Wednesdays with … the old folks

Courtesy of clker

Courtesy of clker

Disclaimer: The definition of old people is always much older than either you or me.

I don’t know what I was thinking. I needed a few items so I went grocery shopping on a Wednesday afternoon. I definitely wasn’t thinking.

In our area, that’s not a good time to shop. It is senior day and they are out in large groups. (Yes, I know I’m a senior but I’m not like them yet!)

I didn’t notice at first. There was a bus parked at the curb but I didn’t pay any attention. I walked through the doors and it hit me like a tsunami. Old people!

In the afternoon buses brings seniors from local nursing homes to shop. They come with walkers, canes, oversized purses that they can’t quite handle and gnarly looking men. (Ok, maybe all men over 90 look gnarly to me.)

It’s not all the equipment that gets my attention, it’s the unique odor that a very large group of older people have collectively.

The smell isn’t bad, it’s like attics and old wool sweaters – musty and dusty but not really dirty.

It’s like old memories in garrets and trunks full of clothing from another era.

It’s like fragile old books that have been stored too long.

And photographs…old faded photographs of people who no one quite remembers.

There are other things that are unique to this group. The women have white bed head with a flat spot in the back. I understand this. I check to make sure I don’t have it when I go to the gym. I don’t know why young women don’t get this.

They never use the self-check lanes. It’s too complicated. Because they are slow, the cashier lanes get all back up. Fortunately I was able to zip out quickly through self-check.

This particular store gives a 5% discount to seniors on Wednesdays but it makes it hard to get. You can’t get it at the registers. You need to take your receipt up to the customer service desk.

You can imagine what that line looks like. Old gnarly guys making passes at the cashier while their wives (girlfriends? nursing home partner?) paw through gigantic purses trying to find the receipt they received from the cashier two minutes ago.

All this reminded me of my mother (who did NOT have old people smell!).

She enjoyed grocery shopping. She would fondle the produce. You couldn’t hurry her. She liked to look at new things. A new brand of canned goods was good for 20 minutes. She would touch it and feel it and if her eyes were good that day, she would read the labels.

We would stop at the butcher (there were real butcher shops then) and he would joke with her. (He had some fresh baloney for her! He joked with all the women to get them to buy more!) He would make her feel special.

She was long gone when self-check lanes came along but I’m confident that she would have figured them out with her oversized purse no matter how long it took.

I’m also sure she would commandeer some gnarly looking guy to carry her groceries for her. What a woman!


49 thoughts on “Wednesdays with … the old folks

  1. Funny. I stopped going to a very popular diner in our town because my daughter pointed out to me that it has “old people smell.” For a while my 85 year old MIL had it, but she stopped taking chondroitin for her aches and pains and it went away – consequently, she feels and smells great!

    I think the flat-head thing is attributed to thinning hair and the lack of ability to lift one’s arms to touch up back there!

    As for the big *ss purses – maybe it makes them feel safe?? Not enough time to search for the pepper spray – thwack!


    • You are probably right about the purses or else they have more to carry. As for the flat head thing, most older folks wear their hair shorter and that doesn’t help either. When my own hair is too short I have cowlicks doing wonky things too. I am surprised that a diner has that smell because you would think the cooking smells would be stronger. Thanks for stopping by.


  2. Hi from Australia!
    When I met my husband,my parents told me that he has got the smell of Old money,which was good.
    Visiting shops in US ,a few years back the smell of brand new clothes is shocking ,nasty and cheap and it is hard to wash away.It stays.
    I like the smell of rare and old books,maybe I am strange .


  3. I suppose I am guilty of going to our local Thriftway on Tuesdays when the give seniors a 5% discount. Getting old(der) is not bad until we are afraid to leave the house or the home for fear of smelling strange and being slow. Darn…now I feel depressed!


