As part of our Friendship Is Ageless campaign, we're celebrating friendship! With her talent for reciting poetry and her warm and generous nature, Olive, who lives at Shottermill House, Haslemere, is a cherished friend to Jo. Here Jo shares what makes her so special
“You don’t meet people like Olive very often. She just gives and gives and gives. She’s so thankful for anything you do for her. You can give her a packet of biscuits and it’s like you’ve given her the world.
“Olive and I met 20 years ago. My husband, Derek, used to be a taxi driver and he usually gave Olive a lift to visit her son, who is disabled and lives in a care home. One day he couldn’t go and said, ‘Why don’t you take Olive?’. We just clicked.
“We got into a bit of a pattern. I’d take Olive to see her son and then on the way back we’d stop at the M&S garage to pick up some shopping. She especially loved getting a salmon sandwich and an orange jelly. I’d take her home and help her put her shopping away.
“One of the most amazing things about Olive is her talent for remembering poetry. She can just pull it out of her head, hymns as well – her Christian faith is very important to her. I love listening to her. She’ll send me letters with verses written out. I keep them all. Once she addressed an envelope, ‘O for the days of wine and roses, To the Wonderful Jo Gilbert’. She’s just so brilliant. She writes letters to everybody. She is quite deaf now and writing is an important way to communicate for her.
“I know a little bit about Olive’s childhood. Her parents were missionaries overseas and as an infant she was left at a convent. They came back once when she was three and then went again. They then visited her again when she was 10 and after that she never saw them again. She is very sad when she thinks about childhood. I think that’s why she is so loving and giving, she can’t bear for anyone to feel as sad as she has felt.
“We’ve had some fun times over the years. On one occasion, we went out to quite a smart restaurant in Guildford and my son came to join us. Olive bought him a coke. A little bit later he bought himself another one and was shocked to discover it was £4.50. Olive had paid for the first one without saying anything. She still laughs about that day.
“There was another lady, Jessie, who was blind, who Olive had taken under her wing. One day all three of us went out to the garden centre for lunch. A lady saw us and said how wonderful it was that were having such a nice time. She said they were lucky to have me but I don’t see it that way.
“On one occasion I took Olive to the theatre and she burst into tears. She was just so overwhelmed that someone had done something so lovely for her."
“In the past, giving lifts to Olive was a feature of our Christmas Day. No-one else would give her a lift to see her son, so Derek would take her. She liked to be back in time for the Queen’s Speech, so in the afternoon, after his lunch, he’d pick her up. It was part of our routine.
“Olive now lives at Shottermill House and I go to visit her. I have family who live in that direction and so I’ll combine it with a trip to see them. I’m one of the sandwich generation, but I’ll always make time to see Olive. You turn up to see her, and she’s overjoyed. It pulls your heart strings. Sometimes she says, ‘I could cry’ because she’s so happy to see me. I’ll make a joke of it and say, ‘I’m not coming to see you again then’ and then she’ll laugh.
“I’m 60 and Olive is in her 80s. She’s the first person of that generation who I’ve really got to know outside my own family. I get so much from being friends with her. She makes you take stock of life and feel thankful. She has even written her funeral plan and given it to me. It’s so special that she trusts me so deeply and feels that she can tell me anything.
“I think the secret to being a good friend is being prepared to listen. So many people just want to talk. But if you give people time and let them speak, they really value it. I’d encourage anyone to reach out and connect to the older generation. They are so full of character!”
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