Russell and Duenes

My Great-Grandfather: 1891-1989

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I’m going to tell you something very unusual about myself, but it won’t be what you might think.

My great-grandmother lived until I was 17. My great-grandfather lived until I was 19. My grandmother, born in 1916, is still very much alive and lucid today.

Why do I mention this? There are several reasons. My great-grandfather was born in 1891 and died in 1989. These could well be considered some of the most momentous 98 years in human history. When he was born, there was as yet no cars, no flight, no refrigerators, no spacecraft, no atomic weapons, no…you get the idea. And in his span of life all of these things and ten thousand more were invented. He had his mind to the end. I had the chance to spend plenty of time with him. I even spent several nights with him when he needed special nursing care toward the end.

And I couldn’t have cared less.

When I was 18, I was an idiot in many ways, but I can’t help thinking that the value of old people…well, there was no value. And I think there still is virtually no value to young Americans today. We worship youth, so what have the old to offer us?

My great-grandfather was middle-aged during the Depression. He could remember The Great War. He’d survived two strokes. He raised four children. He was born at the tail end of Reconstruction and lived through the Civil Rights Movement. If I had him back now, I’d want to just sit and videotape him talking for hours about all he could remember.

My grandmother is also very lucid and mentally sharp. She will not be around a lot longer, even if she lives to be 100. And yet there is a wealth of wisdom and insight in her. I love getting her started talking about old times when we’re all sitting around a table at Christmas or some such occasion. And there are others like her sitting in our churches every week, sitting there while our teenagers are sequestered off with each other in “youth group.”

What’s lost? What could be gained? I recently told a friend of mine to just start showing up at the 60 and older group at his large megachurch, that he might get to know some of the people there. We don’t have such a group at our church, but I’d like eventually to be at one where we do, or at least where we’ve got a few such people around. I don’t want my sons to have the attitude toward old people that I had.



Written by Michael Duenes

December 30, 2010 at 11:26 pm

Posted in Duenes, Reflections

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