A good friend of mine — Janet Elaine Smith — was telling me about her awesome experience this past weekend — she visited an older folks home and spent some wonderful time with the folks there. She had a blast, and we talked a bit about how we both believed that where possible, one’s elders should remain with the family instead of being sent to a home. While we both realize it’s not always possible, I started thinking about this in terms of Native America.
In Native American cultures, one’s elders held a special place within the tribe. This picture by the way is Grandfather George. George is a Native American actor who lives with my husband and myself. He’s not really related to either of us, although we have adopted him into the family. At dinner time he regales us with stories of old and keeps us entertained with his knowledge. He also is an excellent gardener by trade — and he took on the responsibility of own lawn and keeping it pretty without either of us saying a word.
Elders in Native American culture are revered. Their counsel is listened to with close attention and they hold a special place in the hearts of everyone in the tribe.
Before we had the advent of public education — where children are around other children their own age for much of the day — children were taught at home. Mothers, grandmothers, grandfathers had the responsibility for seeing to the education of the young ones. The wonderful part of this is that one’s elders became the role models for the children — instead of other children becoming the role models (sort of like the blind leading the blind) — thus the children had the experience of a life’s worth of living to draw upon. In Native American one’s elders were held in such esteem that sometimes a youngster would seldom speak. And like storytellers of old, an elder was always welcome into the circle.
This is a picture, by the way of my husband and myself with my mother-in-law, Joyce.
Here’s another picture of Grandfather George. Now, most people grow up with elders all around them. Grandparents, church officials, etc., can make up that community. When I was growing up, my one grandparent on my father’s side had already passed away and my grandmother on that side was soon sent to an old folk’s home and so I didn’t know them. My grandparents on the other side of my family also had one death long before I came around in the family — but they lived so far away that I didn’t know them. However, I soon found that is was wonderful to befriend the neighbors. I think I spent most of my summers in the front yard of my neighbor directly across the street from me (me and every single kid in the block) — he was like the grandfather that I never had — Hurbert was his name. And then there was Mr. May, who lived next door to us. I especially got to know him and his wife well because there was a fire in their house and so they lived with my family while their house was being fixed. Remember those old days when neighbors helped each other just for the fun of it?
From Mr. May came the name that sticks with me to this very day — “Cookie” — cause I loved and still do love cookies. Every day when I’d come home from school, he’d have a package of cookies waiting for me. Even when the May’s eventually moved out of our house, Mr. May still brought me cookies often.
I think that children should have many different ages to observe and come to know well when they are growing up, and I think the value of our elders is beyond compare. Wisdom, experience, stories, helpfulness — their willingness to help the young can’t be overstated. When my children were growing up, they didn’t have the wealth of a great deal of grandparents around them. On my own side of the family, there were no grandparents who were still alive, and on my ex’s side of the family, his parents tended to distance themselves from the children to a greater or lesser degree.
So tell me what do you think? Have we lost some of the best that we have in sacrifice to our modern technological age? Personally, I’d be willing to have a little less technology and a little more of the human relationships. Do any of you remember the age when television hadn’t yet taken hold of the American public — when people still visited each other and went to their houses to talk and visit instead of turn on the TV? I remember it well — and perhaps that’s the gift of our elderly. Reminding us of our history — sharing with us their wisdom in situations in life — their experience. There is no substitute. As we all know, history can be rewritten and often is — but if one has a grandparent and pays attention, one can know what really happened.
So tell me — who have you loved (who is elderly) the most in your life? And would you be willing to give up a little technology for the gift of more nurturing relationships?
Come on in and let’s have a chat. : )
Remember, too, that Black Eagle is still on sale at bookstores everywhere. Pick up your copy today.