Thursday, 24 June 2010

A Little Old Man Called Joseph

I met a little old man this week called Joseph. He was about 90 years old.

I had to go to the hospital to collect a prescription, and whilst I was waiting for it, he shuffled up carefully to the counter, handed his prescription in, sat down next to me and smiled. He was immaculately turned out with neatly trimmed snow white hair and a great big hearing aid clipped on to his right ear.

I couldn't help but notice as I checked him out, that he was wearing a jumper and a coat.

'Silly old fella,' I thought, 'Its 24 degrees out there, he must be daft.'

So in a big loud voice, I shouted to the daft, deaf old man, 'Blimey, aren't you hot with that jumper and coat on?'

He smiled.

'I was in India in the war,' he began.

'Oh God, not the war,' I thought, 'I'll never get away now.'

 'I was with the RAF there for 3 years. I was only 18,' he continued, 'and they said to me that if I got used to the Indian heat, then I would always be cold when I came home to England. And they were right.'

I smiled back. He wasn't such a daft old fella after all.

'My uncle George was a spitfire pilot in Burma,' I said.

'I spent some time there too,' he replied, 'and also in Singapore.'

At this point, he stopped, and I could see that he was thinking back to when he was a young lad. His eyes misted over slightly with tears, and then he looked at me, wondering whether he should continue. Should he open up that little memory box in his head and share what was tucked in there with this young stranger.

'There was a bomb,' he said quietly. 'which was the start of my deafness.' He pointed to the big hearing aid. 'But my friend was in the next room, and he was killed. His face looked so serene.'

I didn't know what to say. The prescription lady came to the rescue and called my name. I signed for my drugs, then sat down again next to the old fella. I wanted to say sorry for thinking that he was just some doddery old deaf bloke, and sorry that he'd had to experience such awful things, but instead, I said that it was lovely to meet him, and thanked him for telling me his story.

There'll be lots of people wandering around with their own boxes of memories in their head. Some they'll be glad to open, some they'll keep firmly locked away. I'm not quite sure what I'll do with my cancer memory  box yet. Will it be an open box or will I lock it away. I suppose by writing this blog, the box is well and truly the minute. Maybe on the 20th July it will be time to stash it away in the hoy in room in my head, just like old Joseph had done with his memories of the war.

I don't know why that lovely old man opened his locked box for me the other day. Maybe he read my mind and thought - 'I'm going to put this young whippersnapper right,' or maybe, as I'd rather believe, he had sussed me out with my bandana head and thought he'd let me know that however hard it is to go through difficult times, you can stare those days in the eye and move on - all the stronger for it - even though it may still bring tears to your eyes - many, many years later.

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