by Pat Whalley


I am fortunate in having a large group of friends, several of which are very close to my heart.  This group of 65-80 year women covers a wide range of professions including stay home moms as well as women who worked out of the home for most of their lives.  A stay home mom is not a lady of leisure, anything but, so I include them as having a profession.

In this group of similar aged women a large percentage of them are still very active, taking part in all sorts of social groups as well as volunteering in the community and child minding of grandchildren, as the needs occur.  Very few of the women I know sit around and do nothing but twiddle their thumbs, but are active and eager to join in anything that interests them.  Only two or three of my acquaintances actually act their age and spend their days reading, napping and having tea with other friends.

Being retired means not holding a paying job any more but it doesn’t mean retiring from life!  This seems to be the difference between my generation and that of my grandma.

My grandma undoubtedly had a very hard life, she raised six children with an alcoholic husband who contributed very little to the family budget, spending most of his paycheque in the local pub.  This meant that grandma had to be resourceful and find ways to earn her own living.  She did many things to feed the family.

One of gran’s money making jobs was taking in washing.  Many people were willing to pay a few shillings to have someone else wash, dry and iron the family laundry and gran did this for many years.  All done by hand, in a washtub, then rinsed, wrung out and hauled onto long clotheslines, it must have been a very heavy job as all clothing and linens were cotton or wool.  Once dry the laundry had to be ironed, aired folded and returned to the owner, a minimum of a two day chore for each household’s service.

Grandma also made meat and potato pies for a nearby factory, over fifty individual pies or pasties made five days each week.  Of course gran’s children had to help out with all chores, my mom told me of her job delivering pies and then collecting weekly payments on pay day, her brother being stronger, was in charge of laundry delivery.  The oldest children had to take over some of the laundry chores when grandma was in bed delivering the latest of her six children.  No time off work for maternity leave, if your family needed to be fed.  She was probably overjoyed as each child left school and earned some money of their own, of course they would soon marry and go off to establish their own homes.

As gran’s life got easier, she became the drop off centre for child care as grandchildren came along.  I was the only one of the eleven grandchildren to live at grandma’s on a permanent basis but most of the grandkids ended up being looked after by gran at some time in their young lives.  One of my cousins, who was five years younger than myself, lost her mom to cancer when she was five.  She of course was packed off to grandma’s, only going home to her father on weekends.  How grandma put up with the two of us I don’t know.  As the only child at grandma’s for eight years I had been quiet and helpful and had been taught how to cook, budget, shop and clean house alongside my grandma.  When not busy I was reading, however, once my cousin moved in life changed and I had someone to play with.  Poor gran’s life must have got a whole lot noisier and hectic as we both led one another into mischief.  That is probably why I was returned to my mom’s home a few months later.  I was now eleven, about to start the “big” school and could now get myself ready for school without supervision.  My cousin started school and went back to live with her dad, relying on child minders for occasional daycare.

Grandma was free for the first time in her life at the age of 66.  Today mid sixties is thought of as relatively young but back then retirement age seemed to be the end of a useful life and grandma turned into a really old lady very quickly.

Laundromats had arrived in our town so once weekly grandma would take her clothing and linens down the lane in her basket on wheels.  The items were ironed the same day and the chore was done.  The rest of the week grandma seemed to do nothing.  She shunned the idea of going to most social events and spent most of her days sitting on a stool at her back door, watching the world go by.  Passing neighbours would stop and chat but mainly she sat there alone for hours.

Although gran seemed to just dream her time away she was very observant of the world around her and would issue loud, disapproving tutts if she thought someone’s laundry wasn’t white enough.  If lace curtains, which everyone owned, didn’t get changed often enough or someone’s back step had not been swept and washed recently, it would be noted and repeated to anyone willing to listen.  After I left school I went to live with an auntie in a different town so only made the bus journey to gran’s house once a week.  She would fill me in on local gossip as we drank our tea but the main topic of her conversation was the happenings of right outside her door.

Several times I arrived at gran’s house around six thirty and find her in bed, a couple of times I managed to wake her by banging on the window but, if she was soundly asleep, nothing would wake her.  She now slept downstairs and had shut off the top of the house altogether.  She had a tv set but thought it was ‘drivvel’ and not worth watching so I guess boredom drove her to bed.  She read her daily paper but she never read a book, and only had a few books in her house and I couldn’t persuade her to go to the local library, which was less than a ten minute walk from her back door.   Maybe she didn’t read well and wouldn’t admit it.

When I think now of gran’s busy life and how she never adjusted to not having to work, I feel really sad.  She never learned the joy of being her own person and not having to be responsible for someone else.  I compare her retirement to mine and wish she could have had friends to celebrate with but she never had time to make friends while she was child raising and I guess she never learned how, once she did have time.  How sad to live in your own little world, I wish I could tell her that it’s really alright to have fun and to celebrate your retirement, and it’s not necessary to always act your age.

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2 Responses to by Pat Whalley

  1. Mary Lou Ellan says:

    Reading your story reminded me of my mother. She had eight children within 11 years and was always busy as my dad worked 2 jobs. Along came grandchildren which she watched while their mothers worked. After that she just seemed to sit around and not do much, didn’t have many friends or activities to keep her busy.

    • Edna Goertzen says:

      Please don’t ever stop with your stories Pat. They are so interesting & sometime even sad , can definitely relate to some of the stories. Thank you for sharing

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