        • I read your post and I must have offended you. We are close in age. I may be older than you. My husband is in his 70s and my cat is 16. There’s lots of “older” here. I have no qualms writing about older folks as I share some of the quirks that I write about. As an example I write about how much harder it is for me to “get” technology compared to my younger counterparts. Humor takes the intensity out of situations so I prefer to laugh about them. As for the musky smell, I remember my Aunt Mary’s house all too well but my own mother did not share that trait. I probably smell more like cats.


          • Kate,

            That is the problem with writing a blog…the sound of the words inside our head is heard as something different when a person reads it.

            I am 73 and my husband is 76. My cat is ageless. We are still very active, golf 18 holes walking, travel and so on. The cat just lets us do what we want.

            I did realize you were talking tongue in cheek but, since I am one of your NEW readers I did not know your age or background until I looked at your profile. As a human resource officer you are well aware that humans are not as perceptive as they could be.

            I want you to know that I write for older people and about my life as I age. A lot of what I write is humorous. I do read a lot of younger people’s material and I find that ageism is something that those people think is okay. It is just popular and cute I guess.

            When I write about the foibles of aging I usually do it in the first person. If I am telling on myself, that is okay I suppose. But I would never have it in my heart to talk about my mother in her last years, living in the nursing home and taking a little trip in the van to the grocery or a flower garden. It gave her such joy. I know she was slow and indecisive and I always prayed that someone would not hurt her feelings. I do recall some young people laughing at her when she almost fell inside a bathroom stall at a restaurant. That even hurt my feelings.

            Having said that, I hope you understand that I speak out against ageism, even humorously put, everytime I see it. I don’t know how else to raise awareness.



            • You sound like a younger version of my brother who at 84 is a huge (and very good) golfer! He is active on the board for the local food bank and I often have trouble catching up with him.

              You are so right that words are one-dimensional and you can’t see the smiles, head tosses and eye rolls that go with a story to make it truly funny.

              My mother was one of the most precious people in my life and sometimes I wasn’t as patient as I should have been but I would never laugh at her. My stories of her are meant to hit home with some. The story of the new brand is true. She shopped the grocery stores the way I used to shop for clothes but it has to do with not having a lot of food growing up. That’s a whole post on its own.

              There are more people our age than ever before and in my area I see housing being built specifically for “over 55” which is just wonderful. Most stores give discounts although some (like this grocery store) make it cumbersome to get which is a shame. This is the best time for aging people other than the really old days when people lived on farms. The “older folks” lived on the farm too and were cared for by the younger family.

              We may occasionally disagree but I would bet that we agree on most things. I am delighted you are a reader and will visit you too. Your comment did inspire me to write a post about the positive side of aging (yes there is a positive side) but keep in mind that I write a humor blog so don’t take anything I write personal!

              By the way truth be told, I don’t like shopping with a busload of anyone — students, baby boomers or 40-somethings!

              For a more serious post on how I feel about older people visit here which was Freshly Pressed.


  4. I missed this one earlier but found it tonight when I saw your post with the cartoon. I am a senior but I am not like that yet! You captured the reality of getting really old – older than us. Yet I have to admire them for being up and moving about and shopping! I take my older sister shopping and I know she slows things down. I am always appreciative when the clerk is patient. Good post!


    • Oh yes, older is always older than us. I loved shopping with my Mom but in hindsight I wish I would have been a little more patient. She was always patient with me when I pawed the shoes. I admire older people who get out. There is a guy I see about 3 times a week on my way to the gym. He has a shopping cart he pushes to the grocery store. I don’t know where he lives but based on where I have seen him walking, it’s at least a half mile. I’d give him a ride but his cart won’t fit.


  5. Pingback: Postscript on seniors | Views and Mews by Coffee Kat

  6. My description of “old people” is like yours, Kate. Those are always people who are two or more decades older than me … and I’m 70. 😉 I can see my Mom doing the same as yours. She was even worse when it came to book hunting. Could she ever find a bargain! Thanks for letting me know what I miss on Wednesday mornings while I’m at work.


