Magazine article U.S. Catholic

You Never Retire from the Corporal Works: Old Age Isn't Keeping These Seniors from Their Regular Volunteer Work

Magazine article U.S. Catholic

You Never Retire from the Corporal Works: Old Age Isn't Keeping These Seniors from Their Regular Volunteer Work

Article excerpt

Veterans of the holy wars--the wars against poverty, racism, and ignorance--the pious elderly have met a new enemy. It is themselves, with their aging flesh, bones, and brains.

A pop quiz revealed to one group of them that they could no longer recite the Corporal Works of Mercy. But their smarts told them where to look--on Google on the Internet--under "Catholic encyclopedia." In that way they learned exactly what it was they had been doing all those years, effortlessly, which was now so dang much trouble.

Take "feeding the hungry." For years Agatha, 89, and, Willard, 86, were top dogs at their parish's food pantry. They counted, boxed, and allotted available donations of provender weekly. The heavy lifting was gradually taken over by the few available younger volunteers, but Ag and Willard remained the mainstay.

Recently, however, the congregation shifted to ever-more needy people but fewer congregants bringing brown bags filled with food from sponsoring chain stores. Undaunted, another one of that crafty, Depression-era-frugal cadre had an idea. She prearranged to have the food pantry's name in her obituary as the place for memorial donations to be made when she deserted the pantry for her place in the cemetery.

Success! Hundreds of dollars poured in. Still, the donors had to be thanked, a chore left to Agatha, she of the strong and clear handwriting. Willard, the retired accountant, entered the numbers for the parish's tax records and handed the list of donors to Ag--who couldn't read Willard's arthritic script. Ag still struggles to locate the blessed donating culprits, whose own handwriting could scarcely be deciphered by that educator emeritus. ("They not only can't write," she mourns, "they can't even print!")

Then there is the Committee Robe, assembled by two widows for a third woman, Eloise, 92. This lady had not dressed for years unless going out to church or dinner. Though her robes were in ribbons, she was too feeble to go shopping, which she formerly loved to do. So Martha, 78, a wonderful seamstress glad of a challenge, agreed to stitch together something suitable if Gladys, 80, would find the material, cut out a pattern, and bring it to her. (Gladys herself loves to sew, but now her back is too bad.)

So it was done. Gladys found a nice robe velour and located an ancient Vogue pattern in the style favored by the donee. The pattern was itself practically in ribbons, having been used many times, but Gladys soldiered on. A week later she delivered the pieces to Martha for assembling. Martha was elated at this opportunity to show her stuff.

The robe was beautifully put together, seams even, collar rolled expertly, hems finished professionally. There was only one thing wrong. It was put together inside out. Or, as they say in crossword puzzles, it was everted. Disaster!

Well, no. Neither Eloise nor Martha even noticed the fabric's subtle design belonged on the other side. Neither can visually discriminate that well. Only Gladys knows, and she'll never tell. And if she did, Eloise can't hear much anyway.

Having fed the hungry and clothed the naked, one of the ministering cohort, Ethel, 75, turned to her former profession, counseling, to comfort the afflicted. There was a slot for a volunteer at the local hospital in the critical care unit. The need was for a person to make coffee, tidy up the waiting room, listen to visitors' anxieties, and act as liaison between nursing staff and relatives. One job requirement was maturity. Another was having accepted one's own mortality so as not to run screaming if a patient expired. …

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