While preparing my keynote speech for the 2013 Alabama Gerontological Society annual conference, I began to reflect upon my own life and how my views of the elderly have evolved over the years.
I’m sure many of you are asking what is gerontology and what is the Alabama Gerontological Society (AGS)?
Gerontology is the comprehensive study of aging and the problems of the aged.
Per their website, the AGS is a 501(c)(3) non-profit membership organization devoted to improving the well-being of older persons throughout Alabama. AGS brings together individuals, service providers, educators, policy makers, students, and other individuals and groups who work in the area of aging or who have an interest in and concern for Alabama’s elderly. A major purpose is to ensure that older individuals have the opportunity to be full participating members of society with all the rights, privileges, benefits and responsibilities that pertain.
Because I spent so much time with my grandparents during my childhood, I always had the utmost respect for the elderly, but that respect was seriously challenged when I started working at Kroger Drugstore.
At 16 years old, I was merely a young buck and still green behind the ears.
The year was 1989, so the elderly who traded at our store lived through Jim Crow laws, The Great Depression, World War II, Korea, the Civil Rights Movement, and Vietnam. At that point in my life, I’d lived through the Carter administration and disco.
When I close my eyes, I can still see the old men with their rubber coin pouches and old ladies with their cute little rain bonnets.
Some bought concoctions such as turpentine, witch hazel, and salve, whereas others loaded their baskets with Epsom Salt, Black Draw, and Corn Huskers Oil. Some even bought sulfur to keep the snakes out of their yard.
When they weren’t getting prescriptions filled, they were buying Circus Peanuts, Orange Slices, and hard candy.
Some even bought rock candy, whatever that is.
I had a great relationship with most of our customers but would often get frustrated by some of their actions, particularly when I had a long line of customers.
They would dig deep into their purses, pockets, or, in some cases, undergarments to pull out the correct change, and it didn’t matter if it was a nickel or ninety-nine cents.
On Wednesdays, they would insist on their 5% senior citizen discount, regardless of how insignificant the discount seemed to the snotty nosed 16 year old behind the counter.
Some even had the gall to immediately write the transaction in their checkbook register while others waited patiently in line behind them.
Although frustrating at the time, I took it all in stride because there was a sign on the door that could be seen as we exited the stockroom and stepped out onto the sales floor.
The sign read: Smile and be helpful to each and every customer. They are the only reason you are here.
As I matured, I didn’t need that sign. I realized that most of our senior citizens were on very tight budgets and every penny indeed mattered to them. I just regret not having that mentality when I was 16.
I would almost blow a gasket each time I had to help them work the copy machine. For me it was such a simple task. For them, technology was their worst enemy.
Now, almost a quarter of a century later, I’m the older person who is challenged by the latest and greatest technology. I’m sure the youngsters get upset with me, too.
It’s a cliché, but what goes around comes around.
I recently saw To Kill a Mockingbird at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival in Montgomery. Atticus Finch said, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view - until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”
No truer words were ever spoken.
I continue to have the utmost respect for the elderly and am thankful for the existence of organizations like the Alabama Gerontological Society who strive to better the lives of our senior citizens.
I encourage you to spend some time with an older person. They have wonderful stories and can be incredibly funny.
My friend’s mom was in the midst of her golden years and was looking for a significant other. She once stated that she wasn’t looking for a man with money and that she wasn’t worried about his looks. She simply wanted a man who could drive at night.
As we get older, our wants, needs, and priorities tend to change. In other words, we see life from a different perspective.
We can only hope that we live long enough to see that change.
I’m already saving Cool Whip bowls, and who knows, one of these days I might even be driving a Buick.
Jody Fuller is a comic, a speaker, and a soldier. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information, please visit www.jodyfuller.com.