Respectby Brie Stimson April 25, 2018
As we finish up with our senior issue, I am reminded of another senior in my personal life. My grandmother is turning 90 tomorrow. While I know many children don’t get to see their grandparents very often, I was always very close to mine. As a kid I stayed with them at least once a week (partially because my mom never trusted babysitters), but also just because they were fabulous people. They had a swimming pool in which I learned to swim at a very young age, and in the winter (I’m from Washington State) we would go cross-country skiing in their extensive backyard. They definitely weren’t rich though – my grandpa worked in construction and grandma was a teacher – they just purchased the land (the same house my grandma still lives in that my grandpa built) at a time when a young family could live on a working class wage.
My grandma, Marjorie Pederson, was born in 1928 in a really small town called Eureka, Montana. She lived with her five brothers and sisters in a one-room log cabin. Her American father and British mother had met in England during WWI, and when she was 18, my great-grandmother left her home for the American West, never to return. My grandma was encouraged to get an education at a time when scholarly pursuits were not necessarily encouraged for girls; she got a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree, taught English to middle school children (for which she should get a medal because middle school children are awful), became a published poet for the first time as a senior and taught me how to read before I went to kindergarten.
One of my interviews this month said something to me that I find so true: that we, as a society, tend to discard our elderly. That somehow they’ve outreached their usefulness and should go off somewhere to not bother anyone. I’ve never subscribed to this and I’ve been heartened by all the people I’ve interviewed this month who appreciate the vivacity, strength and wisdom of our older generations.
And we will all be them soon enough (if we are fortunate), and if we want our children and grandchildren to treat us with respect as we reach our 90th or 100th year, we’d better teach them by our own example.
As it happens, my first real job with a paycheck (weeding my grandmother’s garden and babysitting the neighbors’ kids doesn’t count) was at assisted living in a retirement home that happened to be walking distance from my house. I was the dishwasher for the breakfast and lunch dishes, but I would also serve the morning juices to the residents. I got to know the people who lived there. I would hear about when their grandchildren were getting married, when their son got a raise and I would share in their grief when they lost a spouse. They were interesting, kind, full of information and sometimes tried to set me up with their grandson.
I’m also reminded of something that same interview said: that seniors have lived as interesting or likely more interesting lives than ourselves – and if we’re willing to listen, they have some amazing stories to tell.
My grandma has always told me stories of the wilds of 1930s Montana and of her mother’s turn-of-the-century tales from Liverpool; my grandpa (who I sadly lost at 94 several years ago) had incredible stories of WWII – especially the time his plane went down in the Pacific and he and the pilot were lost at sea for two days until he was able to get the attention of a plane using a mirror that reflected the sun’s rays – and every resident from assisted living who I sat with on lunch breaks would quietly tell me the most amazing stories I’d ever heard.
I believe the readers of our magazine appreciate the importance of honoring those who blazed the trail for us more than most, but it’s always a good reminder to take a moment to sit and listen to what our elders have to say. They have come before us, they have been through what we have yet to travail (or hopefully never will as they’ve striven to make our journey easier than their own) and they have come out the other side stronger. And it’s important to listen now, because none of us will be here forever.
With that, I leave you to the pages of this issue. Within, I hope you find inspiration, laughter, maybe a few tears and a reminder that none of is alone in this.