“When the strong storm winds blow, look to your elders. When pain and worry persist, it is good to have elderly friends. They have seen, and survived, the worst of times.”
— James Waite, 1929
All of my life, I have found comfort in the company of the oldest generation. When my three older sisters headed off to grade school, my mother often dressed me up in my best dress, lace-trimmed socks and patent leather shoes and we would go visiting.
There were several different nursing homes I remember going to, and I would be on my best behavior while she visited with those who were spending their last days with us. Sometimes I would sing for them, their smile my reward, and I would feel like the luckiest little girl in the whole world.
I remember once asking why a particular gentleman seemed so confused, asking the same questions over and over. “Hardening of the arteries,” I still remember was the answer.
As a little girl, I tried to picture exactly what that meant. Somehow I expected our next visit to that man would find him with arms and legs so stiff he could no longer bend in any direction, brittle as an old tree. I remember saying prayers for that man who no longer wanted me to sing for him.
My sister once asked what I had done while she was at school. When I told her about our nursing home visits, she said she felt sorry for me. I was perplexed by her reaction, because it had become something I truly enjoyed.
As I grew older, my fondness for my elders never wavered. I sensed that time with my paternal grandfather was growing short. When I was about 15, I talked him in to going to the movie theater to see a wildlife movie that had just come out.
“Oh, my, I haven’t been to the movies in years!” was his response. He drove us in his trusty, dusty old Buick, never reaching speeds of more than 40 mph, and more people passed us with glares and stares than I was used to, but we arrived just in time to buy a ticket and popcorn and take our seats.
Grandpa asked several times if I needed anything, if I could see all right. It was obvious he wanted the night to be just right. We enjoyed the movie, filled with beautiful scenery, which told the story of a man living among black bear. It was a memorable night in many ways.
We talked on the phone often, and he told me jokes and stories. I knew not to call him at a certain time on a certain night because he told me he had a “date” with Marie Osmond of the Donnie and Marie TV show.
When it came time for me to buy my first car, it was Grandpa Young who drove me to choose it. He paid cash for that used Mustang, and I paid him back over many months, sending long letters along with my small payments from my tiny kitchen table in North Carolina. It was a favor I appreciated more than words could say.
Life repeats itself as the circle grows. My children still remember my taking them to a nursing home to visit Grandpa Young when they were very young. Cort sang a song for Grandpa he had learned in pre-school. Caroline always wanted to wear her best dress and pretty shoes.
Make it count
I am grateful for the memories, though I regret my children didn’t know their great-grandfather in stronger, happier times. All too soon, our oldest generation moves on. Make every moment count.