Respecting our Elders

Today is Labor Day and we were invited to come and share a meal with our son and his fiancee along with her parents. Her Mom is 83 and Dad is 97. Her Mom is in very good health and her Dad is too, all things considered at his age.

Our son got up at 4:30 a.m. and began preparations for his grilling and smoking of various meats, baby back ribs among them. Delectable! Fiancee worked hard on the appetizers and setting out beautiful dishes.

As I watched them buzzing around their place, up and down stairs to the grilling spot, pouring champagne, and making a sincere effort to visit with everyone, I felt my heart swell with pride for both of them and that they have found each other.

All of our children have grown up around old fashioned Grandparents. Long ago, they spent time with each of the two sets on their Grandparents turf and learned to weave themselves into the fabric of their Grandparents life. Without doubt, spending time with the older generation really paid off well in forming their characters and growing their hearts.

Their Grandparents, while all having been raised in similar old school ways of living, were also very different from each other which only broadened the children’s understanding of what it means to be old. They soon learned that getting old isn’t something to be afraid of, rather it is a blessing to be enjoyed and sometimes endured. This means the good stuff, the bad stuff and all the stuff in between, and what I mean by “stuff” is just the everyday business of going about life. Not everyone is given a long life and we all age differently, just as each of us is different. So it was with their Grandparents.

One set of Grandparents lived on a farm. Grandpa B wore bib overhauls and plaid shirts. Grandma wore what ever happened to be clean. While at home they didn’t worry about appearances and the freedom that comes with that is liberating! Their farm Grandparents allowed the children to play all around the farm property, and in the many outbuildings available to them. They got to drive the riding lawn mower and the tractor! This is big time stuff for children. They also rode old rusty bikes and scooters they found on the farm and played in the house upstairs in a very large bedroom which had a door in the back to a storage room, both of which were overflowing with castoff clothing, toys, hats, any number of castoff household items.

They learned to enjoy old time German polka music which Grandpa had playing loudly every Sunday afternoon from an old floor model stereo unit with large record discs. Sometimes he and Grandma would take a twirl around the living room to the beat of the music while the children giggled and laughed at them, all while secretly enjoying the vision of their tall Grandpa dancing with their short petite Grandma. The kids would often sit around the big long farm table where Grandpa shared Mackenthun’s smoked summer sausage on home made (sometimes freshly made) white bread with them and where they gobbled down Grandmas “hot dish” which they all savored and enjoyed. Nothing was fancy at the farm, which worked perfectly well for kids because then no one really worried about the children making a mess. If they did make a mess, though, they were told to “clean it up.”

One time, we dropped the children off at the farm for the Grandparents to child-sit while we went to some function, and when we came back, and as we walked into the house, we could hear many laughing voices in the basement. We went down the stairs and saw all the kids shuffling around inside the big, deep unplugged chest freezer with towels on their feet. It turns out that when we dropped them off and sent the kiddos into the house we gave them a 12 pack of coke and told them to put it into the refrigerator downstairs. Well, they misunderstood, or just didn’t know, and put it in the deep freeze. At some point, some time later, all the cans burst open. Poor Grandma had to unload all the food and start cleaning the freezer. Grandpa told her the kids could help since they made the mess in the first place, however innocent it may have been. The kids were having a happy old time dancing and shuffling inside the deep freeze, sopping up all the excess coke.

Their other Grandparents lived in an old 2 story house, in a small town in northern Minnesota. Grandpa J was a fisherman and he liked to wear old loose fitting cloth jumpsuits over his clothes. The kids got to enjoy many trips and hours in his boat on a Canadian lake fishing. They also learned that when they got home from the fishing trip, there was work to do in cleaning out the boat and cleaning the fish, which was their payment for a good time. This Grandpa had also converted an old rusted out refrigerator into a smoker and this was where and how we all learned to enjoy smoked foods.

The kids were taught a card game that Grandpa and Grandma learned and brought back with them from their years of living in Peru. Many wonderful and competitive games of Peruvian Rummy were played by THREE generations at one table. To this day, they all love Peruvian Rummy. The memory of their Grandparents live on through this game.

These same Grandparents would come and stay a couple months at a time while my husband and I traveled over many months for the sake of his career. This was later in their life and was when the children began to realize that Grandpa’s judgment and vision was beginning to diminish. One time, on a trip to take them to school, Grandpa blew through a stop sign to the sound of honking horns, never having seen the sign in the first place. They were all eager to tell us about it when we got back, and it was then we began to figure out other rides to school and other events. Our children learned compassion as they watched what was once a strong, intelligent, confident older man, slowly disappearing into much smaller version of his former self due to a multitude of mini strokes.

There are many, many stories I could recite, but these few should be sufficient in explaining how it was, through these children’s experiences with their Grandparents, where they came to care about and show respect for all old people. We encouraged our children to love their Grandparents and to defer to them because they were the elders in our family. Respect was demonstrated by us for our elders and we expected the same from our children.

So, here we are, given the opportunity to observe our “children” who are now in and approaching middle age, and we see the positive way their Grandparents impacted their lives. As a general way of things, their Grandparents did not knock themselves out to entertain the children. At the same time, I should say the Grandparents did do occasional fun stuff with them, out of the ordinary stuff, that only a Grandpa would think of.

One memory has Grandpa driving a tractor on his farm with one of the little kids on his lap and several other kids biking alongside to “race” them to the end of the very long driveway. He also gave them rides on the riding lawn mower.

Another memory is when the other Grandpa gave them snow skis to wear and then attached a rope to the hitch on the back of his old truck. He pulled them around and through the snowy winter woods, them skiing as if on water skies with a pull rope, but snow skiing instead. All this old fashioned fun was happening on a rarely traveled old logging trail.

The Grandmas served their role well too with the children. These two were very good cooks and bakers who kept the children’s tummies full while their parents were out and away. One Grandma had a piano to play and play it they did. Both Grandma’s were very involved in church life and proudly marched down the aisle of church with their Grandkids in tow anytime they were there in a visit.

All these memories formulated in my mind when we got home tonight and I thought about the blessed fact that ALL of our children have been loved so deeply and well by their elderly Grandparents, and now all the lessons learned from multigenerational love continues to give blessings to other old folks they know along the way…ourselves included.

I have seen each of them in action with older folks and they are always respectful and warm and caring. They treat old people as their equals because once upon a time their older Grandparents did the same with them. They learned many valuable lessons on the farm and so too, in an old two story home in a very small town in Northern Minnesota. The most valuable lessons being that you don’t have to spend money to have fun, eating at home is far more delicious than eating out, hanging out with family teaches us how to negotiate and play fair, friendly competition is learning how to lose or win with grace, how to disagree and learn to agree that we disagree but remain friends and discovering that in any project there is a lot to be learned about the other guy or gal when working together side by side. A family that prays together, a family that plays together, a family who spends days together, in the end STAYS together, and so our family has. We may be separated geographically, but we are all in frequent contact, continuing to pray together, and play together.

I was so proud of my son today as he communicated man to man with this dear 97 year old man. The best part? He didn’t seem to notice the difference of age! I saw 55 years melt off of one as the two of them laughed and shared stories. I am so proud of all our children for the very same reason. Each one of them are very respectful and kind! A mother and father’s joy for sure! Jjb/9/3/2018

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