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The Legend of the ‘Cranky Old Man’

The Legend of the ‘Cranky Old Man’

From Zeus and Europa, to Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox, every culture has its requisite legends and tall tales.

The culture of caregiving is no exception.

Thanks to, JessieBelle, one of our AgingCare caregiver forum community members, we recently came across one of these legends in the form of this poem. The tale is said to be authored by an anonymous elderly gentleman, living in an Australian nursing home:

Cranky Old Man

What do you see nurses? What do you see?
What are you thinking, when you’re looking at me?
A cranky old man, not very wise,
Uncertain of habit, with faraway eyes?
Who dribbles his food, and makes no reply.
When you say in a loud voice, ‘I do wish you’d try!’
Who seems not to notice, the things that you do.
And forever is losing, a sock or shoe?
Who, resisting or not, lets you do as you will,
With bathing and feeding, the long day to fill?
Is that what you’re thinking, is that what you see?
Then open your eyes, nurse, you’re not looking at me.
I’ll tell you who I am, as I sit here so still,
As I do at your bidding, as I eat at your will.
I’m a small child of ten, with a father and mother,
Brothers and sisters, who love one another
A young boy of sixteen, with wings on his feet
Dreaming that soon now, a lover he’ll meet.
A groom soon at twenty, my heart gives a leap.
Remembering the vows, that I promised to keep.
At twenty-five now, I have young of my own.
Who need me to guide, and a secure happy home.
A man of thirty, my young now grown fast.
Bound to each other, with ties that should last.
At forty, my young sons, have grown and are gone,
But my woman is beside me, to see I don’t mourn.
At fifty, once more, babies play ’round my knee,
Again, we know children, my loved one and me.
Dark days are upon me, my wife is now dead.
I look at the future, I shudder with dread.
For my young are all rearing, young of their own.
And I think of the years, and the love that I’ve known.
I’m now an old man, and nature is cruel.
It’s jest to make old age, look like a fool.
The body, it crumbles, grace and vigour, depart.
There is now a stone, where I once had a heart.
But inside this old carcass, a young man still dwells,
And now and again, my battered heart swells
I remember the joys, I remember the pain.
And I’m loving and living, life over again.
I think of the years, all too few, gone too fast.
And accept the stark fact, that nothing can last.
So open your eyes, people, open and see.
Not a cranky old man.
Look closer, see me.

After the man passed away, the nurses at the care home where he resided allegedly found this unpublished poem among his possessions. They were so inspired by its contents that they felt compelled to share his words with the world.

To be sure, this piece presents a poignant examination of the unforgiving, un-halting progress of life, not to mention the sense of invisibility felt by many older people.

But, there’s more to the story behind this verse than most of its readers realize.

The original “cranky old man”

Another version of this tale holds that the “cranky old man” wasn’t really a man at all—he was a woman. A nurse named Phyllis McCormack, to be exact. And she wasn’t really cranky; merely empathetic to the plight of the aging adults she cared for.

McCormack, so the story goes, penned the first draft of the poem while working in a British hospital, sometime in the mid-1960s:

Crabbit Old Woman (aka: Kate, or Look Closer Nurse)

What do you see nurses? What do you see?
What are you thinking? When you are looking at me
A crabbit old woman not very wise,
Uncertain of habit, with far-away eyes,
Who dribbles her food, and makes no reply,
When you say in a loud voice,’I do wish you’d try.’
Who seems not to notice, the things that you do,
And forever is losing, a stocking or shoe,
Who unresisting or not, lets you do as you will
With bathing and feeding, the long day to fill,
Is this what you’re thinking? Is this what you see?
Then open your eyes nurse, you’re not looking at me.
I’ll tell you who I am, as I sit here so still,
As I use at your bidding, as I eat at your will.
I’m a small child of ten, with a father and mother,
Brothers and sisters who, love one another,
A young girl of sixteen, with wings on her feet,
Dreaming that soon now, a lover she’ll meet:
A bride soon at twenty, my heart gives a leap,
Remembering the vows, that I promised to keep:
At twenty-five now, I have young of my own 5
Who need me to build, a secure happy home.
A young woman of thirty, my young now grow fast,
Bound to each other, with ties that should last:
At forty my young ones, now grown will soon be gone,
But my man stays beside me, to see I don’t mourn:
At fifty once more, babies play round my knee,
Again we know children, my loved one and me.
Dark days are upon me, my husband is dead,
I look at the future, I shudder with dread,
For my young are all busy, rearing young of their own,
And I think of the years, and the love I have known.
I’m an old woman now, and nature is cruel
‘Tis her jest to make old age look like a fool.
The body it crumbles, grace and vigour depart,
There now is a stone, where I once had a heart:
But inside this old carcass, a young girl still dwells,
And now and again, my battered heart swells,
I remember the joys, I remember the pain,
And I’m loving and living, life over again,
I think of the years, all too few – gone too fast,
And accept the stark fact that nothing can last.
So open your eyes nurses, open and see,
Not a crabbit old woman, look closer – see me.’

