When I was seven, my best friend was an old woman in her 70’s. Mrs. M was a widow. I don’t remember her having any children of her own. Every Thursday after school I would walk down the hill to her house for a visit. I remember watching her black and white TV and drinking homemade milkshakes at her house. A few years later Mrs. M moved into a senior living facility in town and my visits became less frequent, but we still stopped by and had fashion shows with her fancy vintage hat collection. I remember she was an idealist; she saw potential in people. Her positivity echoes into my adulthood.
During our Thanksgiving gathering, my brothers and I came across a photo of their childhood best friend Ernie. He was our 60-something neighbor. Ernie retired from the mill when he started going blind. Each morning he came over and had a cup of coffee in our living room. If he needed a good set of eyes for a project, my dad or my brothers would go help him. Although he was blind, he always had a project going on – fixing the water system, taking care of his peach orchard, building a green house, cutting firewood. My brothers learned from him and laughed with him every chance they had. Ernie passed away 13 years ago, but his friendship still influences the men my brothers grew up to be.
Is it unusual for seven year olds and senior citizens to be friends? I think it wasn’t so unusual a few generations ago. It seems to me the divide between these two generations expands as our society “progresses.” Where generations within a family used to share a home, they’re now often living hundreds of miles apart. Where conversation used to take place around a dinner table or over a cup of coffee, social media now takes top priority. Where churches used to come together for potlucks and young people sat beside the elderly to participate in conversation, separate programs exist for each stage of life.
Our lives are busier now. Fewer women are homemakers. Children spend more hours at school. More meals are served at school! Many of the elderly are busy too. Grandparents travel while they can with the seasons. And who could blame them? What are they supposed to do while everyone is at work and school? Every grandparent loves a good visit with their grandchildren, but most are not afforded the opportunity to mentor as they were mentored by their grandparents.
I feel like as a society we’re saying, “Sorry, Grandpa. Leaving your legacy doesn’t fit into my schedule.”
I am as guilty as anyone else. I’m busier than I’ve ever been.
The busyness isn’t all bad. We have opportunities that we didn’t have before. With progress good things are happening, but it seems that multi-generational friendships are part of the price we pay. I wonder if it has to be that way. Do we have to lose connection between the young and old as we progress? Or can we continue to grow and progress as a society while holding on to each other? What would it take to maintain an emphasis on intergenerational relationships, while progressing as a society toward more good things?