Dixie Peach: Kindness of Strangers

Cooler than the other side of the pillow.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Kindness of Strangers

There's a woman living on the same floor as my MIL's apartment who has made a pest of herself to most of the other neighbors in the building, essentially to the point where people avoid her.

My MIL, however, being as she is always gracious and kind and hospitable, puts up with her and this woman takes full advantage of it. At least once a week and sometimes even more often she'll come over with a request for my MIL. She'll want my MIL to pick her up some groceries. She'll want my MIL to take a bill to be paid at the bank. Once she asked my MIL to go buy her a coffee maker. Oh. And bring some coffee too, please.

The picking up food thing seems to be the most annoying. She always wants things like one banana and one apple from the produce people or three eggs from the egg guy and the worst is going to the butcher. Once the old lady wanted 50 grams of liverwurst. Have any idea how hard it is to successfully slice off 50 grams of liverwurst? It's hard enough that the guy behind my MIL hollered out "Don't slice your thumb off in the process!". It embarrassed my MIL, and to her a good reputation with merchants is important to her. It made her want to announce to everyone "It's not for me! It's for my weird neighbor!".

Now I feel bad for the old woman. She's somewhere in her 80s and doesn't seem to have any friends or family at all - at least none who want to have anything to do with her. She suffers from deep depression and she's also had some lengthy hospital stays in the past year - I'm not sure if it was from a physical ailment or a mental breakdown. The others in the apartment building have been putting up with her for years and have gotten to the point where they stay away from her but so far my MIL hasn't gotten to that point. It's not easy for my MIL though. While she's younger than this neighbor, my MIL is also recovering from knee surgery and she's also got some thing going on where her blood pressure is lower than normal and she becomes exhausted after exerting much less physical activity than she's used to. Still she doesn't tell this old woman no. This neighbor woman really needs to be in an assisted living arrangement or even hire someone to check on her but she either can't or won't spend the money so she continues to take advantage of anyone who will accommodate her requests.

This past Saturday about mid-morning she rang my MIL's door bell asking to ask if my MIL would get some groceries for her.

MIL: Well, okay. I suppose I can go across to the market and get what you need.

Old lady: Well I need some liverwurst and some bread and some cake and some butter and some milk.

MIL: Okay. But right now I'm busy. I'm right in the middle of making potato salad and I'll go when I'm finished.

Old lady: Can you make some potato salad for me too?

MIL: Uhhh...yeah.

Old lady: Do you make it with mayonnaise?

MIL: Yes.

Old lady: I don't like mayonnaise. Can you make mine without mayonnaise?

MIL: Well I suppose so.

Door closes. My MIL bangs her head against the wall.

I sometimes consider what my life will be like when I'm much older and I sometimes get afraid. I get afraid that the story I've told you is going to one day be my story except I'm afraid that I won't be playing the roll my MIL has taken. I'm afraid I'm going to be the annoying neighbor everyone wants to avoid. I'm afraid that perhaps I'll be old and unstable and without friends or family who will look after me. I'm afraid that doing something as simple as getting a few groceries will be beyond my ability and I'll have to depend on strangers deigning to help me out.

But maybe it won't be as bad as I, in my mind, make it out to be. After all, I detest liverwurst and we all know I love mayonnaise.

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Blogger J said...

I assume that you MiL is an Ossie, so she probably remembers the time when people had to help each other out (as does the old woman).

I'm glad that she continues to do it (I assume the old lady has no one around to help her) even though it might be a pain, but hope that someone will be there to help your MiL out when she get to be too old to do it for herself.

12:20 AM  
Blogger Dixie said...

Yes, my MIL is an Ossi through and through. Not in that "Oh I miss the DDR" way, because she doesn't miss it but she lived most of her life as an Ossi and networking and helping others is a big part of her life.

She's definitely got someone to look after her when she gets old (she turns 73 on Sunday). Not only does she have me but she's got a brother that's 11 years younger and friends that line up to help her out when she needs it. That's one thing we can say about my MIL - she's spent so many years being good to other people and she's made life-long friends because of it.

12:49 AM  
Blogger sari said...

You MIL inspires me to try to be a bit nicer to others.

I'm not a nasty b-t-h but you know, I'm not as nice as I could be, especially inside my head.

PS You'd never be the annoying neighbor, unless it was in the sense of "Oh, come and look at my 5,736th pair of socks I knitted this month!" ha ha ha

I'm kidding! :-)

1:30 AM  
Anonymous Lisa said...

Looks like you're basking in a healthy dose of empathy and good for you, I say. Not a lot of people even notice these things past thinking how annoying others are when it comes to their own wants and needs.

I wish I could count myself out of the selfish crowd but unfortunately I can't. Sometimes I'm as bad or worse than everyone else. I guess it's just part of being human.

If I'm lucky enough to live to be old I hope I have people around me who won't mind to share their potato salad. I also hope I remember not everyone does things like I do and am grateful for the effort.

You've got a gem of a MIL, though. You're very lucky. But then so is she to have you for a DIL.

2:14 PM  
Blogger Carol said...

Your MIL is a saint! Problem with that is that she'll be required to BE a saint (by others and herself) until she explodes... or turns bitter... or shows physical or emotional signs of stress.

I have no advice, only admiration... and sympathy!


3:38 PM  
Blogger Molly said...

Most of us worry that we'll be a Pain in the A** to someone as our lives become smaller. I'm hoping that by evaluating how others become difficult we will be easier on our caregivers. Lifes' lessons learned.

4:22 PM  
Blogger It's Me, Maven... said...

Does this crazy woman repay your mil when she runs for groceries? Just curious...

And I have the same fears you do about being old and alone and trying merely to survive...

5:25 PM  
Anonymous Robbie said...

Older people oftern 'demand' your help and they what it on their term only. Out of respect, we tend to go ahead and do it their way but I can tell you from experience that it's OK to set your own terms. For instance...I'll gladly share my potato salad as I have made special orders. I will gladly pick up a few groceries...not this morning, but this afternoon when I have to run an errand for myself. It is much easier to help people if you feel you are not being taking advantage of...which frequently happens when people ask you to do something for them. Just my thoughts...


8:05 PM  
Blogger LeaderOfMyPack said...

Your mother in law is a saint.

9:21 PM  
Blogger Hilda said...

As an only child with no children, I too share the fear of being old and alone. And given my mother's condition as she's aged, it worries me even more.

4:19 AM  
Blogger Marsha said...

I don't know this from personal experience but I have been told that being generous and doing for others is the greatest thing one can do for themselves. It matters not if the person is grateful or reciprocates, just that extending oneself creates a peace and harmony that creates a spiritual harmony. As I said, I am not personally generous just something I am striving for in the future, maybe next week.

It is lovely to be young and healthy to have means and opportunity. I can pick and choose who I wish to be kind and generous toward and who I can ignore. It will be much more difficult when I am no longer in this position. I hope the next generation ends up being more generous than I have been.

3:33 PM  
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9:04 PM  
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9:26 PM  

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