I remember sitting as a small child with the next door neighbor, Miss Duffy. I remember her grey curly hair, round glasses and her fire. I remember her allowing me to touch the ornaments in her living room, and talking endlessly to her about, what? Simply the unconscious chattering of a child. Her responses elicited more streams of consciousness and we passed hours together. I know nothing more about Miss Duffy other than she lived next door, then died, and in between we shared hours together in front of her back living room fire.
On the other side of our house lived the McKinneys. A husband, wife and the husband’s sister. Mrs McKinney was white haired, round faced, Mr McKinney always wore a three piece suit and was thin faced, Miss McKinney was tall and elegant her face a softer version of her brothers. Mr McKinney had a greenhouse filled with cacti, one in particular I loved was nestled in a tiny porcelain cart pulled by a tiny porcelain donkey. Mrs McKinney made me endless supplies of toasted wheaten bread and cheese. Miss McKinney had me gather grass seed heads for their budgerigar. They taught me to play the piano, said I had a nice touch. Mr McKinney gave me a paper weight when our mother left our father and we left too, it was glass, with a black and white photograph of Robbie Burns set on a tartan back ground, I still have it.
I can still read simple pieces of music and if pushed can play a tune. A few days ago I gathered grass seeds for the next door neighbor’s 7 year old to place in a homemade bird house. I still love cheese and toasted wheaten bread and sitting in front of a fire in a darkened room, and I can never pass a cactus without smiling.
This group of elderly neighbors gave me their time, shared their knowledge and never hesitated to do so. I always felt safe with them, wanted, cared for. I never knew any of their Christian names, they were always Miss, Mrs or Mr. Without them my stream of consciousness would have been damned.
Now, I sit with older people with memory loss, their stream of consciousness in relation to photographs and open ended questions filling the room. The patience of the elders who listened to the endless chatter of a child is replaced with my patience to let elders, who once again have allowed me into their world, allow silence to fill the room until their words begin to form.
It is with respect and gratitude that I sit with them and give back a little of the time countless elders gave me, confirming my worth.
I now have the honor of confirming theirs.