Beauty and Strength of the Old

My great-grandparents Clarence and Dorothy Williams

I am a very lucky girl. I’ve had the privilege of knowing all four of my grandparents and my great-grandmother. And not only did I get to know them, but knew them well enough to count them as friends. I always joke about how I come from a long line of eccentric women and never stood a chance–my grandma is a bit of a firecracker :] But I really am so thankful for each of the men and women who are a part of my heritage and helped make me who I am. I’m especially close to my grandmother, or Grams, as we call her. My brothers and I are her only grandchildren so we got spoiled having her and Pops (grandpa) all to ourselves. I also got to live with Grams and Pops during the summers when home from college and got to soak up special times and memories with them during those years.

Grams and Pops with my mom and Uncle Mark at the Kansas City fire station where my grandpa was a firefighter and Captain for 25 years

Grams came out last fall and spent a month with me and Darren. We took off and explored all the corners of New England during those four weeks. We sat on Hampton Beach enjoying the moody ocean on New Hampshire’s coastline. We walked around Brattleboro and took in all the breathtaking beauty of the fall leaves in Vermont. We sat in a 1950s diner in Connecticut sipping malts, playing music on the jukebox, and sharing stories. We explored Old Orchard Beach, the Height of the Land, and the lighthouse on Port Elizabeth in Maine. We took the ferry to Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty and walked until we couldn’t take another step exploring the streets of New York City. We poked around antique stores here in Massachusetts and happened upon The Apple Barn Café–a hole in the wall restaurant that has since become my favorite breakfast joint. We sat at the kitchen table sipping coffee and sharing memories. Snuggled up on the couch watching chick flicks and every movie we could find based on a John Grisham novel. We thought, since Grams is full-blooded German, ourselves qualified to try our hand at German cooking–we aren’t. Everything we made ended up in the trash where it belonged.
Those four weeks are very special to me–every moment, every memory we created and shared I hold onto and cherish. I hold on because I know I can’t have the people I love forever. I’ve lost two of my grandparents in the last 18 months so the reality of saying goodbye is real and present. You get used to the people around you and take for granted the ones you love–until they are taken away and there is no more time to call “when you get a chance” or visit when “you’re not so busy.” I realize too, that my Gram is a very special lady and I’m very lucky having her in my life. Gram, like so many older people, has experienced life in both its exhilarating heights and its dark depths. And in living through so much, she has gained wisdom and experience I don’t have at 26.

Pops with my mom and uncle Mark

Our fast-paced American society doesn’t always value older people but having spent so much time with my grandparents and other older adults, I truly believe they are some of the most beautiful and valuable people we can ever know. Society idolizes youth–the strength, beauty, creativity, and zeal of the young. Young people do have much to offer but we aren’t the only ones with something to offer. We may possess a beauty and strength unique to youth–but let us not overlook the very different, but very real, beauty and strength of the old. What is real beauty after all? The young woman with firm skin and glossy hair, untouched my life and heartache? Or the grandmother with wrinkles and gray hair–each wrinkle a mark of life’s journey–of hard work, heartache, and heart overflowing? The gray hair earned–earned staying up late and getting up early caring for the young, carrying life’s burdens so the young wouldn’t have to. Am I wiser at 26 because I can think and move faster than I will at 86?

My great-grandparents Clem and Catherine Denning

I came across this letter written from an aging mother to her daughter; it’s such a good challenge and reminder about how we should love and respect the old:
“My dear girl, the day you see I’m getting …old, I ask you to please be patient, but most of all, try to understand what I’m going through. If when we talk, I repeat the same thing a thousand times, don’t interrupt to say: “You said the same thing a minute ago”… Just listen, please. Try to remember the times when you were little and I would read the same story night after night until you would fall asleep. When I don’t want to take a bath, don’t be mad and don’t embarrass me. Remember when I had to run after you making excuses and trying to get you to take a shower when you were just a girl? When you see how ignorant I am when it comes to new technology, give me the time to learn and don’t look at me that way… remember, honey, I patiently taught you how to do many things like eating appropriately, getting dressed, combing your hair and dealing with life’s issues every day… the day you see I’m getting old, I ask you to please be patient, but most of all, try to understand what I’m going through. If I occasionally lose track of what we’re talking about, give me the time to remember, and if I can’t, don’t be nervous, impatient or arrogant. Just know in your heart that the most important thing for me is to be with you. And when my old, tired legs don’t let me move as quickly as before, give me your hand the same way that I offered mine to you when you first walked. When those days come, don’t feel sad… just be with me, and understand me while I get to the end of my life with love. I’ll cherish and thank you for the gift of time and joy we shared. With a big smile and the huge love I’ve always had for you, I just want to say, I love you… my darling daughter.”
For every wrinkle and scar from life’s journey, for every moment lived and every experience gained, for the wisdom of years, for the love and patience given to care for the young, for the sacrifices made to benefit those who follow–let us value and honor the old. Let us be patient when they forget, remembering how much they know. Let us be compassionate when they are slow, remembering how far they have come. Let us love, remembering how much they first loved us. With Mother’s Day around the bend, let us value and love each of the old (and not so old) people in our lives who have filled our hearts with love.

9 thoughts on “Beauty and Strength of the Old

  1. So amazingly beautiful. Just thank you for sharing every piece of your rich history and for drawing us to the wisdom and beauty of those with a few more years under their belts. As always, your post is a blessing.

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  2. my grandparents have long since passed on but i was very close to my one grandmother and spent a lot of time with her. i lived with her for a time, i cared for her in her last six months and i held her while she died…i treasure every moment i spent with her. the day she died my heart broke and it took me 14 years to let go of her (i didn’t realize i hadn’t) thank you for this reminder! beautiful pics! what a gift you have!

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  3. Kari, you are wise beyond your years. It thrills my soul that I am able to play an important part in your life. You have brought me so much joy and I treasure the memories we have made, and will continue to make. I often just get my albums out and think of all the good times, all the times we laughed and cried together. Pops loved you so much and you always brought a smile to his face. Thank you for honoring me and him in such a wonderful way. I love you.

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  4. What a great reminder Kari. I think all of us at one time or another find ourselves getting impatient and flustered with older people, and because of that we overlook the treasure chest of memories and wisdom that they have to share with us. I will take more time to speak kindly to, hold the door open for, offer a helping hand or just smile at those wonderful, older folks that I meet in everyday life.

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  5. As I sit in the shop I work at crying after reading your post, I am moved how you managed to express what is in our hearts as women. You may be 26, but you have a very strong foundation of wisdom and love. I lost my Mom at a young age and never really knew my grandparents as they passed when I was very young. Thank you for sharing your heart and making mine blessed today.

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