Learning lessons from the Seasoned Set


We all benefit from listening to the sound wisdom of our elders. Most people continue to glean more information from the benefit of living long. It is probably no mistake that the human brain is shaped like a sponge.

I heard some enlightening chatter when I volunteered for the Then and Now Days discussions at a retirement community.

On Then and Now Days, my job was to provide some general topics suitable for everyone to feel inspired to share some thoughts. I used the popular magazine Reminisces, great for its articles for seniors’ lifestyles back in the day.

The photos are always of a vintage type, and they provide great springboards for topics to keep an exchange of ideas going. All of the people in my club were from different parts of the country, so the magazine gave us all some general frame of reference.

Our favorite topic was the pros and cons of “ the good old days.” Joe, an affable 90-year-old-plus resident, and former engineer, said a photo of a Packard made him think today’s autos are better. So, in the area of automobiles, he liked today better. He then switched gears and said another positive for today’s lifestyles was that people were lucky enough to find out why they might have a drinking problem.

Dottie, a perky little lady of 85 said she just wanted to know why people did not jitterbug anymore.

“I mean, it was easy, contact dancing, and we did get to add our own flair in there. So, when I see these dances today, I do not think we are in the good old days. There is not enough coordinating with the partner.”

She did have a point, but it was Joe who I wanted to hear from again.

I did not have to do much prompting in these sessions. There was never a shortage of topics, especially on things like how laborious and dangerous wringer washers were or having to can vegetables. Thoughts just flowed from the group. But Joe had my complete attention, because he had touched on a serious issue.

Joe did continue on his observations about problem drinking:

“In my day, there were so many incorrect theories about why people became dependent on alcohol. But now, with some intervention, a person can overcome so much difficulty from alcohol problems with the help of therapy or medication or spirituality or all three. I hate to say it, but it was terrible when I think of the names we called drinkers. It was just our own lack of knowledge.”

Dottie was so attentive now.

“Tell me more, Joe,” she asked. “I know someone who needs to know this.”

Joe filled her in. “I tell everyone about the different agencies out there or the fact that their family physician is a good starting point for alcohol concerns. I tell my grandchildren and many other people, so not one has to suffer.”

Eventually, my time as a volunteer ended, but I continued to visit the community. I thoroughly enjoyed the people in the group.

Most of them had families in other parts of the country. So, their passings were just handled with the immediacy at the chapel on site. I attended a few services.

When Joe passed, I noticed there was such a void on the unit. I also spoke with the ward clerk as she gently wrapped an attractive die cast model of a 1957 Chevy convertible. Its bright colors made it eye-catching.

I had never seen one before, but I knew exactly what it was. Reminisces Magazine awards the treasure to anyone whose written work is submitted for publication. She was sending the treasure to Joe’s grandson.

I can only conclude that Joe must have been published in the magazine. Who knows? Maybe he imparted what he discovered about the many strategies available in battling problem drinking. I sure hope so.

His reflections on combatting problem drinking have been out there for a while, but it always helps to have the message repeated, especially from one who lived long enough to witness the progress being made.

Then there was Angela, a spry woman, who lent much wisdom to the senior unit. She advised all her suitemates to “think positive thoughts.” She explained that beholding the good memories would serve people well in their older years.

“What if you suffer a stroke, and the last thing you had on your mind was something unpleasant? You would be stuck with that thought.”

She may be right, and I actually think her philosophy is good for any stage in life.

Angela also was a firm believer in projects of all kinds, but especially crafts and needlework. We loved our afternoons doing basic crochet and knitting. It’s been said that all our stresses land on our hands, so handiwork is good.

It was sad to lose Angela, but I know she went to her heavenly home with good thoughts surrounding her. I try to emulate her as much as I can.

The total experience of interacting with older people helped me put so many current problems in perspective. The group had collectively weathered much in their lifetimes, but they made a choice to be content and try to help in whatever way they could. What a great message for us all.

Sunny Cook is a retired school teacher. She and her husband live in Summerville, and she enjoys writing, short hikes and crafting.