By Ingrid Sapona
Last week I was in Buffalo visiting my octogenarian mother.
It’s tax time and a library near her hosts an AARP tax clinic two mornings a
week. The service is free and they do a terrific job. So, about this time every
year I phone the library to find out what days the clinic runs and then make a
point of getting to Buffalo to get Mom’s taxes done.
The clinic is popular and they sometimes have to turn people
away. But, they’ve got a system that’s pretty fair, if somewhat unusual. It’s
basically first-come, first-served, but there’s a bit of a twist. Though the clinic starts at 10 a.m. (when the
library opens for the day), on mornings that the clinic is held, someone puts
up a sign-up sheet on the library door at 8 a.m. The trick is to get there
early and get your name on that sheet, which has space on it for about 20 names.
Then, when the clinic opens, if your name’s on the list they do their best to
get to you before they close at 1:30 p.m.
Monday morning was cool – 27°F – but sunny. The roads
were dry, but driving was a bit tricky because it was hard to see around all
the huge piles of snow along the edges of the roads and at corners. (Buffalo
had a rough winter even by Buffalo standards!) My plan was to get there at about 7:45 a.m. On
my way to the library I stopped and bought a coffee, figuring I’d sip it in the
warm car while I waited for the sheet to go up.
Well, when I pulled up at 7:50 the parking lot was nearly
full. I wasn’t surprised others were there before me, but I couldn’t believe all
the seniors were waiting out in the freezing cold! I figured we’d all sit in wait
in the warmth of our cars. I parked and went to join the line.
As I zipped my jacket up, the woman in front of me in line
smiled and commented about how lovely a day it was. I mentioned that I was
surprised there was already quite a lineup and she pointed out that it’s because
that morning was the first nice morning they’ve had this winter and folks are
probably anxious to get their taxes done. The senior in front of her voiced his
As others arrived, I couldn’t help notice how many said good
morning and welcomed people to the line. There was a definite social aspect to
the whole thing and no one seemed the least bit put out about waiting in the
cold. She then told me that last week she was there for her return but when she
got home she noticed her address was wrong so she was there just to get it
corrected. When I commented that I bet she felt frustrated, she laughed and
said it was ok. In fact, she hoped the guy who prepared her return last week
was there again because she was going to tease him and say that she figured he
made the mistake just so he could see her again! How cute is that? And what a
positive way of looking at the inconvenience of standing in line in the cold.
Since I was 13th on the list, I returned to the
clinic at about 10:45. There were six volunteers – all seniors – sitting behind
laptop computers, each with another senior (the person whose return they were
preparing) sitting across from them. As they worked, they focused on what they
were doing, but they also cheerfully chatted with the person they were helping
and with fellow volunteers.
All of the volunteers were old enough to have grown up with
typewriters and carbon paper rather than computers and printers, and they were
a bit slow on the data-entry front, but no one seemed to mind. If one of them
had a problem printing, or got an error message, another volunteer would help
and the two of them would figure it out.
I couldn’t help notice how good humoured everyone was and
how patient. No one was in a rush. No one was chatting on a phone. None of them
had even brought the newspaper or a book to read while they waited. Instead,
they just made small talk about this and that with others who were waiting. As
I sat there, watching how calm everyone was, I could actually feel my normal
The rest of that day I thought about those seniors and their
behaviour. They seemed to notice and appreciate so much more than many of us
do. It was a cold day, but they saw it as warmer and sunnier than it had been
for weeks. And they didn’t mind lining up – they were just grateful that the
clinic existed and that they could get to it. And rather than seeing the clinic
volunteers as being there to carry out a task, they saw them as folks they
might make a connection with and have a conversation with.
As children, we look to our parents and their friends as
role models. But, as they become seniors and we start to help them with more things, we often think we
don’t have anything more to learn from their behaviour. That morning helped me
realize what a mistake that is. Those seniors were wonderful role models. They demonstrated
hardiness (getting up early and braving the cold), patience, sociability, and gratitude
– qualities many of us should work on.
© 2015 Ingrid Sapona