Listen To Your Elders

Posted on: February 20, 2015

Before she passed away a few years ago, I used to love listening to my maternal grandmother tell stories about what life was like when she was growing up. She was born in 1925 and was raised on a farm. Grandma knew how to pinch a nickel until it screamed, that’s for sure. After she married Grandpa and they moved to the southern part of Wisconsin, she began working in a factory, a job she held for a couple of decades until she retired. I’m one of nine grandchildren of hers and one of the only ones she ever taught how to make her signature fried chicken. Even knowing exactly how she cooked it, I can never get it quite right.

Yet, for all that, there is so much I never thought to ask her about, so many stories I didn’t get the chance to hear.

Here in the United States, there is a huge knowledge gap between the generations. We sometimes joke about Grandma or Grandpa trying to figure out Facebook or texting. But, to be fair, they’d probably laugh at us during our first attempt to make bread from scratch. Then again, maybe they’d be too polite to outright poke fun at us.

For most of us, our grandparents grew up knowing the value of a dollar and lived by the motto — Use it up, wear it out, make do or do without. Today’s adults and young adults would likely toss out a pair of socks with a hole whereas the elder generation would have sewn it up. Our grandparents and great-grandparents, at least for the most part, maintained food pantries at home just as a matter of course. They grew gardens and preserved food. Even those folks who were born and raised in cities still learned many life skills that have been lost today. Many of them raised “victory gardens” during WWII.

The point is this. There is a ton of knowledge and information that is slowly slipping through our fingers. A lot of this stuff isn’t the sort of thing you’ll easily find using Google, either. I mean, I don’t know about you but I hated history class when I was in school. Today, though? I can’t get enough of it! Probably because now it isn’t all about memorizing names and dates but instead it is listening to stories about what things were really like back then.

Many if not most cultures around the world recognize the importance of elders and the knowledge they have to offer. In many countries, it is common to have grandparents living in the same home as their children and grandchildren. Honestly, it is rather shameful how we here in the U.S. often treat the elderly.

Here’s my suggestion to you. If you have older family members still around, make the time to sit down and talk to them. Ask them to tell you about their lives. Ask questions. Consider taking notes or even recording the conversations. My wife loves the voice recorder I bought her for Christmas a couple of years ago, particularly because the recordings can be downloaded as mp3 tracks. If you’re looking for some ideas of what to talk about, try some of these prompts:

–Tell me about a time you got into trouble as a child.
–What was a favorite treat of yours back then?
–What chores were your responsibility?
–Tell me about some of your favorite meals from back then.

If you don’t have family members available any longer, consider volunteering some time at a local nursing home. Many assisted living residents would love the opportunity to spend some time chatting, reliving memories and passing down knowledge.

Do anything you can to preserve the lessons our elders still have to teach us. Remember that old saying — those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

2 thoughts on “Listen To Your Elders

  1. Thank you for posting this. I grew up surrounded by elders stories, as a younging. Today I am the storyteller. Even though the strength in my body has weaned , I have purpose in keeping old traditions alive…why do i choose to hang on to living as long as I can…because like my elders before me…believe in the generations after and the continuance of good living.

  2. Thank you for posting. I’ve always been interested in what the elders were saying to each other. I was the mouse in the corner. BUT now I AM that elder with the stories and the knowledge so I am writing them down. When the next younger generation is too busy to listen, I’ve found the children just might be. (If you can get them to put their electronics down. 😉 Repetition is important. Practice Practice Practice even on small scales those wee ones will remember just as I have. 🙂

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