High Times at the Senior Center

          For as long as I can remember, there has always been a senior center near my home. As far as I know, not many people go there to check up on how the seniors are or see how they are doing. I pass by this building every day, and I never see many cars in the parking lot.

          Based on comments that I have heard, seniors are expected to be quiet, grumpy, sad, lonely – or even boring! I was interested to see if this stereotype could be true, so I stopped by to see what exactly goes on.

          This particular senior center, located on my reservation, is where many of our tribal elders spend most of their time – perhaps because they feel at home there. They grew up together, so I think it’s neat that, even after going their separate ways when they became adults and making their own lives, they grew older and now meet at this center to create more memories and enjoy each other’s company. 

         When I stepped into the building, I noticed a small seating area with a light blue sofa that looked comfortable enough to sleep on. To my right, a woman was seated behind a large desk. 

         “Hello! How are you?” she asked cheerfully. “Is there anything that I can help you with?”

         I told the woman about my interest in getting to know the older men and women who enjoy spending their time here. Shortly, she led me to the eating area, which smelled like roast and was already decorated for the holiday season. Twinkling lights added life to the room, as well as the glittery snowflakes on the walls and the fluffy Christmas tree in the corner.

         Loud laughs and chatter sprang from the tables that were spread throughout the room. I sat at the nearest table that had an open seat. I introduced myself and the group of elders smiled. It was easier than I thought it would be to grasp their attention. Here is where I met Shirley, a short woman with voluminous black hair. She wore glasses and had the kindest, most welcoming smile. 

        “It is nice of you to come and visit your elders,” she said. “Not many of the kids do this much, so for you to be here is very good.” 

        I smiled and asked Shirley what it is like being here at the senior center. 

        “Being here is nice,” she said. “I talk with everyone here. We eat together or sometimes watch movies together. We even go on trips together!

        “I find that we all understand each other a lot. Nobody is on their phones too much or anything like that! It is important to remember that it’s always good to communicate face to face and have a good conversation. But what is best of it all, is that everyone here feels like a family. I mean that. They are what keeps me happy if I am ever feeling down.” 

        I also met a man who seemed to not talk much, so I decided to start a conversation. As I talked to him, he seemed to be uninterested. He made it very clear that he is not a fan of being bothered and enjoys his time alone. 

       “I come here to get a break from my grandkids at home,” he said. “I do not like too much noise! At times, it can get a little loud here, too. It is just nice to get some peace every now and then. Here I read or play games with the others. But it’s nice to have people to associate with.”

       Not what I wanted to hear, but I did respect his honesty. 

       After lunch, some stayed in the eating area while others went down the hall to different rooms. I followed Shirley to see where she went. The room that we went to was full of color – so many shades of material and ribbons. Here, everyone worked quietly at their sewing machines. Every so often there would be loud laughs from the ladies.

      “This is what I enjoy doing most of the time,” Shirley smiled. “It is really relaxing to sew because it keeps me focused, and I can say I made something nice when I am finished.”

      She laughed and told me that sometimes she has to take a break because her eyes begin to hurt, but once she feels better she gets back to sewing. 

      What the elders sew in this room are the traditional ribbon dresses and ribbon shirts worn by the Quechan people when dancing to their traditional songs. Shirley said that, once they were finally finished, the dresses and shirts were given to any female or male who was interested in carrying on the traditions of the tribe. Any that were left over were put into the gift shop. 

      Shirley took me to the shop, which was loaded with portraits, mugs, dresses, shirts, blankets, gourds and pottery that were made by some of the people there. It was amazing to see everything in one place. 

      “It takes a lot of time to make some of this!” she exclaimed. “When people purchase these items and are satisfied, it makes me happy.

      “To even know that there are still youth who are interested in keeping our culture alive is a blessing on its own,” she added. “That is why I was happy to see that you had come here to visit. The older generation isn’t going to be here forever. This is why it is important for the youth to be around and just talk to us while we are here. Learn from us. Learn who you are. Do not let go of what makes you unique. Be proud of your roots! Not many elders are left who even still speak the Quechan language fluently. There are very few. I encourage you and any other youth from our tribe to continue to keep in contact with us and try your best to learn as much of our language as you can. We do not want to lose that.” 

       On my way out of the Center, I passed by the eating area and noticed again how happy everyone looked. What I learned here is that seniors at these local centers have a lot more fun than many of us think – maybe even more fun than with their own families. Some enjoy the calm environment here while others enjoy the activities that keep them busy.

       It made me feel happy to see so many smiles in one place. After visiting, I can now say that I understand why they love being there so much. I enjoyed the time I spent there.

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