Generation Gap II: The Old Lady at the Pharmacy

Pickle with NanaI crossed paths with an elderly woman the other day.

I mean, she had white, tightly permed hair.  Glasses.  A cane.  I think she was wearing a blazer.  And she was in a pharmacy.  This was a genuine old lady.  I kinda knew that from looking at her, but I really knew it when she spoke.

You see, we had been on our way to an exercise class that would have, no doubt, made ME feel like an old woman.  On the way I had scheduled a quick doctor’s appointment for my kiddo.  She had been coughing for about a week so I wanted to take her in and rule out anything serious.  We went through the routine.  Throat looked good.  Lungs sounded fine.  Ears were ok.  None of us (nurses and doctors included) really thought it was anything, but the doc decided to check for mycoplasma anyways.  (Fancy word for the little boogers that cause walking pneumonia)

We were all just a little bit shocked and stunned when he came back in the room and said that she had tested “markedly positive” for mycoplasma.  My poor coughing kiddo had walking pneumonia and I hadn’t even known it!  So we cancelled all our plans.  Drove into town.  And hoofed it through the bitter cold to the Walgreen’s pharmacy where we would have to go inside to get our stuff taken care of.

In we went and there we were delighted to run into our neighbor, who is quite grandma-like herself, but not nearly so seasoned as the little lady sitting in the chair.  While I waited in line to drop off the prescription, our neighbor talked and played with the Pickle.  I watched from a slight distance and smiled when suddenly I heard the elderly woman ask what was wrong with the child.

“Walking pneumonia” my neighbor replied casually.

You would have thought the sky was falling.

Suddenly the elderly woman’s eyebrows raised above her glasses.  She clutched her cane tighter.  Sat up straighter.  And immediately shot me the death glare (as deathly as a sweet little elderly woman can shoot).

“Pneumonia!” she declared.  “What is she doing here?  She shouldn’t even be OUT!”

In my youthful ridiculousness that has never seen a depression or an epidemic or a war.  That has never wanted for anything.  That stood there dumbly with my piece of paper from my pediatrician in hand.  I waved it high in the air from across the room, raised my own eyebrows, and shot back, “I have to get her medicine!”

I’ll admit there was a little bit of a flip to it.  It came out sounding more like “I have to get her MEDicine… DUH!  What do you want me to do?  Leave her at home?  Call my husband off work to go get it?  Really?  Really?”

I might have immediately regretted it if I hadn’t been called up to the window.

But it took me awhile.  I was more concerned with what I was going to do with my kid for forty minutes in a tiny Walgreens.  Or how I was going to get her to take a nasty antibiotic.  Or how we were going to survive a brief quarantine.

It wasn’t until we were getting ready to leave (thanks to my sweet neighbor who offered to pick it up for us after she ran errands) that I noticed the woman again.  And wanted to run up to her, sit at her feet, grasp her bony, cane-clutching hands in mine and beg her to tell me her life story.  Where she grew up.  What hardships she faced.  How she fell in love.  Raised her children.  Kept her house.

In our brief moment of exchange we both disregarded the reality that there was a broad generational barrier between us of about fifty years.  Enough time to make quite a difference.

NanaIn the moment, I didn’t recognize the fact that when she was growing up the word “pneumonia” was incredibly serious.  It normally meant death.  It meant being bedridden and not going outside and guarding one’s life.  Pneumonia claimed the life of more people than TB at the end of the 18th century.  And that scare continued well into the 1900’s when finally vaccinations and antibiotics began to bring the numbers back down.  This woman had a GOOD reason to raise her eyebrows at the mere mention of the word.

On the other hand, she did not realize that I grew up in a world of… well… vaccinations and antibiotics.  Today if pneumonia is caught early it is usually treated quickly and easily.  Except for in the very young, very old, or immunocompromised, pneumonia is just another cold-season inconvenience.  You diagnose it.  You get medicine.  You take off work a few days.  You get over it.  Not to mention the fact that my neighbor clearly said, “walking pneumonia” which is even less threatening.  And you can actually be like my daughter- up functioning, ‘walking’ around, living life with very few symptoms when you find out you have it.

I ran into an old lady at the pharmacy and had an extreme cross-generational experience.  One that made me appreciate the world I live in.  Thankful for modern medical advances that help my child overcome what not long ago was a life-threatening illness.  Thankful for the generations that have gone before and who offer wisdom and perspective that I have yet to comprehend.

But I still feel bad for my knee-jerk reaction.  I feel guilty that I didn’t have the time to sit next to her.  Explain my reasons for not being as concerned.  Acknowledge her reasons FOR being concerned.  Ask her why she was waiting there.  Hear stories of her life.

So if you see a little old lady with white hair and a cane sitting in a pharmacy, give her a smile for me.  Sit down and have the conversation I never had.  Wish her a Merry Christmas.  And tell her thank you for her life.  Thank you for her generation.  And thank you for her concern for my child.

It touched my heart.


And yes… I did take this opportunity to post some pictures of my little Pickle with her Nana (Great Grandma).  A priceless gem!  Go hug your own “little old lady” today and ask her about her life.  You won’t regret it.


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