Senior Moment is a blog forum for older adults in Nanaimo – those 55 +. A “Senior Moment” is most often associated with the loss of memory that many of us experience when we walk into a room and then forget what we came in for, for the blog column, we want to celebrate the lives, achievements, stories and the “Senior Moment” for those who are active in our community and have a story to share that demonstrates the value and wisdom that comes with a life time of experience. If you would like to be a contributor, please contact EngAGE with Seniors Connect or call 250-754-3331 x 203 and ask for Jane.
We are so pleased to have as our first guest contributor for the “Senior Moment” Blog post – Carol Matthews
Carol has worked as a social worker, as Executive Director of Nanaimo Family Life and as instructor and Dean of Human Services and Community Education at Malaspina University-College (now VIU). She was awarded the ACCC National Award for Excellence in Leadership, an Honorary Doctorate of Letters Degree from VIU, the Order of B.C. and the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal. Carol has published a collection of short stories and four works of memoir. Her short stories and reviews have appeared in literary journals such as Room, The New Quarterly, Grain, Malahat and Event. A new book on bereavement will be published by next year.
Thinking About White Elephants – by Carol Matthews
Recently I designed a button for the No side of the Nanaimo Referendum about the proposed Event Centre: a white elephant with a diagonal red slash through it and the words “Vote NO.” I thought it offered a very clear message which indicated that the Event Centre would become burdensome, useless, and expensive to maintain. My contemporaries appreciated the symbol and sported the button.
To my surprise, I discovered that many young people, though happy to take a button and even take up the cause, had no idea what the white elephant meant. They’d never heard of a white elephant!
In my childhood, many decades ago, the term was well known. Every church bazaar had a white elephant table, featuring items that donors no longer needed:
odd bits of china, peculiar ornaments, mismatched kitchen utensils, jewelry, lampshades, and so forth. This was a regular feature of fund-raising events, next to the home-made baking, flower arrangements, used books and raffle tickets.
Apparently this doesn’t happen often now. Come to think of it, we don’t see church bazaars as often as we did in the past. It got me thinking about obsolescence, about my advanced years. Got me wondering about what that expression really means.
The New Oxford Dictionary of English defines a white elephant as “a possession that is useless or troublesome, especially one that is expensive to maintain or difficult to dispose of.” Perhaps I’m a bit of a white elephant myself, in more ways than one. Certainly the dictionary definition seems to fit.
But wait a minute: the expression originated, long ago in Southeast Asia. In India and old Siam, the white elephants wer rare and prized, symbols of royal power and good omens that might help to bring rain. It was precisely because they were so very valuable that they were sometimes unwanted: because their upkeep was expensive and they were too holy to be used as a working animal.
The white elephants are like the elderly population, I decided. Like them, we are both a treasure and a burden.
Well, I’m going for the “treasure” side of the definition. After all, whether people understood the symbol or not, I think my buttons did some good. They made people smile. And the NO side won the referendum, 80 to 20!
And, more important, I was out there, old white elephant that I am, standing up for and speaking about my beliefs. We elders have lots of work to do!
Let’s do it! And, while we are at it, let’s bring back those old-fashioned church bazaars with their white elephant sales!