I repeated it. Jessie’s blank face stared back at me, and I couldn’t help but smile. “Look it up on your fancy phone there,” I said as we both sat on the edge of my small bed. In the next 15 seconds she had tapped at least 40 characters on the screen. She read aloud, “Anachronism: An error in chronology.” “Or?” I prompted. She looked at the second definition. “A person or a thing that is chronologically out of place.” She looked up at me and I could tell she was a little sad. “You feel like that, Nana?”
“Sometimes,” I said and reached for my rose-patterned teacup. “But let’s not talk about that anymore. I want to hear about school today. How is the paper you’re working on?” Jessie’s eyes lit up again as she described her latest paper in English class. She was a junior at the nearby high school, and was finishing writing an essay on dairy farm processes and production.
Our midwest town was famous for dairy farming, and Jessie was starting to get interested in the industry. It made me happy, as I had grown up working on a dairy farm.
As Jessie described her recent visit to a dairy barn, I remembered the first time I tried to milk a cow. I was five years old, and it was in 1934 - the exact middle of the Great Depression.
So much had changed since then; it was staggering to think about. Technology - cell phones, computers and the like - was probably the most obvious change, but there were other things too. Workforce changes. Population growth. How people communicated with each other. Religious movements. Domestic and international transportation. Food availability. Medical advancements. Political party changes. New hobbies and crafts.
I realized I had gotten distracted and returned my attention to Jessie. I was relieved that she hadn’t seemed to notice.
“This one brown cow tried to lick me, which was gross.” We laughed together at that. We finished our tea and kept talking for a while, and at some point later she pushed back her chair. “I’d better get home for dinner,” she said as she reached to help gather the dishes and stack them on the kitchen counter. When she left the assisted living center, I felt a little of my happiness leave with her.
I sat on the edge of my bed and looked around my sparsely furnished studio apartment. There was a small couch, my bed, a simple oak dresser, and a wooden chair and table. Upon the table sat framed pictures of family and friends, some books, a letter from my cousin who was also in her nineties, and a handful of odds and ends. The pretty floral tea set, now waiting to be cleaned, sat by the tiny kitchen sink.
My cell phone sat next to it. My family had purchased the gray flip phone for me several years ago, hoping that I would be able to learn how to send text messages. I never did catch on, even after multiple hours of them trying to teach me. So I just used the cell phone for calls, and I was okay with that. I think they were, too.
My mind returned to how things had changed over the last eight decades. If I was honest with myself, I felt like the world around me had changed much more than I had. I was 93 years old, but in many ways I still felt like I was 35. I appreciated the comfort and familiarity of my apartment, which was a stark contrast to the busy town outside.
I thought of the technological advancements that had happened around me. The local grocery store had recently gotten touchscreen checkout stands. Once, Jessie had been sweet enough to go with me and show me how they worked. It took a long time for me to find the correct picture on the screen to tap with my finger, and unbeknownst to me that was just the first of twelve finger-taps. Meanwhile, a long line of impatient-looking people had gathered behind us. Jessie had helped me tap faster so we could leave, and I hadn’t used the touchscreen since. I didn’t like it. I liked talking to the cashier people better, anyway.
I thought of my neighbors. As far as I knew, they didn’t use the touchscreen checkout stands at the grocery store either. I chuckled as I pictured my neighbor, Gerald, in the apartment on the right. He was an eighty-eight year old grumpy widower who had, per his own proud admission, never touched a cell phone. The neighbors to my left, Elise and Loretta, were sisters in their late seventies who didn’t leave the building much except to attend the nearest Master Gardener flower show. Directly across the hall were Beverly and Fred; they were both jolly and loved playing card games in the common room downstairs.
It seemed like we were all slowing down in a world that was speeding up.
I got up and absentmindedly started washing the tea set. It was as old as I was, a family heirloom given to me by my mother. I wondered if Jessie would like to have it when she got older.
I thought about how it had survived the changes of the past 90 years. There were a few cracks and chips, but it was still a beautiful and functional set. In fact, I used the set for tea every time Jessie came to visit. There were eight dainty cups and saucers, and the large teapot with its small patterned lid. The sugar bowl had gone missing a few decades ago, but I still had the pitcher for cream.
If a teapot could still be beautiful and useful after 90 years, I thought, so could I. The world around me was changing, and maybe sometimes I didn’t like it, but I could manage. I could even learn a few new things perhaps. I could talk to my neighbors. I could write letters to my cousin across the country. I could smile at the grocery store cashier. I could appreciate life even when it was challenging, and I could keep enjoying tea each week with Jessie, drinking from rose-patterned teacups.