“Today’s special is…. chips!”

My wife and I like to dine out now and then at the local eateries. There are lots of them in our seaside town and the menus vary quite a bit. Chips/fries are an ubiquitous component of most of these meals, whether we ask for them (never!) or not.

If we go out for an evening meal, the chips are still there. Order a cheap $10 burger and you’ll get chips with it. Order a $40 steak and you’ll get chips with it. I don’t know about you, but I can’t tell the difference between a $10 chip and a $40 chip. Chips are now the world champions in the Formula One of the fast food industry. Most people don’t notice that they are on their plate, taking up at least one third of the meal. We notice big time if we order a meal anywhere and there are no chips – thankyou Chef!

At these clubs and restaurants I notice something else. Children will eat the chips and then say ‘I’m, full’. So many times I watch a hearty meal served to kids (fish, steak, whatever) with salad and chips, and see the plate taken back at the end with most of the meal still on it, except the chips. We see this everywhere – at breakfast, lunch and dinner. Watch – even with adults- you’ll rarely see a plate go back with chips still on it. Salad, heck yes!

For the last week or so, I’ve been watching a woman die. Let’s call her Sue. Sue is in the same Aged Care Facility that my mother is in. She has a very sharp mind, a beautiful and quick sense of humour and is a joy to have a chat with. She, like a few of the other beautiful ladies in the Home, has taken my mother under her wing and has been her friend for the last few years. My mother has advanced dementia and can’t talk or feed herself. My wife goes up to the home and hand-feeds Mum several times a week.

Sue took a bad turn a couple of weeks ago. She is now on her way to passing and is at peace in her room watching and waiting as the world moves on around her. She’ll probably last another couple of days in this world. I don’t know how long my mother will last. One of the ladies there in the Home (let’s call her Meg) had her 103rd birthday last week, so who knows? Meg can still crack a joke, have a laugh and is reasonably mobile. When she has really enjoyed a meal, I’ve heard Meg ask, “So whom do I thank?”

After visiting the Home a few times a week for the last few years, my wife and I have come to know and love these lovely people who live and work there. After a while you don’t see them as old people – just people living along their paths: Sue – soon to pass; Meg – hanging on with her quiet eloquent dignity; Sam and Dave – the two gentlemen residents of the cottage, living for their next smoke, book, or bottle of Worcestershire sauce; Mary – with her stuffed pet pig; the other ladies – husbandless, floating like ghosts-to-be in the common room; and Birdie – the resident caged cockatiel.

The carers in this Home are wonderful. They take their job seriously, with quiet love and compassion. One committed suicide several months ago, aged 24.

I watched my father die in 2010. One of his last statements to me was, “It’s a bugger gettin’ old.” His regret for missed opportunities was heartbreakingly obvious.

I’ve grown to enjoy visiting these people at the Aged Care Home where my mother is. I am still learning from her, and Dad. Life is more than just chips. Sure, go for the quick unquestioned filler, and send the other stuff back untried – but at your own peril.

As one gets older you find yourself thinking, “Damn! I wish I’d tried that!” I envy the fact that, for many of these old folk at the Home with Mum, chips weren’t on their life menu. They smacked their lips on more stimulating flavours of deeper meaning – dirt, love, pain, joy, responsibility, perseverance, and tears of laughter and grief.

And so, as we look at our plates and ponder the bounty of life given to us freely, do we devour the CHIPS and send the other stuff back? I wonder too, when it comes to the end for each of us – will we ask the question: “Whom do I thank?”

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