Happy New Year, everyone! For the first story of 2016, I wanted to touch on what I think is a really important subject - the loneliness of the elderly and our responsibility to take care of them. Yes, a big subject for a children's story, but I think almost any subject can be tackled in a story, if you go about it in the right way. I hope that I have. Enjoy!
Dotty's New "Nana"
The seat belt clicked into place and Dotty led out a loud groan. This was not how she wanted to be spending her Saturday afternoon.
From the driving seat, her mum tutted. "Dotty, come on. We won't be very long."
Dotty's mum was a district nurse. It was her job to go and visit sick people in their houses. Today was supposed to be her day off, but another nurse had been held up at an appointment and Dotty's mum had promised to cover his next patient for him. Given that Dotty wasn't at school and her dad was away with work, she had no choice but to go along. But, as the car trundled down winding country lanes, Dotty would rather be anywhere else.
"You'll like Elsie," her mum promised, as she parked the car, at last. "She's lovely."
Dotty wrinkled her nose, as she climbed out of the car and stared at the little bungalow in front of her. "How old is she?"
"Eighty three years young," Dotty's mum replied, grabbing her bag from the boot.
"That's ancient," Dotty groaned.
She followed her mum down the path that led to the bungalow's front door. The door was a faded blue colour and the paint was peeling off. As Dotty's mum rang the bell, Dotty heard a scratching sound and a faint miaow.
"That's Elsie's cat, Bob," Dotty's mum explained. "I swear, he's almost as old as she is!"
The door creaked open and a ginger cat with white stripes all down his back rushed into the garden to play. Dotty giggled. She watched him for a while. before turning back to see the old lady who'd opened the door.
Elsie had white, wispy hair that looked almost like candy floss. Her blue eyes had turned milky, but they still twinkled when she smiled. Her hands were thin and blotchy, as she waved. "Hello, little one. You must be Dorothy?"
"Dotty," Dotty corrected.
"That's the one," Elsie chuckled. "Your mum talks about you ever so much."
Dotty and her mum followed Elsie into a sitting room, where two, faded, pink armchairs were placed with a little table between them. Dotty frowned. "Don't you have a sofa?"
Elsie shrugged, easing herself down into one of the armchairs, as Dotty's mum began changing the dressing on her leg - Dotty had been so busy looking around, she hadn't even noticed it, before. "I don't get enough company to need one," Elsie told her. "It's usually just me, these days."
Dotty settled into the other armchair. "Don't you have a husband?"
"Oh, I did," Elsie explained, nodding at a wedding photo on the mantelpiece. "But Henry died nearly nine years ago, now."
Dotty nodded. "My grandparents are dead," she told Elsie. "Nana only died last year. It was really sad... She wasn't even as old as you are!"
Elsie laughed, loudly. "Well, I am pretty old," she chuckled. "But I haven't lost my spark, just yet. I might be wrinkly, but inside, I'm still the feisty little girl I used to be."
Dotty grinned. "Were you naughty?!"
"Oh, I'd say more 'mischievous'," Elsie giggled. "When I was a little girl, during the war, chocolate was rationed. So, my sisters and I used to sweet-talk the American GI's who'd come over to fight, and then they'd give us extra. We'd go running down to our little Anderson Shelter at the bottom of the garden and hide the chocolate in a drawer, rolled up in our socks. Then, when there was a raid and we had to go to the shelter at night, we'd sit and eat the chocolates, even though they were all covered in fluff, haha!"
Dotty pulled a face, but she couldn't help laughing. "That's disgusting!"
"Believe me, when you're not allowed much chocolate, you don't mind a bit of sock-fluff," Elsie smiled.
Dotty sat forwards in her chair. "What else did you do?!"
"Oh, I used to get up to all sorts," Elsie beamed. "I was twelve when the war ended and although we were quite lucky, living in the countryside, there was still a bombsite around half a mile up the road from where we lived, back then. So, after school, we'd all go running down there and we made a den under all this rubble. We used to search for 'treasure' - bits of aeroplane, or something - and we'd collect it all in the den. We'd stay there until it was dark and our tummies were rumbling!" She sighed to herself. "Oh, those were happy times, really."
Dotty's mum looked up from her work. "I hope you're not giving her any naughty ideas, Elsie," she teased. She continued to change Elsie's dressing and smiled to herself. "It's the stories from the 1950s that I love hearing about."
Dotty smiled. "Oh, mum likes to wear dresses with big puffy skirts, like in the 50s," she told Elsie. "Did you wear those?"
Elsie pointed a thin hand towards the door. "Go out there and find the first door on the left," she said. "That's my bedroom. You'll find lots of dresses like that in my wardrobe. I'm too old to wear them anymore - I'm not sure they'd even fit - but I couldn't bear to throw them away!"
Dotty went rushing off in search of the dresses and came back with an especially pretty one; purple with white polka dots all over it.
"That was my favourite!" Elsie grinned, seeing the dress. "Ooh, I went to so many wonderful dances in that. And they'd play the most fantastic music - rock and roll! Not like anything we'd ever heard, before. I can remember the first time I heard an Elvis record... I thought I'd died and gone to Heaven! Of course, our parents hated it. Said it was a dreadful noise." She winked at Dotty. "And that just made us love it even more!"
Dotty beamed. "Tell me about it," she begged. "I want to know more!"
Dotty's mum laughed. "I've finished what I came to do," she told Dotty. "We can go to the park now, if you like?"
Dotty's face fell. "But I liked listening to Elsie."
"And I liked talking to someone, for a change," Elsie replied. She nodded at Dotty's mum. "Aside from you and your colleagues, of course."
Dotty frowned. "Don't your family come to visit very often?"
Elsie sighed. "They live abroad," she explained. "My son married a lovely French girl. So, they live over there. They come home once or twice a year..."
"What about your friends?" Dotty interrupted.
"I'm not a young girl, anymore," Elsie explained, sadly. "A lot of my friends have passed away. Now, it's just me and the cat."
Dotty's eyes began to glisten. "But I don't like the idea of you being here on your own," she insisted. She looked over at her mum. "Can't we stay? Just for a bit longer?" She smiled at Elsie. "I'd like to hear a few more stories before I go. I don't have a Nana anymore and... Well, you could be my new one, if you like? Just pretend, you know..."
Elsie's milky-blue eyes twinkled. "I would love that, Dotty." She nodded to the purple dress in Dotty's hands. "You know, you could grow into that," she said. "And one day, when you're old enough to go out dancing, you could wear it!"
"Oh, Elsie, that's far too generous," Dotty's mum said.
"Nonsense," Elsie replied. "Your little girl has made me feel young again, today. It's the least she deserves!"
"Thank you!" Dotty cried, flinging her arms around the old lady's neck. "You really can be my new Nana!" She stepped back and glanced at her mum. "If we really have to go, now... Can we come back again, another day?"
Her mum smiled, first at Elsie, then at Dotty. "Of course."
Dotty gave her new "pretend Nana" a hug goodbye. She couldn't wait to go to school on Monday and tell her friends all about the amazing dress she had. She was desperate to share Elsie's cool stories, too.
As she followed her mum out to car, Dotty whispered: "Mum, was Elsie really all on her own, before we visited?"
"Sadly, a lot of old people are," her mum replied.
Dotty climbed into the car and clicked her seat belt into place. "Well, Elsie's not going to be lonely anymore," she said. "She's got me, now."
And as she turned to wave to the old lady, Dotty was sure she saw a happy tear in her eye. "Bye, Nana Elsie!" She called out of the window. "We'll be back!"
As the car drove away, Bob the cat went hurrying back into the house and Elsie closed the door behind them. Alone again. But not for long.