Getting back to yesterday’s topic of America’s true national treasures – her citizens:
One of my most treasured memories is sitting down beside my great-grandmother Crouch (my mother’s maternal grandmother) when I was a child of about 8 or 9. Mama Crouch was well into her 80’s and was an amazing woman who had lived a full life, living through many of the great events in our country’s history. She had also grown up when memories of the “Old South” and Reconstruction were still fresh in the minds of southerners. I remember asking her so many questions about what life was like for her when she was a little girl, and she answered patiently, telling me stories from her youth. I was transfixed, and she was probably charmed that a young child would show so much interest in her life. I had made such an impression on her that she specifically designated a couple of figurines to be given to me when she passed away. I had those figurines for a long time in my childhood and up into my teen years, but I have no idea where they are now – lost somewhere down through the years as I lived my life, first enlisting in the Army at the age of 18, and then eventually making a career of being a soldier.
But although that memory of sitting beside my wonderful great-grandmother was so long ago, it is still fresh in my mind. She had made such an impression on my young mind. I guess it was there that I began my love of what is perhaps our greatest treasure in the treasury of the American people – our senior citizens. I have been blessed by God with meeting so many older people over the years, including a very spry centenarian that would visit the grocery store where I worked at the age of 16, stocking shelves, bagging groceries, running the register, etc. This man who was past 100 was just as spry and lively as a 20-year-old every time he came into the store. He was always full of vigor, wit, and kind comments when he came into the store. Everyone loved to see him coming. I especially remember him telling us how to make fermented peaches that would “get you flying.” He was a wonderful, funny man full of stories of his amazing life. I’ve been blessed with so many such elderly friends over the years, and I continue to meet such wonderful people.
In fact, I met two recently as I was visiting Abraham Lincoln’s birthplace about 20-minutes’ drive from our home in Elizabethtown, Kentucky. I was out looking for something interesting to do that morning and found this national park/monument, the signs for which I had seen so many times in our three years living here. But despite our having lived here for three years and despite the relatively easy proximity of the place, I had yet to visit it. On this bright spring morning, I found out that they have a very good visitor’s center with an excellent 15-minute video telling about Lincoln’s life. They also have a Greek/Roman-temple-style building that houses within it a replica of the type cabin which Lincoln probably grew up in. It was while I was at the visitor’s center, about to walk up the hill to see the cabin, that I ran into two of our national treasures, an elderly couple who were down from Wisconsin.
The man was walking toward the entry door of the visitor’s center as I was leaving, and I could tell from the way he was walking that his mobility was very limited. Upon seeing me, he asked me about accessibility for the monument. I told him I would check on it. Returning to the visitor’s center reception desk, I found out that there was a ramp going up the hill to the cabin/monument. Moreover, they had wheelchairs available for public use as needed. When I reported the situation back to the elderly gentleman and asked what he wanted to do, he said he would definitely need the wheelchair. Since his girlfriend was also elderly, I surmised that it might be difficult for her to push him up the long ramp, so I offered to push him up. In the course of pushing him up the ramp, visiting the cabin replica, and taking him back down the ramp, I had a nice long conversation with the man and his companion, talking about family, work, politics, etc. He seemed quite surprised when he found out that I did not work for the park, that I was performing this act of kindness for a total stranger simply because I wanted to. But that act is simply a manifestation of the Agape love that God has built up in me over the years with the building up of His Spirit.
Although the man viewed my actions as above and beyond, I didn’t see them as especially noteworthy, just one small action that is part of the Christian way of life that Jesus taught about in His Sermon on the Mount where he admonished us to go "the extra mile" (Matthew 5:41-42). Additionally, I was already there and was going to see the monument anyway. I always enjoy meeting new people, and I especially love meeting the elderly and hearing about their lives. Tom Brokaw published his book in 2001 about this generation of Americans who fought our major wars, raised our families, built our country into its industrial greatness, survived the Great Depression, etc. He called them in his title The Greatest Generation. Perhaps they are. As we build our lives in this country, we are, as they say, “Standing on the shoulders of giants.” And of the great richness of American culture, perhaps the elderly are the greatest of our treasures.
I pray that you will treasure the senior citizens in your life and will cull from them the best of their stories, their experiences, and their wisdom.