  7. Kate, what a beautiful, poignant post. All the descriptions of the smells were amazing, so vivid that I almost sneezed at some of them! 😉
    When I was in high school, for Natl. Honor Society, we were divided into groups and “volunteered” at the grocery stores on Friday mornings during class time. That was Senior Shopping, and we were the helpers. Those of us with cars and driver’s licenses also drove some of the seniors home and helped unload groceries. This was before the “assisted living” facilities everywhere, and many stayed in their homes alone long after they needed help.


  8. I think I could have a full time job helping the elderly rummage through their purses in line. I’m really good at finding things quickly.
    I’ve taken my mom shopping every Friday for years. Recently I’ve noticed that when she is getting out her exact change people behind her get very agitated. It makes me so sad … ugh I could cry.


    • My mother passed before people used debit or credit cards in grocery stores so there were many moments of her counting out the pennies in the bottom of the purse. Not because she didn’t have money but she liked to keep her purse light without tons of change. Years ago, people were more patient. Now everyone is in a hurry to do a ton of other things.


  9. The first time a place gave me the senior discount, I called my mama to let her know my arrival in the old timer’s had begin. Happily AARP started letting you get into their club at 50, and again thrilled with further discounts. Writing this on the original Surface RT, so in time Windows 8.1 gets to be your best friend. Not sure where you lay your head, beside a pillow with starch to keep hair right, never seen a store not give discount at register, are you across the pond by chance.


  10. Oh, dear. I shop on Senior Day so I can get my 5% discount…given at the register with my senior savings card. And I use coupons because they are doubled. But I don’t use cash or write checks…I have a debit card like any self-respecting old lady.. And I don’t smell old… or otherwise.
    But then I am just in the toddler stage of elderly.


    • The “toddler stage of elderly” is a good phrase. I think of myself as at the mature end of middle age. I guess I’ll have to live to be 120-something. At least at your store you can get your discount at the register! I haven’t taken advantage of it because of the hassle.


  11. beautifully written Kate and so funny! so many gorgeous lines like this one – ‘like fragile old books that have been stored too long’. My gran lived with us until she was eighty nine and would only let me take her shopping on ‘senior’s day’ at the local superstore so I can relate 😀 also she was a lot like your mom – always fondling the produce (embarrassing!) and poking the fresh bread. Although she always selected the same brand of canned soup towards the end, she would stare at the shelf sporting a variety of brands and soups and insist on ‘checking them’ out for an interminably long time.


  12. I didn’t know about senior shopping days! I wonder if I’ve been missing out! I hope I NEVER actually smell old. I have told my kids that if I get to the stage where I’m an obstacle out in public, they have to do an intervention. I really can’t abide the idea that at some point I’d be a nuisance or someone would be blogging about their encounter with this slow, badly dressed woman with flat bed hair! 🙂


    • It doesn’t happen to everyone. I still don’t know why it happens to some and not others. My 84 (almost 85) year old sister-in-law is not one of these either. Perhaps if you keep active and of course stay healthy!


    • You aren’t really. I do enjoy older folks. My brother is 84 and he is not one of these either. They have wonderful stories and think I look so young and beautiful (always a good way to win me over). I just don’t like grocery shopping with them although I did enjoy it with my Mom because there was a dinner somewhere in there.


    • Especially when they empty the entire purse to find it. I hate when people write checks. They wait until everything is wrung up and then they start writing the check in perfect penmanship. Who does that these days?


  13. Haha!

    That woman in the silhouette is picking the old man’s pocket!
    Stop! Thief!

    Oh, never mind.
    She’s just helping him retrieve his receipt for the 5% senior discount. 😛


  14. Senior shopping day is on Tuesday around here. I’ve trained myself to never go to the grocery on that day because while I realize that I’m on the cusp of seniorness, I don’t have the patience [yet] to dawdle around as they shop. Perhaps one day soon I’ll be there with them, but until then I’ll shop any other day of the week. There’ll be time later for me to observe their slow ways.


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