‘Care’ can be a misnomer. It should mean compassion, love, looking after, affection. All the positives in one word.
But it doesn’t.
My great-aunt, Georgina, lived for many years in The Mitchell Hospital, a nineteenth century Presbyterian Church supported ‘sheltered care’ facility. It was located on The Chanonry, the street which had grown up beside St Machar’s Cathedral in Old Aberdeen, a once independent township with a history of more than 1,000 years, and with many finds dating from about 4000 BC.
Georgina lived there for many years. A staunch Presbyterian, she went to church every Sunday and attended church events during the week.
Some years ago on a home visit to Aberdeen I walked down The Chanonry, towards St Machar’s, a favourite haunt of mine. I stopped at The Mitchell Hospital to admire the garden, where an older woman was working.
‘I used to visit here’.
‘Oh aye, and who did you visit?’
‘My father’s aunt, Georgina Duguid’.
‘Aye aye, she was chief wi’ Tibbie Mackay, and she had a cat, Grizzle.’
She was also a wonderful knitter, who taught women from the local ‘Blind Foundation’ to knit, and sometimes she taught men as well. When I was small, she knitted skirts, dresses, vests, cardigans, socks with tremendous loving care. During her later working years, she became eligible for a room at The Mitchell Hospital, with its lovely garden, and friendly atmosphere.
And when I visited with my father, which we did regularly, not only did she try to teach me to knit but, much more imaginatively, she let me play with her golden Button Box, the delight of my early years. Who needs toys when there are buttons to be sorted?
She was a neat, tidy woman, always with an apron on when she was at home, only exchanging it for a big topcoat when she went out. Her hair was immaculate, tucked neatly into a little ‘bun’ at the back of her neck. This bun was fastened with hairpins, encased in a hairnet, and was never allowed to get untidy. It was her pride and joy. Her fiancé had liked her hair. She used to touch it and say ‘He really likit ma hair’.
She never married. Her fiancé was killed in the trenches in the World War 1. We never knew his name.
When I was older I used to visit more frequently, because I was really fond of her. I took my dog as far as the gate and tied him up there because her cat, the current Grizzle, didn’t like a dog in her territory, and Grizzle’s word was law. It was much later when I found out that Grizzle was spelt Grizelle.
Much later, she became ill. Dad and I organised help, went with her to hospital for care and assessment, and eventually she, and we, were told she couldn’t manage at home. So we were advised of vacancies at a local care facility and she accepted a bed there. I remember my father driving her to The Home. She and I sat together in the back seat and held hands. She was upright, staring straight ahead, tight-lipped, obviously fearful of what was to come.
And rightly so.
The first thing the staff did when she was admitted was to cut her hair.
It was easier for the staff.
Beatrice Hale is a writer and social worker who lives in Dunedin, New Zealand.
Also on Corpus by Beatrice Hale: A Caring Bone in our Bodies