As time goes by

No matter how much time goes by, you're never really alone.

What’s the best part of ageing? For me it’s the memories. Even better than seniors’ discounts, I have a storehouse of treasured memories to draw from. They often come to mind when I least expect them, and just as I need them most. It happened again the other night as I lay shivering under the covers, simultaneously sweating out a fever while wondering if there would ever be better days ahead.

I was the kid who caught every bug that went around – sometimes twice. In Grade One I missed 31 days due to illness. A bout of pneumonia put me in hospital for a week.

The days drag on when you’re six years old and strictly confined to bed. I was 30 kilometres from home. My mom didn’t drive and my dad car-pooled to his job at Stelco. A fledgling reader, I had a few simple storybooks. I mostly passed time colouring and doing puzzles. Sometimes I purposely dropped crayons so that I could ring a nurse to come and help me. (You could only pull that stunt once per shift before they caught on to you.)

I was the only patient in the children’s ward that week. The cleaning lady was my closest friend. I looked forward to her presence – until she forced me to eat the pickled beets from my lunch tray. I dreaded the twice daily penicillin injections, administered directly into the gluteus maximus – embarrassing and painful. But by far the worst part was the loneliness.

My parents visited me on Pa’s day off. When they left I just lay there, tears flowing. Then a lovely young nurse walked in. She washed my face and changed my pillowcase. Then she sat down on the edge of the bed and held my hand. Her eyes were bright blue and her blonde hair was tucked into a fashionable French roll under the winged cap. I pointed to the brooch on her starched white collar. “That’s pretty,” I said. It was a tiny Delft Blue windmill, set in silver filigree.

Heritage & hope

“It reminds me of my home,” she said. “I grew up in Holland.” She told me how she always wanted to be a nurse and what an adventure it was to come to Canada on her own. “But I miss my parents so much that sometimes I feel like crying.” Suddenly we were sisters. She listened to my prayers and stroked my cheek before she left. “You’re not alone. Remember that,” she said. “Jesus loves you.”

I knew she was right. And I’ve never forgotten it.

My Delfts Blauw collection is pretty impressive these days. I still don’t like pickled beets, but I have a much stronger constitution than I did as a child. Now and then some vicious strain of flu knocks me down anyway. What a comfort in my feverish state to think back on a kindred spirit the Lord sent to soothe my heart and remind me, then and now – I’m never really alone, no matter how much time goes by.


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