I’ve seen lots of photos today of empty supermarket shelves. Some people are stocking up with good reason – they might have vulnerable family members, or be caring for elderly parents. It’s wise not to judge. Not everyone is selfish, some are just afraid. But I think of the local supermarket I use and how many elderly people use it. They might no longer have a car and they walk to the supermarket each day for conversation. They might only take home what they can carry. I guess many will already have been practical over the past months and stocked their shelves.
When I was a kid I remember going in the supermarket with my Nanny Lettie. We were behind an elderly woman who was buying a very small can of beans and one of rice pudding. I felt sorry for her.
‘Sorry, my eye.’ Nanny Lettie said, briskly. ‘She’s being sensible. I can’t eat a full can and neither can she.’
I was taken aback but my Nan was right. She’d been through the war years, lost her husband in 1941, and brought up two children on her own – as well as helping other family members when she had more than enough to contend with. She was practical and matter of fact. It served her well. Women like her would have a well-stocked store cupboard, would be prudent – and most of all they would be able to cook and make a meal from a few bits and bobs lurking at the back of the cupboard. How many people can do that these days, reliant on ready meals and fast food, the luxury of eating out regularly? It was unheard of in her day.
Thinking of this reminded me of when there was bread and milk shortages in the 70s. We had an elderly neighbour, Mrs Wheeler. She would stand at her back door and call out to my mother. Our back door would open and Mrs Wheeler would pass an extra loaf or bottle of milk over the wall, ‘For the kiddies.’ She was a lovely neighbour and we were noisy children. When Mum asked her if the noise ever bothered her – the piano playing, the records on repeat, she always said she loved to hear us. I suspect it was a lie – but I’ll bet she enjoyed our laughter more than the music. When I think of Mrs Wheeler, and of my Nanny – and people like her – I think of the small kindnesses that meant so much. People looking out for each other.
There’s nothing wrong in taking steps to make sure you can look after your family in times of trouble. In a reverse of my story I do hope that younger people, who are less likely to be severely affected by this virus, are looking out for their elderly neighbours. It’s heartening to suspect that many of them are.
I know many of them.