Before becoming a senior, I had never given much thought to sharing. Not that I am selfish; it wasn’t that. In those pre-65 days it was taken for granted that one of us had to go out and earn some money to pay for the food and rent, while the other one had to stay home and mind the house. It was an understanding that grew out of the need to pay bills, and the important need of raising children. Many seniors, especially we senior seniors, grew up in an age when there was precious little daycare available. Besides, it was looked down upon by many because it was seen as paying insufficient time to bringing up the kids.
Of course, that has all changed now, and many if not most families have both spouses working an outside job. Times change! I’m not qualified to speculate on what changes the younger set will have to make in their routine when they retire, so I’ll leave that to my successors.
Getting back to my generation and early baby-boomers, I have become aware in the almost twenty years since I retired of the need to share in ways that weren’t so important when each of us was relatively young and healthy. It is a steadily growing awareness. You don’t just wake up one morning and set about reassigning responsibilities around the home. It is something that develops in different ways for different folks. The main factors that bring this about are a) The need to foster your children diminishes as they grow to maturity, b) The household workload needs to be redistributed if one partner who was going out to work each day, now has a free day available, and c) the need to adjust each spouse’s workload to come in line with their individual physical abilities. Some of us lose the strength in our muscles, some lose the ability to remember, some of us are be steadier on their feet than their mate is.
At our house, the changes have progressed somewhat as follows. At first, immediately after I stopped going out to work, I suddenly had all the time to myself whereas my wife’s duties hadn’t decreased. I’ve forgotten whether it was guilt or altruistic intentions that made me offer to do a little more around the house, but I did start to do the washing up once in a while. It did ease my conscience. However, as my retirement advanced I came to realize that there was more to this business of sharing than a token gesture once in a while.
In terms of workload, we both realized that we needed to do things differently. Following are some of the small changes that made things run smoother around here on a more equitable basis and safer:
• Soiled linen on its way to the washer/dryer setup in the basement was thrown down each flight of stairs in makeshift bundles. This change came after one of us stood on a sheet and fell the rest of the flight. It took a week for the bruises to heal after that fall.
• The acknowledged strongest and steadiest one of us takes all hot dishes out of the oven. It’s one way of reducing the likelihood of spills that can burn, besides making a mess.
• I take all hot dishes out of the microwave because it is situated at eye level, and I am the taller of the two.
• One course meals are preferred over multi-course meals these days because their preparation is less frustrating. What was once a piece of cake can develop into a panic-stricken scene as one tries to get it all to come together by the usual supper time. The stress that can develop may result in spills of hot food, mistakes at the stove or a soaring of one’s blood pressure where the outcome is anyone’s guess.
• If it has been a meal that required a good deal of preparation, the other partner automatically does the tidying up, plus rinsing and putting dishes in the dishwasher. It allows the chef an opportunity to sit back and relax after their culinary effort with an after-dinner drink or a cup of tea.
• The steadier half carries all hot cups of tea upstairs to the TV room. Less chance of a spill or a burn that way.
• The one with the stronger hands opens all those jars where the lid is on too tight. And there are lots of those! We have a Dutch made opener which can handle just about any bottle or jar that comes along. I still like to play macho and open them with my hands while I can, but the Dutch opener is always there if the going gets too tough.
• The one with the best memory assumes the responsibility of assuring all the elements on the stove are turned off when not in use. It is surprising how often we both forget to do that! And that goes for making sure nothing overhangs the stove from the counter.
• The one with best eyesight looks after the thermostat, etc. (This is one of those difficult areas, like deciding which TV channel is acceptable to both, but we gradually learn to balance comfort with cost.)
• In the garden, the heavy work still rests with the male, whereas his partner keeps things tidy inside and out with a broom. I guess this is one area where the relative strength of male versus female shows up most clearly. The heavier build of the male makes light work of chores that might be beyond the capability of the gentler female. Of course there are situations where the roles are reversed, but you get the general idea.
