“At thirty man suspects himself a fool;
Knows it at forty, and reforms his plan;
At fifty chides his infamous delay;
Pushes his prudent purpose to resolve;
In all the magnanimity of thought
Resolves, and re-resolves; then dies the same”
– Edward Young, 1710
Wouldn’t it be great if we could live our lives backward?
If we could somehow have the wisdom of the ages at the beginning of the journey, how much better the trip would be! Would we ever be appreciative of the aches and pains that fall away as arthritis gives way to vitality. Perhaps most importantly, we would possess the wisdom to appreciate those who make up our world.
A walk together. I have often thought of many interesting older people I have known and wished we could walk through their life once more, together.
There is an amazing amount of knowledge to be gleaned from the people who have walked life’s path before us, and spending time listening to our seniors can be better than any historical movie ever made. It is amazing the stories they can tell, stories told and re-told by their grandparents.
Miss Taylor. I once knew a woman named Elizabeth Taylor. Not the Liz Taylor of silver-screen fame, but her life’s story would have rivaled Liz’s. Miss Taylor was a true Southern belle who devoted her entire adult life to service in the National Red Cross.
She served on the front lines of Vietnam, consoling others in triage tents during the most frightening time of her own life. She had been a teletype operator near the front lines in Korea at the height of America’s Korean Conflict. “I wasn’t old enough to be smart enough to be scared during that war,” she once told me.
While Miss Taylor’s war stories captivated my attention, her grandfather’s stories she shared were even more amazing. She resided with her sister on the family 2,000-acre plantation in North Carolina when she wasn’t traveling for Red Cross, and told of parts of their farm having been ravaged with fire during the Civil War.
“Daddy and Granddaddy despised the Yanks,” she used to say. Four slaves burned to death in a house fire set by “the damn Yankees,” she told me, adding, “They claim they wanted to set the slaves free. Was that their way of doing it?”
Compliment? She paid me a back-handed compliment one day when she said, “You are doing a fine job. You are a good girl, for a Yankee.”
By the time I knew her, Miss Taylor was battling the early stages of Alzheimer’s, and I watched her become more frail and confused in the short time that I worked with her. How I wished I could give her back her youth! I didn’t want her stories to end.
Own history. My grandfather, Raymond Young, used to tell stories of Indian uprisings passed along by his grandfather, Samuel Young. The Copus Hill massacre happened all too close to home when we heard the story as children.
My dad used to walk the farm fields with his grandfather, Herbert Young. His grandpa would kick up an Indian artifact and say, “There’s another one, if ya want it.” There was no romance in those stones for my father’s grandfather, as the family stories of fearful confrontation with the Native Americans was still too raw.
It didn’t stop my father from scooping the artifacts up and saving them, and he respected the incredible workmanship that had gone in to each one.
My generation’s stories seem so bland in comparison to these good, old stories. How I wish I had all of these people still here – to listen to their stories, to cherish the storyteller