I visited Mrs B. the other day. She had celebrated her birthday earlier in the week. She is now one hundred years old. Neat and tidy, welcoming me into her room in an Elderly People’s Home, she said her birthday had been marvellous. She had sat in a corner and members of the family had come one by one to talk with her. She had been tired at the end of it. They had made a big thing of it in the Home as well, for she is the oldest of the thirty two residents. I asked if they were all women. No, she said, we have one man, and – a slight suggestion of disapproval here – he is made a great fuss of.
Mrs B. is one of nine children. Her father was a Methodist minister at a time when it was normal for people of that calling to move home and church every three years. So she has an encyclopaedic knowledge of English geography. The children never had new clothes, she said, but had to be content with’ hand-downs’ and her mother could perform miracles with adapting them as well as making a house full of furniture they were also landed with, into a family home.
Born soon after the beginning of the last century, Mrs B. has lived through the two major world wars and the many others that have followed them, and seen the whole character and culture of a society she was born into, change beyond recognition. She finds television intrusive, listens to the radio but finds it hard to cope with after a while, and whilst she enjoys company is always glad to retreat to her little room. I had the feeling that she was as much an observer of what was going on about her, as she is a participant.
Someone burst into the room at one stage in our conversation, brandishing a meals list. Mrs B. gently but firmly asked her to come at some other time, for the present was not convenient. And slightly chastened, the hearty helper retreated. I felt a sense of awe in meeting this little lady for the first time – I shall see her again next month – for in her quiet and dignified way she is a depository of our history as well as her own.