Tuesday, 7 November 2017

You Can't Take It With You...

You never know who you're going to meet on the road.  Over the past year we've had the privilege of meeting some truly special people and one of my favourites is Keith.  Every day, for as long as we've been here and weather allows, Keith has walked a circuit of the campground with his tiny white dog.  Whilst the dog was always in a tearing hurry, straining at the leash, at 90 years old, Keith wasn't in a hurry to go anywhere and would always stop to say hello, with a big smile.  For a long time it was nothing more than a quick chat about the weather and for our dogs to sniff noses, but more recently he would stop for longer and we got to learn more about each other.

Keith would always come by here with his dog for a chat

One morning he stopped by the van, being pulled along by his little dog as usual.  'I didn't quite hear you properly the other day, did you say you were a writer?' he asked.  'That's right', I said and told him briefly about some of the work I did.  'I taught people how to save money for a long time', I smiled.  'Really?  I used to be an accountant!  I even worked at The Ensign for a while', he said, referring to the local paper.  'You know, moving to Gore years ago was the best thing I ever did', he went on.  'Everyone's so friendly here, there are so many opportunities, so many things you can get involved in.  It has everything a big city has, in a small town!'  'Yes, we love it here too', I agreed.  In fact, I've never met anyone living here who doesn't!  It really is a beautiful town, with a wonderful, warm community.

As we talked, we found that we had still more in common, such as an involvement with Lions, where I had been a charter member of our local club in Te Kauwhata years ago, and of course a love of dogs.  'I have to find a new home for this one though', he said, nodding down at his tiny four-legged friend.  'I'm selling my house and going into a home.  It's getting a bit much for me, walking around here', he said, looking about him.  'I can imagine, it's no small walk!' I said.  'How long have you got to find her a home?'  'A little while yet', he replied.  'I won't let her go to just anyone though!  They'll have to be kind, like you', he said earnestly.  'Ah, I would take her tomorrow if I could - but I really don't think we have any more room in the van!'  I laughed.  'I'm sure you'll find her a lovely home.  Do you have any family members who could possibly take her?'

'Yes, well I haven't had too much luck with my children, unfortunately', he said.  'I lost one daughter when she was 39 and my other daughter developed an incurable condition out of the blue, where one side of her brain doesn't work properly.  She was a surgeon, an excellent one.  She won a scholarship to San Fransisco.  Her children are all Yanks', he laughed.  'But she had to stop, just like that.  She can still ride a horse though, she loves her horses'.  I felt honoured that he opened up and told me so much.  'My son lives in Australia, he's coming over in two weeks to help me with the move', Keith smiled.  'Oh, well that will be wonderful!'  I smiled back.  'Well we'll be seeing you before then I'm sure.  Do let me know how you go finding a home for your little dog.  Maybe I can help if you get stuck'. 

At 90 years old, Keith looked nowhere near it; his eyes still sparkled.  He had had an amazing life and raised an exceptional family.  His wife had been in a retirement home for several years and now the two-storey home they had owned for the last 25 years was getting too much for him to look after.  Both Gareth and I liked him a lot and it always made us smile to see him doing the rounds with his dog, so when Bevin the caretaker asked us if we would mind going along to Keith's house yesterday to help with clearing things out for the move, we agreed straight away.  'His son's over from Australia now, but they've got a hell of a mission on their hands!' he warned us.

We arrived to find Bevin's wife, Amy and a group of other ladies crammed into the kitchen, methodically going through cupboards and shelves.  Now we could see why they needed the extra help, this was going to be no small task!  Seeing as Keith was going to be moving into the retirement home, there was no way he was going to be able to take everything with him; not even a fraction of it.  We had to sort everything into boxes, bags and piles.  One pile for the local foodbank, another for the Hospice charity shop, another for Keith to take with him, and one more for rubbish.  As a 90-year-old former accountant, it was no surprise that Keith lived a very 'waste not, want not' lifestyle. Everything was recycled, and put away to be used again.  Nothing was ever thrown away, from spare milk bottle tops to food items and he had meticulously continued to buy the same items he had always bought, regardless of whether he needed them or not.  If there was ever a zombie apocalypse, Keith should have technically been able to live off his stockpile for years!  The problem was, all the time he kept saving what he had and buying more, he hadn't been USING any of it.  As a result, we had to throw away hundreds and hundreds of dollars worth of expired food, dating as far back as 2001!  It felt criminal to dispose of so much, but there was nothing else we could do.  Rather than 'waste not, want not', he still wanted for nothing, but so much had been wasted.  On the positive side, none of us were ever going to need to buy cling wrap or ziplock bags ever again, we found enough rolls and bundles to supply the whole town!

'I never thought last time we met that next time I saw you, you'd be standing in my kitchen!' Keith smiled, as he came in to find Gareth and I had joined the cleaning crew.  'I tell you what Keith, we'd have a heck of a job fitting all this into a camper van!' I laughed.  The food wasn't the hardest part, however.  Because literally nothing was ever thrown away, we had no way of knowing what was important and what was just clutter.  Being very aware that Keith and his wife had lost a daughter, we were terrified of throwing out or giving away anything which was important or sentimental.  But we were also aware that he could take precious little with him to his new place.  Years and years of memories were in that house, souvenirs, awards and mementos of a long life lived, three children raised and more grandchildren.  And we had no idea what to do with it all.  My heart really went out to Keith as he sat there in his lounge chair, watching the whirlwind of activity all around him as we went through all his possessions, deciding what was fit to keep and what had to go.  He had been around the house with his son the day before, picking out the things which were absolutely not to be left behind, but even so, it must have felt incredibly overwhelming and out of his control to have everyone going through his possessions like that.

By the time we finished clearing the kitchen, there were rubbish bags piled up in the drive, waiting to go to the dump, boxes and boxes being taken to the hospice shop and still more boxes to go to the foodbank.  From one room!  And just three medium sized boxes put aside from it all for Keith.  I wondered how much more of it he would take with him if he could.  'You wouldn't want to go doing this every day, would you!' I grinned at Keith as I grabbed another box.  'Never again!  This is my last move', he smiled - and I realised that it really would be.  No new adventure to look forward to, not like my mum when she had to sort out her belongings to emigrate from the UK to NZ after my dad died.  Not like us when we had to downsize all our possessions from a house into a van to go travelling.  It was indeed the last move, and I realised sadly that just like the old saying goes, you can't take it with you.  But I realised something else too, as I spotted the glass coffee table covered with medals, that here was a man who had lived a very long, full and rewarding life.  That was nothing to be sad about.

Yesterday also made me realise something else.  We are never, ever going to have to do that living in a van!  Just like we said in our recent video, your priorities, your ideals of what is important completely change when you live with so little.  You know the old question 'if your house was on fire, what would you save?' Perhaps it's worth thinking about it another way.  If you had to move all the years of your life into a retirement home; a tiny, one-room unit, what would you - or rather, what COULD you - take with you?  If there's one thing I learned from yesterday, it's this: If you don't hold on to it all, you don't have to say goodbye to it all.

One of the few precious things we'll have in our van now :-)

It will be sad not to see Keith around the campground any more; his little dog went to its new home a couple of days ago.  But I like to think we will go and visit him in his new digs once he's settled in.  And thanks to him, I have a lovely and much-needed salad bowl!  I've been on the lookout for one for ages and now I have a beautiful pottery one to remember him by.  I have a feeling it will get used an awful lot more now than it ever did before!

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