There are other examples of shared duties, but those mentioned serve to convey my idea of sharing.
There is another kind of sharing that seems to take place as we grow old together, and that is the sharing of experiences and memories. By this time in life, we have grown sure of the bond between us which encourages us to let down our defences and share just about everything with our partner. Shyness and secretiveness give way to a gradual melding of everything we hide away from the world outside. By now, our spouse has heard most of our anecdotes; our stories of “when we were young” and our stories of previous lives and lovers. I once saw a series of photographs supporting the idea that as we grow together we look more and more like one another each day. I’m not too sure how true that is, but it’s a fascinating idea. I can do with a boost like that!
Having eaten together for so many years, our tastes for food gradually meld. Not completely however if, like us, you come from different cultures! I find that, although it’s sixty years since I emigrated from England, I have stubbornly retained many old food favourites. Among them are potatoes (done any way!), ginger biscuits, Brussel sprouts, porridge, kippers with the bones in (if only I could find them!), cod haddock and halibut, strong cheddar cheese and HP sauce! My wife, after a long period of disbelieving and exasperation, has finally given in but not given up her own Canadian tastes. It was never a case of unconditional surrender but more of a long-lasting truce, like that of the Korean War.
We are lucky in that we both share a love for animals. Neither of us could ever accept the idea that an animal has no soul. They have been a source of great joy to us as we watch the wonders of nature taking place before our very eyes. Our back garden is like a menagerie! The bird feeder helps us share the fruits of this planet with red-wing blackbirds, sparrows, chaffinches, brilliant red cardinals, peanut loving Blue Jays, chickadees, grackles and woodpeckers. Add to that the resident chipmunks, who can stuff away peanuts faster than the Blue Jays, and their larger cousins the squirrels which we have in all colours: black, red and grey! Then there is the nightly visitor, the gigantic raccoon, who comes around to see what we have left unattended. We have learned that you can’t give them the occasional meal. It doesn’t work because if you do they move in (under the deck, before we closed it in completely) or rummage through anything that looks as though it might hold food. Because of the raccoon, I have to get up at 6 am on garbage day to put the green bin out at the last moment! Still, you know, I don’t mind doing that because there is always that guilt feeling I have when we throw away so much food, knowing that man has steadily grabbed the natural fruits of this planet for himself. This is a sharing issue, too, but one I have to live with.
By the way, we had an opossum drop by once! I trapped it in a “humane” trap with a can of sardines, but let him go at the end of the day. He scampered off at top speed and we never saw him again. He got a meal and a scare; not exactly my idea of sharing but it was a compromise. Let’s leave it at that!
Finally, a word about sharing with others. We are not well enough off to be able to contribute much to charities. I wish we could, but we can’t. What I find as we get older is that there is a generation gap that is more pronounced than it was sixty years ago. The young live in an entirely different world to what we did. Values have changed! Electric light, dishwashers, hot water heaters, cars, TV, computers, jet travel have all arrived since I was a boy. The language is different today, national values have changed, fashions have changed, and sex education and values have changed. One could almost say, “Forget everything you learned as a kid! None of it applies anymore.”
But, although the generation gaps are now greater than they were, I see a coming together of different ethnic groups. Today, the sight of Asians, blacks, Sikhs and Moslems is commonplace. It wasn’t that way when I was a boy. And that, too, is a form of sharing. Women have also gained a lot in my lifetime, and nowadays have a better share of life’s goodness.
Like our back garden menagerie, the world has become a mixture of all kinds of beautiful things. It reminds me of a poster on the wall at the Tyndale Sunday School. It depicted children of all colours and creed smiling together, along with the birds and the bees. The caption?
“All things bright and beautiful, all creatures great and small, all things wise and wonderful, the Lord God made them all!” I guess that’s where the seed of sharing was planted in my mind!
Gerry Wood, Sep 15, 2015