RE-SPECT is much more than a word

Lomé Louw

Lily’s Grandmother and Grandfather stay in a retirement village. Each year when her Grandmother has her birthday, Lily plays her a special piano piece in the lounge at the retirement village. Most of the other elderly people living there also like to come and listen when she plays. Some of them cry and hug Lily. This is fine with Lily, because she knows that many of their grandchildren are living either far away or abroad. She really loves her grandparents and is so glad that they stay in the same town as she. This is one of the reasons why she wants to make her Grandmother’s birthday very special. She practices very hard to prepare for her performance because she does not want to make a mistake. She normally curls her hair, adorns it with a flower and dresses in a frock that her Grandmother had bought her.

And today is not different from previous birthdays. She admires herself in the mirror and puts a flower in her hair. She walks up to their piano and plays the piece one last time. She knows it off by heart and plays it without a flaw.

Just before departing to her grandparents, Mom says to her: “You look like a picture, Lily. Thank you for always taking so much trouble for Grandma. Remember to look all the people in their eyes when you say hello to them. If they hug you, give them a special hug back, and importantly, if they ask you how you are, answer them and remember to ask them the same question.”

“Yes, Mom, I’ll remember. Actually I always remember to do this because of your example in our family. I don’t know why you have to repeat it once again!” Lily’s Mom does not like the way Lily answers and looks at her sternly.


On their way to the retirement village, Mom first stops next to John, their gardener who is on his way home. “Can I give you a lift to the bus stop, John? Lily and I are on our way to her Grandmother and we pass the bus stop.” John is glad and gets into the car. Lily greets John, but keeps on looking through the window while Mom chats to John, telling him that Lily is going to play a piece on the piano for her Grandmother. Lily realizes that her mother is such a good example of caring. Mom never gives money to beggars, but she always tries to help instead. John greets when he gets off and Lily waves him good-bye.


At the retirement village Lily’s grandparents as well as various other elderly people are waiting for her in the lounge. Lily greets everybody and walks up to the piano. She is so glad that Mrs Viljoen is not here today. Although she always gives Lily a slab of chocolates after playing the piano, Lily does not like to give her a hug. She does not know why, but the old lady has a funny smell and it feels to Lily as if her clothes also smell like that after having given her a hug. She does not know whether it is the soap this lady uses, or whether she had forgotten to brush her teeth. It makes Lily squirm a little bit.


As always, Lily’s performance is immaculate. Granddad and Grandma are the first to give her a hug after she had finished. Then others follow. Last in the row is … Mrs Viljoen. As always she takes a chocolate from her handbag. Lily thanks her very politely, but she does not hug her as always. She does, however, ask her how she is and whether she had finished crocheting the blanket she was busy with the previous year.


On their way home, Lily opens the slab that Mrs Viljoen had given her. She is so looking forward to enjoying a bite. She offers her mother a piece as well. On finishing their treat, Mom asks Lily what about the afternoon she had enjoyed the most. “The chocolate, of course because it is the sweetest,” Lily comments with a laugh. “But it was also nice to hear all the compliments the people gave me on my performance, saying that I played well.”

“Receiving compliments is always nice, Lily and you genuinely played very well. Practicing makes perfect. These elderly people respect you even though you are still small, because you put so much effort in your playing. But children also have to respect older people, whether they are clever, rich, poor, good-looking or ugly; because older people have been living on this earth for much longer than we have. They have seen so much more of life and have lived through many trials and experiences; and for that reason only they are worthy of our respect.”

Lily blushes. She realizes that Mom had seen that she did not hug Mrs Viljoen. She realizes that Mrs Viljoen had put in effort for Lily: she had to walk to the shop to buy her a slab of chocolate. And Mrs Viljoen is quite old, walking is difficult with her walking stick. “Mom, will you please turn around? I have made a mistake.” Mom does not comment or ask why. She turns the car around and they drive back to the retirement village.

Lily’s heart pounds in her throat when she stands in front of Mrs Viljoen’s door. She knocks. She hears the old lady shuffling towards the door with her walking stick. She opens her door and greets Lily in her friendly way, as she always does. “What brings you here little one? Has your mom not departed yet?” “I have come back to say to you that I do appreciate your gift, Mrs Viljoen,” Lily stutters and this time she hugs the old lady. Mrs Viljoen puts her arms around Lily and although she still smells a bit strange, the experience Lily has is far more special than having a bite of chocolate.

When she walks away, Lily smells her dress. It is my imagination. There is no funny smell clinging to my dress, she thinks. Mom was right: older people always deserve our respect. She had thought that Mrs Viljoen’s apartment would be messy, but her place was neat and her plants well cared for, even though she does not walk with ease. Then suddenly Lily realizes what the “strange smell” is: the oil Granddad puts on their furniture… Mrs Viljoen also oils her chairs and tables. Lily recognized the smell when Mrs Viljoen opened her door!

Originally published in My Child and I, Summer 2017


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