sharing!

  9. johnlmalone says:

    reminded me of the time an irate motorist pursued me for 10 ks for somehow infringing his rights at a roundabout. I have reviewed my actions a number of times and still believe I was in the right

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