Life Lessons From "Letch"
If you were fortunate to have living grandparents or great grandparents as a kid, do you remember your parents telling you to spend as much time with them as possible? They said “You can learn so much. They won’t be around forever. It’s important to know your family’s history.” And of course there was the dreaded “you’ll be sorry one day if you don’t.” As I look back, when I was smart enough to spend time talking to my grandparents, the stories are what resonate with me. So many tales and tidbits of wisdom accumulated over the years just waiting to be told. All I needed to do was ask.
And it’s not just our families either. All who have lived long enough have things to share – good and bad. Mistakes we can learn from. Traditions and guideposts we hope to follow. More than anything, our senior senior citizens still have much to give and we have to make sure we’re asking questions and listening. (On a side note, my defined age range of “old” keeps climbing as I glide through middle age, now staring at my temporary membership card to AARP.)
My mother has spent much of her adult life working with the aging in a professional capacity and as a volunteer in many organizations. In particular, she talks a lot about her work with the KY Alzheimer’s Association and their Best Friends Adult Day Center. Every Monday since 1995 she visits and coordinates activities for those who have been affected by this terrible disease. Over the years I’ve heard stories about a man named Letch and his famous sayings. He evidently didn’t talk much, but periodically shared some of his wisdom. Even though Letch is no longer with us, his words endure. Here are some of my favorites:
“I’m having more fun than I aim to.”
“I may not get to go, but I’ll be ready.”
“I’m a tough cat to clean up after.”
And my favorite: “If I want to, let me. If I don’t want to, make me.”
The best I can tell, these are all “originals” from Letch. The more I read and say these, the more I love them. I’m not sure if they’re funny, sad, or poignant…..maybe all three. I’ve thought about each of these and they seem to apply both literally and figuratively to many parts of life. The point is that this man still had something to share with the world in the midst of a horrible disease that robs people of their minds. He just needed the audience and opportunity.
As a younger person I didn’t always appreciate what I could learn from my elders. I also didn’t appreciate what I could be doing for them. I had the pleasure to work with many retired people over my career in the golf industry. Most of these gentlemen were World War II veterans and former businessmen. They had names like Red, Bubber, Possum, Buddy, Bourbon, and Blackcat. Many times I had to look at their employee files to find out what their real names were. I loved all those men – not only for what they meant to our business, but what they meant to me personally.
Over the years, they all “retired” from their after-retirement jobs with me and would stop by periodically and visit. It always seemed like we were busy when they came by, and my first thought was “I don’t have time to talk right now – maybe later.” I then remembered there might not be a “later”. Many of their spouses had already died and they obviously wanted and needed some interaction at a place where they had some history. Hearing my mother’s advice in my head, I always made a point to take the time and talk. I listened to so many great stories that I never heard while they worked for us. As I got older, it became my privilege to hear about their lives and what that generation experienced. It was very impactful for me, but I could tell it was also touching for them.
Confucius said “Old age, believe me, is a good and pleasant thing. It is true you are gently shouldered off the stage, but then you are given a comfortable front stall as spectator.” This sounds a little melancholy, but if we live long enough, it will be true for most of us. I choose to look at this quote as positive. Even with its difficulties, we should look at old age as a blessing. It is not guaranteed. And those of us who haven’t reached it yet can help make it good and pleasant for our elders. We should take extra care shouldering them off the stage. We need to make sure they are comfortable and engaged when they become more spectator than performer.
There are lessons to be learned from those who have been here longer than us. There are stories to be told and stories to hear. There are laughs to share and tears to shed.
We have to take the time.
We have to make the time.
We should hope others will do that for us one day.