Intergenerational relations, that is, contact, exchange and familiarity, are important to the health of a society. The young learn from the old, wisdom and knowledge passed along. The young give the old energy and purpose.
Yet, these days, we see less and less of this give and take. People uprooting and moving about, lasting, meaningful relations wither. This is such a pity.
As a teen, I was a victim of this malady. My father and I moved away from his parents and sister. At first, I saw no problem with it; after all, they were nice people and all, but what of it? I mean, what difference did it mean to me? All grandfather ever did was play gin rummy with me, grandmother gave me milk and graham crackers, and aunt Marny showed me around her garden.
The years rolled by and finally came the day when a call from Marny brought the news: grandmother was gone. Dad took the call and the once great pillar of strength that Id known, my father, was a weeping boy. No man, no matter his station or strength can withstand the loss of his mother. My heart broke, and suddenly, I wanted a glass of milk and a graham cracker. Suddenly, those were not a trifle, but a golden memory of love for savoring and joy.
It was then that I began to see the value of connection to ones elders. Grandfather was still with us, and I began to write to him, just short notes; after all, how much does a teen have to say to an old man? Yet, I knew how much they meant to him; Marny said that every day, without fail, he would go up to the counter of his rest home and ask if there was any mail for him. If sending him a postcard or small letter kept him happy, it was well worth the time, effort and postage.
Although good for him, it still seemed too little too late for me; I wanted more, but it was too late. A few months later came another call from Marny; I took this one, and learned that now it was truly too late.
I suddenly realized just how much I enjoyed gin rummy.
From that day forward, a new resolve fortified me: to know my elders. I made a point of writing and calling Marny as often as I could, and Dad and I stopped to visit her as often as possible. After he was gone, I still kept in touch, as much as possible, and was so glad that Marny lived long enough to meet my daughter. Although, I felt a deep ache of regret that she only got to see Marny as a frail old woman, and not the vibrant active senior she had once been. With her passing, the last of the old generation of my family was gone.
Recently, I saw a true symbol of the strength of old and young mutually teaching and learning from each other. We went to visit my wifes dear old Uncle Bill. Hes out on Long Island. He lives there alone; his dear wife is gone, his children grown. His is a small house, a place that was once a simple cottage; yet it is warm and snug, and clearly a place of love. The family is worried about him, living all alone, and not a few of them have said he should move closer to family. We stopped to visit with him, and saw the sadness of his solitary life.
Then his neighbour came home.
She was a delightful young woman, and she had her son with her; barely out of diapers, he made a beeline for Bill, and I saw the mans face come alive with life and joy. Here was a simple, perfect example of the value of old and young living together. The two of them are best friends. Each gives something to the other. As to which one gave energy and strength to the other, which benefited the most and which one led the relationship, the lines were blurred.
The boy gave Bill the energy to turn back the years and feel vital and needed. Bill gave this little fellow something to look forward to and build his heart, mind and soul. They were a perfect symbiotic relationship, a feedback loop that was the closest thing to perpetual motion achievable. Someday, Bill will be gone, and I cant help but think that that little boy will relish every moment spent with him. What affect will those days have on him? Perhaps hell tell others the stories that Bill has told him; maybe hell be just a little kinder and considerate toward older people. No matter the affect, one thing I know for sure it will be for the better.
Billy Joel sang a song about what happens after were gone. In it, he said that what weve said and done lives on in the people weve touched. One day, Bill will live on in that boy and it makes me wonder: what will be my legacy?
Combining the gimlet-eye, of Philip Roth, with the precisive mind of Lionel Trilling, AJ Robinson writes about what goes bump in the mind, of 21st century adults. Raised in Boston, with summers on Martha's Vineyard, AJ now lives in Florida. Most of the time he writes, but sometimes he works at Disney World to renew his fantasies and get a few dollars more. AJ writes, with insight and passion, about his family and his dog. His liberal, note the small "l," sensibilities often lead to bouts of righteous indignation, well focused and true.
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