Trevor’s Take: Elder stories, elder care

By Trevor Hutchinson

A graduate of the University of Toronto, Trevor Hutchinson is a songwriter, writer and bookkeeper. He serves as Contributing Editor at The Lindsay Advocate. He lives with his fiancee and their five kids in Lindsay.

One of my favourite stories my grandfather used to tell me from his time running a taxi business in Lindsay, way back in the day, was of a return shopping trip that ended up being only a one-way fare. 

Grandpa had taken a regular customer, known for his drinking, to a local bootlegger in town. His customer — we’ll call him Pete — exits the cab and goes into the bootlegger’s house to arrange his purchase.

A few minutes later, a Lindsay police car pulls up behind Grandpa. Not wanting to get in trouble, Grandpa moves his cab one house down and the cop pulls into the spot where the cab had been. A happy (and clearly, ummm, oblivious) Pete leaves the bootlegger and hops into the back of the waiting police car. Grandpa leaves, knowing his services will not be needed.

It’s been well over 15 years since I heard that story, one of my favourites, recounted in person. The story has been passed down through the family as one would gold. It’s one of those yarns that I never get tired of hearing or retelling. For my part, I have turned that story into an adage for everyday living: “Remember how you got here. And be careful how you get home.”

I have found myself thinking about old family stories a lot lately. It’s probably from a combination of COVID boredom and pandemic-induced reflections on my own mortality and that of my older family members. No doubt, as I read more and more on what happened in long-term care homes during the pandemic, I have also been thinking about how, as a society, we treat our elders.

I hope there will no doubt be important inquiries that come with recommendations for systemic change that are implemented by whatever government is in power. We will need to examine how we, both at a societal and individual level, treat our elders. 

Can the non-Indigenous among us ask and learn from Indigenous communities about the veneration of elders? Are there cultural communities among us that can help us change the mainstream version of elder care? Will we have the political will to implement the suggested changes that come from inquiries?

I don’t have the answers to these questions, but I am positive they are important (and not just because I am starting to measure how much racetrack I have left).

I for one hope that I am challenged to answer these questions and to reflect on the most personal of levels how I treat my elders. I expect, given my upbringing in a youth-worshipping commercial culture, that not all of this self-examination will be comfortable.

But just maybe my Grandpa’s sayings, which drift over me like clouds of memory, will help me in this process. I will “wash behind my ears,” not “take any wooden nickels” and most importantly always aim for “onwards and upwards.”

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