Good company, plenty of wisdom in our elders

Gary MacDougall
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I have always enjoyed the company of, well, old people — those who may be past their prime physically but still possess keen minds, kind hearts and a wealth of knowledge.

It’s not hard to find old people when you are young since even the people in their 30s and 40s seem old. And, of course, our parents are born old, right?

I’m not talking about the people who may appear old, but actually are not. I’m talking about the real seniors that walk in our midst — our elders.

They come in all shapes and sizes, some full of good cheer and others filled with “bah humbug.”

Growing up in Tyne Valley in rural P.E.I., I recall encounters with lots of colourful elders.

There was an older lady you didn’t dare bid too highly on when you were her partner at community card parties for fear of facing her wrath, or the wrath from your mother after she had heard the wrath.

There was also the old boy who told of his physical prowess by saying that when it came to fisticuffs, all anyone would hear was two thumps — one when he hit someone and another when that person hit the floor.

But I knew their hearts were warmer than their crusty exteriors.

My grandmother was, at least in the eyes of this less-than-impartial grandson, a delightful elder who possessed all the necessary ingredients to fulfil her many roles. They included being a mother and grandmother, a worker for community causes, a church helper and, when the need arose during community concerts, a village hobo or whatever silly character was needed. Her wit could be loud and humorous or more biting like early rhubarb.

Later in life I was introduced to some unique elders from the Belfast area. I especially enjoyed some of the colourful expressions that would come out of nowhere during conversations.

Rather than say a person was vain or stuck up, one particular old boy would say the person “was not unaware of his own importance.”

You would never say someone was lacking in ambition when, in answer to the question of what you planned to give as a wedding present, the response was: “A mirror, so he can watch himself starve to death.”

One day I learned of a woman who married a certain man’s money and invited him to the wedding.

And, on the rather touchy subject of whether someone had a drinking problem, one feisty old Scottish lady was heard to say, “He never met the ass of a bottle he didn’t like.”

That’s not to say our elders are always quick with the bitter tongue or have to be controversial or curmudgeonly to be entertaining. Rather, the elders I most enjoy have a great love of life and an appreciation of the many years they have been granted.

Such as my wife’s aunt, Ann McColl, who recently turned 96 and always counts her blessings. In her case, with longevity comes perspective.

She recalls a different economic time in Canada, an era when eastern Canadians reached out to help their Western friends. One time her father, along with other Island farmers, sent potatoes to those in need.

He included a letter of good cheer and friendship in one of the bags.

She recalls the family getting a lovely thank-you letter in return from the people who received the aid. The two families, separated by thousands of miles of country, kept in touch for years.

Another elder and friend is Mabel MacKinnon of Charlottetown, who turned 94 in February. Mabel recently passed on some thoughts of growing up in Cavendish in the 1920s and 1930s. They appear

elsewhere in another article on this page.

Her memories evoke wonderful images of moonlight sleigh rides, skating on the Lake of Shining Waters, community concerts and waiting in anticipation to sample her mother’s cooking.

On most Sundays, Mabel sits in the third pew from the back of the church we both attend. I usually sit in the fourth pew from the back. I always feel better when I know she is behind me.


 Gary MacDougall is managing editor of The Guardian. He can be reached by telephone at (902) 629-6039; by email at; or on

Organizations: The Guardian

Geographic location: Tyne Valley, Belfast, Canada Iceland Charlottetown Cavendish Lake of Shining Waters

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