Society places a tremendous emphasis on youth these days. Billions of dollars are spent on products and services designed to keep us looking and feeling young.
I fear that in our lust for youth we may be overlooking the value of age. In some parts of the world, elders are revered and sought out for advice. In our society, not so much.
For the record, I now have “senior status” myself. Trust me, though — my thoughts on this matter are not a recent phenomenon. In my younger years I appreciated the better understanding of life that my older friends, relatives and acquaintances seemed to have.
Over the years I learned a great deal from older people. I admit some of us oldsters allow ourselves to become stubborn, argumentative and bitter. But then, I know younger folks who do the same.
As a teenager working for area farmers, I appreciated the balance of life employed by some of the older farmers.
When I worked for Eppo Welp and his son, Marion, we worked hard but took time out for mid-morning and mid-afternoon coffee or iced tea breaks. At noon Eppo’s wife, Bertha, served all the workers a delicious meat and potatoes dinner. Then, before returning to work, Eppo led us to a shady spot in the backyard where we all napped for a half hour. Later in life when faced with tight schedules and deadlines I often recalled the wisdom of Eppo’s balanced work style.
My first boss, G.D. Warland, was 24 years my senior and I learned a great deal from him. I was a kid from a conservative small town and family and G.D., a graduate of the School of Hard Knocks, was a Roosevelt New Deal Democrat. Beyond his common sense and fairness, I admired G.D. most for his integrity.
As a young advertising salesman, I learned a lot from Claude Turner, a veteran newspaperman whose desk in those early years was adjacent to mine. Claude was about my father’s age — old enough when you’re under 30 yourself. He taught me a lot of newspaper advertising basics but even more he taught me the importance of a man’s priorities. Claude made his faith and his family his highest priorities and then concerned himself with more temporal matters.
Our church in Sioux City was a young, growing congregation with few gray heads in the pews. Most of our deacons and elders were in their 40s or younger. At one elder board meeting I witnessed Gene Sims, a retired state trooper and our senior elder, handle a quarrelsome church member with a spirit of grace which could be used as a textbook example of how conflict within a church should be handled. It is an example indelibly etched in my memory.
From a fellow Rotary Club member in Sioux City I learned the importance of self-respect. A brilliant engineer, Ben was in his mid-70s and still working full time.
During the pre-meeting luncheon, an entitled young member made a snide remark to Ben about his age. My white haired friend pushed his chair back from the table, brought his tall, lean frame to an erect, military-like posture and, looking the younger man in the eye, said in a voice firm but free of malice, “Young man, my prayer for you is that when you are my age you are half the man I am today!” With that Ben sat down and returned to his meal.
Service club members enjoy kidding each other, but the impudent young man’s remark was unacceptable. When Ben sat down those of us who had witnessed the exchange applauded.
Of all the older folks I have known, the man for whom I hold the deepest respect is my paternal grandfather. Even as a kid, when I didn’t fully appreciate the depth of his faith or his wisdom, I respected his compassion, his sense of humor and his common sense. Opa (Grandpa) Huisman died when I was 21. Often I have wished he were still around so I could seek his counsel.
We make a grave mistake when we fail to tap the experience, wisdom and ability of our older friends and neighbors. And our older friends and neighbors make a serious mistake when they believe that they have nothing to contribute to society.
Arvid Huisman began writing Country Roads 32 years ago, and today the column appears in several Iowa newspapers. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.