Between you and me, since I was a teenager, I’ve actually been looking forward to getting older. I mean, the whole sagging bits, aching joints and grey hair doesn’t intrigue me one iota but there are other aspects of aging that I’m definitely looking forward to. I have to admit that feeling this way could entirely be the result of my innate contrariness; if everyone is doing something, I’m going to do the total opposite, but in this case, I do remember an incident that made me think, maybe there’s more to this growing older lark than just becoming immobile and senile (I was a teenager, you’ll have to forgive me for those kinds of thoughts).
When I was about fifteen, I accompanied my great aunt, known throughout the entire family as plain ‘Aunty’, to the local bank for something. She was a really old lady at the time – and I’m talking ancient by teenage standards, which means that she was probably in her mid-sixties – who delighted in getting her own way by any means possible. She was a total embarrassment to every living teenager, and I was absolutely convinced that she was put on this earth to cause me as much humiliation as possible, which she duly did with gleeful enthusiasm.
Realising there was a huge queue as we walked into the bank, I sighed, not because we were in for a long wait, but because it gave Aunty the opportunity to do something to amuse herself, and whatever that was, it was definitely going to embarrass me. She didn’t disappoint me. Bending over slightly, she shuffled – she actually shuffled! We’d just walked two miles into town, up and down some steep hills, but here she was, shuffling!– she shuffled past all the people waiting in the queue and straight up to the teller who had just come free, gently pushing the person who was next in the queue out of her way.
Mortified, I tried to become one with the wall at the back of the bank, shrinking out of sight and acting like I had nothing to do with the rude old biddy who just walked to the front of the queue.
The person who’d been at the front of the queue recovered from their momentary surprise, puffed themselves up in righteous outrage and tapped Aunty on the shoulder, saying in no uncertain terms, “Excuse me, but I was next! There’s a queue here!”
Aunty hunched over a little more and turned around slowly, looking arthritic and frail, her whole demeanour that of a sweet, helpless old lady. Cupping one trembling hand behind her ear, her voice thin and querulous, she said “Sorry, love, I’m a bit deaf, I can’t hear you. Speak up a bit, will you?” She gave an apologetic little laugh and looked up at him appealingly, “My nephew gets really grumpy at having to repeat himself all the time, I’m sorry about this. What did you say, love?” The guy never stood a chance. He was a nice guy and this was a little old lady; he could only do one thing. With a defeated air, he gestured towards the counter for Aunty to continue with the teller.
Everything changed for me in that moment. I knew that I’d just watched a Master of her craft. She was genius in action, albeit an embarrassing and slightly immoral genius. Even from my distant vantage point at the back of the bank, I could see the twinkle in her eyes as she played her role to perfection and achieved the outcome she wanted.
As Aunty shuffled out of the bank and then picked up the pace to her normal energetic stride, a whole new world began to open up for me: what if growing old wasn’t just about getting wrinkles and losing your marbles? What if growing old could also be about not giving two hoots what other people thought of you? What if growing old allowed you to play games with no concerns about the outcome?
I’m not sure that I’ll ever be able to do something like that with the flair that Aunty did; I don’t think I’ve got the bare faced cheek, to be honest. I keep thinking that maybe I’ll be able to do that when I’m older, like really old. Then I remember that I’m probably only ten years younger than Aunty was that day. I’d better get practising.