(Click here to listen to a podcast of this column.)
The other day, my dad, who is nearly 90, was hooking up the horse trailer to haul some cows out on the range. He gripped the steering wheel of the truck and with much effort climbed down and let down the tailgate to let the gooseneck trailer slide into place. He sized up what needed to be done and with equal effort, he climbed back into the truck.
When you are nearly 90, everything is an effort. Your joints don’t bend and you shake against the strain of every movement. I wanted to help, but Daddy is fiercely independent. He would take a little longer but he would succeed, and he did after three entrances and exits from the truck.
As he drove away, I was filled with an overwhelming respect and love for him. He is the epitome of enduring to the end. He has suffered two heart attacks recently and a stroke earlier in his life, but he keeps on doing everything he can to be independent and accomplish something worthwhile.
I pity those who do not have a parent or a grandparent who lives into their late senior years. There is so much to learn from them.
My mother, in her late 80s, has macular degeneration of the eyes. She struggles to see and she has tinnitus, so she can’t hear very well, but like my dad, she never gives up. She planted her garden in the spring and goes out every day to hoe and care for it.
She and Daddy will harvest the garden with the help of my sisters and brothers and they will share with the neighbors. Daddy, Mom, my older sister, Claudia, and whoever else turns up to help puts the produce into the jars and pressures them for storage. Mom is not the “Little Red Hen.” If someone didn’t help, she gives it anyway.
She brought about 70 baby chicks so she could have hens to lay eggs. She and Daddy will not eat 70 eggs but the neighbors will. Her great joy is to share the wealth with those around her. Charity is their watchword.
Mom loves to quilt and has done so for years. In her early years, she made every new married couple in Heber, my hometown, a satin quilt for their reception. She must have made hundreds of them.
She has made each family member a Christmas quilt, and recently she has made all of grandbabies a christening quilt. Now that she can’t see very well, Daddy threads the needles and she goes on quilting.
My husband, Reg’s mother and father were no less examples of endurance and charity. Grand, Reg’s dad, milked six milk cows up into his late 80s, and Jocie, his mother, was making clothes and giving things away up until the day she died.
Her final project was a rag rug she made for her sister. She had to use a stick, formerly used to beat a drum, fashioned into a crochet hook because she couldn’t see the fine thread anymore. She used to make doilies, altar cloths and collars that were elegantly tatted and crocheted.
She made hundreds of wedding dresses and blessed the lives of thousands with her acts of charity. She lived into her 90s, and she spent every day being productive. Reg and I just finished scanning 700 scrapbook pages that she had made for her family. What a woman!
I think back to the lives of my grandparents. They were workers also. My grandmother on my father’s side lived to be 90. She cared for herself right up to the end. She blessed the lives of each grandchild with letters and kind words.
She beamed like the sunshine every time you visited her. She didn’t talk about her aches and pains, she talked about you and your achievements.
My grandfather on Dad’s side passed away in his 60s and I missed him. My grandmother on my mother’s side lived to be 96. She was nearly blind most of her life but she could cook and sew.
She knew each of her 10 children’s favorite foods and tried to please them with it when they came to visit. She recognized the sound of their footsteps and would greet them by name. Though she was ill most of her later life, she never complained about her problems but was delighted to listen to you.
In her final years, she braided hundreds of rag rugs. She could not see to make the braids into rugs, but she would do the braiding so someone else could.
I knew my great-grandmother. She was bedridden when I knew her, but her life was one of work and service. She taught my mother to garden, and she was one who never allowed anyone to leave her house without something for the journey: a loaf of bread, vegetables from the garden or new-made jam.
Her husband used to cook for the Hash Knife outfit, a huge cattle company in Arizona in the late 1800s. Their herd was so big that the lead cows would be in Holbrook while the end cows were leaving Heber, which is a distance of about 30 miles.
My great-grandfather worked hard and was gone much of the time, but as he aged, he loved his family and would do anything to help his neighbors. I vaguely remember his long salt-and-pepper beard and his bib overalls. I treasure the memory.
It is easy for the world to look at our senior citizens and think their time has passed and they don’t have much to give, but that is so far from the truth. That would be like saying the sun is ancient and we don’t need it anymore.
Our senior citizens have a wealth of knowledge and experience to share. They have walked the paths that we will have to walk. Their bodies may be slow, but their minds are still young and filled with buoyant hope.
They could help us solve the problems of the future if we would take time to listen, but sadly, so many times we think youth and beauty are the answers when we don’t even know the right questions.
I have treasured the times I have taken a tape recorder or a video camera and sat for hours asking my parents and grandparents questions about how life used to be. I found they didn’t really live in the “good old days” but they are the good old people who made America great.
They passed through hardships and came out fighting. It gives me hope that I can follow in their footsteps and be able to win my final battles with a heart full of charity and a mind full of hope.
I wrote a poem about my grandmother that I want to share, because it gives a glimpse of what she went through and they legacy she left.
Tribute to Grandma
The years have come and gone
and your hair is silver white.
You’ve outlived the horse and buggy
and saw the empty plains
grow up with cities
instead of wagon trains.
You’ve slept beneath the stars
on chilly winter nights.
You’ve known the pain and joys
of living out your life.
You’ve felt the winter blizzard
and summer’s burning drought
But spring has always come again,
and fall’s golden harvest was always gathered in.
You’ve made a path for many footsteps
through the rugged mountain height.
You’ve planted flowers in the desert
and ignited glowing campfire lights.
So tiny feet would not stumble
on the path that leads to right.
There’s no greater tribute that anyone could pay
Than to give a humble “Thank you” and simply say.
We love you Great Great Grandma
for showing us the way.
—Love Yevet, 1999 PD
Chocolate Oat Squares
Yield: 4 Dozen
1/2 cup plus 1 Tbs. butter, softened
2 cups sugar
2 tsp vanilla
3 cups oats
2 1/2 cups soft white wheat flour
3/4 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
In a mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar. Beat in eggs and 2 tsp vanilla. Combine oats, flour, salt and baking soda. Stir into creamy mixture. Press 2/3 of oat mixture into 15”x10” baking pan. (Sprayed oil)
1 can sweetened condensed milk
2 cups (12 ounces) grain sweetened chocolate chips
1 cup chopped nuts (walnuts or pecans)
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup plus 1 Tbs. butter
2 tsp vanilla
In a sauce pan combine milk, chocolate chips, butter and salt. Cook and stir over low heat until chocolate is melted. Remove from heat, stir in nuts and 2 tsp vanilla. Spread over the crust. Sprinkle with remaining oat mixture.
Bake 350 degrees for 25 minutes or until golden brown. Cool. Cut into squares.