Copyright 2015 by Raunig-Graham
Most of the time, I don’t think of myself as ancient. Older, sort of. But old? Not yet. I seldom think of myself as old, that is, until I run across some reminder that yes, I really was around when one occasionally found those hand-cranked water pumps out on farms or in the mountains of Montana, where I grew up. And yes, I used one a few times, and I thought it was fun. It’s also true that I recall using an old-fashioned wooden telephone with an ice cream cone-shaped receiver attached to a cord on the side of the telephone box. It was at Mini’s grocery store. Then there was the party line my family had in the late 1940’s when our telephone number had just four digits. So I guess when I read Neville Shute’s Pied Piper recently, there was no reason for shock when he kept referring to his 71-year-old protagonist as “the old man.” My consternation at what “the old man” said turned to amusement at how much society’s views, mine at 71 included, have changed. Not just the obvious ones like our thoughts on technology, or on writing style, but our views of ourselves and how we are are viewed.
Little incidents occur regularly, however, that do continue to remind me that indeed, I really am 71, and I really am older. Most of my friends and acquaintances probably would not consider me the cantankerous type, or even as a scold, but I have observed that certain changes in behavior, especially public behavior, tend to give me pause, or even to feel an inner horror. Sometimes, I just have to speak up.
To wit: yesterday, between buses, I stopped in at a coffee shop for a skinny cappuccino. The enthusiastic and cheerful young woman who waited on me asked whether I would have it there or to go. “I’ll sit down here, ” I answered. We both smiled. But my smile froze when she reached for the cup to serve me with her hand over the rim of “my” cup, her fingers inside the bowl of the cup. Her glove-free hand that received customers money (and we all know how clean money is), all day long. “I guess I’ll have that coffee to go,” I said, forcing her to pick up a paper cup instead. End of story.
Not quite. The cappuccino was delicious. Topped with a beautiful, perfect foam with a sweet little heart drawn on top — the kind of drawing by a young barista that always warms the heart of a 71-one-year old. I was enjoying my mid-afternoon coffee immensely until I asked for a spoon to scoop out the foam on the bottom of the cup. Oh yes. You can guess what happened next. The young woman reached upon a shelf above and behind the counter and grabbed a plastic spoon by its bowl. I gasped out loud. “Wait,” I said, not lowering my voice. Both she and the barista looked at me. “Flu,” I said. Neither of them seemed perturbed and the young woman quickly reached for a different spoon and handed it to me by its handle.
I sat back down, reflecting on how many times I had witnessed something similar to this incident over the last few years despite that public service announcements in Fall and Winter now often admonish us to wash our hands frequently during Flu Season. We are contagious, we are reminded. We get colds and viruses and we give them. Little gifts to the public. Bugs offered with a smile.
Oh, I am getting old, I thought. I remember when a good hygiene class was routinely a part of the elementary curriculum. Then, my thoughts quickly turned to standards and to training, both of which I still believe are important. I like young people a lot. I like their vivacity and their spontaneity. Yet some of them seem to have missed out on the training that would allow them to understand the connections between the little details that may have larger ramifications. Surely they need to understand that prevention is important. Of course, I am older, and I am now more vulnerable.
Why make a big deal about it, one might ask. Such a little thing compared with say, the violence saturating various countries in the world, especially the Middle East. My answer would be that standards matter because they indicate that we care; we care about each other, even the strangers we meet in public.
Democracies demand civil behavior.