According to a 1998 article in the “Daily Mail” (a British newspaper), McCormack’s son claimed that his mother had written the original verse for her hospital’s magazine.

The “Cranky Old Man” version of the poem is said to have been later adapted from McCormack’s version by David Griffith, a U. S. poet.

True legends need no author

The various legends surrounding this particular poem are so complex and have been re-told so many times that it’s likely the original writer of the piece will never be truly verified.

A fact that does little to diminish the power of this epic ode.

Like the legends of old (the ones that resonate in the hearts and minds of people across the globe), the “Cranky Old Man,” has taken on an identity of its own.

It doesn’t have just one author—it has many.

The true poets are the older adults who feel forgotten and invisible, the doctors and nurses who provide much-needed medical services for these elderly men and women, and the caregivers who give comfort, care and support to their aging loved ones.

They are the ones who keep the story alive, however they choose to tell it.

Summer Heat Can Affect Medication Use originally appeared on AgingCare.com.

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Read more: Aging, Caregiving, Inspiration, Life, Spirit, , , ,

By Anne-Marie Botek, AgingCare.com Editor

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86 comments

+ add your own
2:20AM PDT on Aug 12, 2013

What a beautiful poem - goes straight to the emotional corner in the brain.

We often used to do this with my parents on weekends when we usually went home on Saturday or Sunday. A good glas of wine in the afternoon and one or the other started telling stories from the past and we just enjoyed them. Muuuuuuch better than any TV show and so much fun.

Years later, when my late mother-in-law lived with us the last years of her life (she died at the age of 90!) we often looked at old pictures of hers (family and friends and work) and I was listening to her stories. Often all of us sat on the floor with pictures around us and just had a good time. It was enriching and I got to know her really well. She was a great lady and a great doctor and became truly my second mother - RIP.

That's something which is missing today - people don't know how to listen anymore. I think it is great to listen to the elders and I love their stories. I can literally "hang on the lips" of a good storyteller.

5:26AM PDT on Aug 6, 2013

Thanks.

12:55PM PDT on Aug 5, 2013

My previous experiences of the NHS have been that most nurses are great - but - there's always one... It did them no good. Once I'd got home I used to write a strong letter to those in charge of staff-patient relationships. (That is, not rude, but very clear) Invariably I found that my letters were taken seriously.

I described these experiences to the nurses who have just been caring for me and they were invariably pleased I'd written because they hoped the letters would do some good.

8:21AM PDT on Aug 5, 2013

In the UK we are constantly hearing about bad care in the NHS and in care homes. It is scary for people like me who have lost someone they love, but are not in a position to find out more. (he left me for someone else, but I still wished him well after his stroke. I found reassurance, but that's another story entirely.)

I read this poem while I was in the hospital I've just left after an accident. The nurses were wonderful and at every stage my feelings were taken into account. My bed had a little individual TV, so I'd hear these negative things about the NHS, and it seemed like another world from the one in which I was being cared for!

The hospital adjoined a care home, and I could walk in their garden, and talk to staff and patients there. Yes, I did meet a 'cranky old man' but I came to have much better feelings about the system!

6:09PM PDT on Aug 4, 2013

Many thanks.

10:58AM PDT on Aug 3, 2013

Thanks!

3:32PM PDT on Aug 2, 2013

thanks

3:33AM PDT on Aug 2, 2013

Thanks

5:49AM PDT on Jul 31, 2013

Great poem and all too true. I am personally living this poem thru my mom, who is in a nursing home and it is not easy to see what indifference some of the nursing staff have towards those they are supposed to CARE FOR have. As I reflect back on my moms life I have truly come to admire, respect and honor all she accomplished! What strength she has and how many obstacles and hardships she conquered - WOW! We as a society must incorporate into our thinking TO HONOR THE ELDERLY. Not to be viewed as hindrances but to respect them and give them all the love and care they so richly deserve.

9:00PM PDT on Jul 30, 2013

Thanks for posting

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

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