The value of old people in understanding history
I've always like old people. When I was a kid, old people would mess up my hair, call me "Butch", tell me what a fine young man I was growing up to be, and just in general make me look forward to becoming an adult. You know, getting old. Some of my fondest memories are of old men teaching me how to shake hands "like a real gentleman", and the old ladies who admired my hair. Presumably these old people were in their twenties, or thirties.
Although I'm far from old (just slightly past middle-aged, which how I plan on describing myself through my sixties, seventies, eighties, nineties, and one hundreds), I'm beginning to realize how important my age and experience is for the young folks, and how it can be squandered if I simply rant about the government, or talk about my aches and pains.
I've always asked old people what it was like "back in their day". And while it might seem kind of insulting, what I'm asking was what it was like when they were my age. That is, when they were eight, or twenty, or sixty. Most old people I've met are under the mistaken impression that I want to hear about their aches and pains, or how much they dislike the current government. But every once in a while an old person will help me to time travel, and it's wonderful. They aren't just launching out into long, boring stories, they're answering my questions. These people are rare, and precious, to me.
The old people who have helped me the most have shared two things: what they remember themselves in a long life, and what they've discovered in books, or wherever. I've always had a long reading list, which includes old movies, and old songs. The internet has made it easier for me to find these things, but there are only so many hours in the day, so I'll never live long enough to catch up with the list, which grows every day.
My dad always used to say, "There's no fool like an old fool", and it always worried me, because I knew that I would get old, and I hoped that I wouldn't become a fool. I wanted age to empower me, both with my own experiences, and understanding the experiences of people who came before me. I have a huge appetite to learn more about history, especially in the places I care most about, California and Arizona, and I very much appreciate the old people who will talk to me, and especially answer my questions.
If you're an old person who has helped me, thank you so very much! And I'll try to do the same thing you did, for as long as this old body holds out.
Image at the top of this post: Old Folks Day in 1920, Mesa, Arizona
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Posted by Brad Hall