My mother is nearly 92 years old. We spend a lot of time together out in the world now that she has stopped driving.
Once a statuesque 5’10-1/2” tall, gravity and arthritis have left her bent over. She uses a walker to help keep her steady. Her hair is snowy white and her blue-blue eyes twinkle. She’s a kind person with a soft heart, but don’t let that fool you. The lady is also one of those tough-as-nails members of Greatest Generation who came of age in the Depression and witnessed World War II right out of high school. Directly after she and dad got engaged, he went off to the war for four long years.
These days whenever someone does a kindness for her – opens a door, provides service at a restaurant, or helps her check out her groceries – she hands them a shiny silver York Peppermint Patty and a big smile.
She gets great pleasure out of people’s surprise and delight at her spontaneous gift. Many of them exclaim, “Oh, that’s my favorite!” Once I made the mistake of getting her a giant bag of the Pearson’s mint patties at Costco. She loves telling people how nobody reacted as positively to those as they do to the York ones. The York people would have to look far and wide for a better spokes-model.
She claims that when you’re as old and fragile as she is, people do a lot of nice things for you. She likes acknowledging their kindness with some of her own.
I also think she does it to interrupt the social patterns we have about old people. I’ve witnessed how invisible she is to many people. Sometimes the server at the restaurant speaks only to me. Sometimes people assume that she isn’t as smart, keen-eyed, and observant as she is. (She frequently beats me at Scrabble, for goodness sake!) It can be dehumanizing to be elderly in this fast-paced, distracted world.
The mints humanize her. They take people by surprise and require them to relate to her differently. And does she ever get a kick out of it! Once after giving a mint to a delighted stranger, she chortled as we walked away. “This is so much fun!” she said. “I do this instead of drinking booze.”
Awhile back I told her that I’d made a decision: we’re going to hand out little bags of mints at her funeral so people can carry on her tradition of giving them away to strangers.
She liked that idea…and reminded me to make sure they were York Peppermint Patties. Now all I have to do is contact the York people about getting a few cases donated when that sad day comes. We are going to need a lot of them to supply her huge circle of friends, a circle that keeps right on growing one mint at a time.