“$57,000! My junk is worth $57,000?!?”
Each day at dinner, my family received the daily Antique Road Show report from my grandma, and I don’t mean merely a report, but a full reenactment of the moment some middle-aged farmer discovered that his ashtray was worth $57,000. However, these imitations were merely second rate to my grandma’s own ‘appraisals’ of the junk she would find around our house.
With all the wit and grandeur of a TV host, Grandma appraised anything we would bring her, from the place mat “proven authentic by the dog teeth marks in the bottom right hand corner,” the Frisbee which was an original masterpiece by Mr. Nerf – “see his signature?”, to our favorite – mom’s leftovers (as long as she wasn’t looking), which “as you can see by their elasticity, are at least three and a half weeks old and worth nothing.”
I treasure these ‘grandma moments’ as experiences that opened my heart to relate to and embrace those who are different than me, took the blinders off of my high school world. They forced me out of myself, and taught me that family means love, care, responsibility, and fidelity. Living with my grandma was a natural school of values and principles that the older generation has; values which seem so foreign to the world today.
One of these lessons I remember most clearly was one my grandma taught my friend about real love and ‘sticking it out.’ My friend and I tossed our book bags on the ground, cringing at the loud thud of calculus books and knowing that the noise was only a minor reflection of the amount of homework for the weekend. “Grandma! We’re home! – Wanna have cookies with us?” I shouted as I pulled the milk from the fridge and my friend grabbed three glasses. Grandma would never turn down cookies. As we flopped into the chairs around the table, my friend said, “I think I’m going to break up with Chris…” Grandma came gliding into the kitchen, her wheelchair skimming effortlessly across the wooden floor. “You’re what?!” she said, slightly exasperated, “Why? You two weren’t even an item three weeks ago and now you want it to be over? How do you ever expect to stick with a man if you can’t learn to love the whole man, defects and all?” We stood in awe. “You’ve got to decide to love, not just feel it. How do you think my marriage lasted ‘until death do us part?' And don’t hog the Oreos – hand them over!” Popping an Oreo in her mouth, she smiled, knowing that in her little way, she was teaching us to understand commitment and ‘forever.’
Living in a ‘multi-generational’ home broadens horizons. Being around the elderly shows that everyone has something unique to give and that everyone’s gifts are needed. Even the presence of the youngest children contributes in an essential way to make the elderly’s life worth living. What a priceless lesson for young kids to learn: My life is for others; my life makes someone else happy; I am happy giving my life for others! The companionship and energy of the youth are the best medicine for the elderly, and time spent with the elderly is the best medicine for chronic teenage self-centeredness.
Another common dinnertime conversation consisted of my sister and I trying to convince my dad to give us permission to do or have some new thing. In the midst of one of these ‘polite conversations,’ the whirr of my Grandma’s wheelchair would come up to the table, and she would begin to eat, silently, but with a big smirk on her face. There would be a tap on my shoulder and an innocent, “Could you pass the gravy?” and when I turned back with the gravy, I would see my grandma with a huge clip-on earring dangling from her nose. My whole family burst out laughing. Maybe a nose ring wasn’t the coolest thing after all…
Seeing our own parents take care of their parents in their sickness and age stamps on the mind and heart what ‘honor thy father and mother’ really means. Seeing my dad sitting by grandfather everyday, telling him stories, giving him family updates, and making an indoor fishing rod so he could practice his cast in the hallways made ideas of love and respect become a living example. Seeing my parents care for my grandparents taught me how to care for my parents when they get old or sick, and not only then, but how to respect and love them now.
My grandma loved Antique Road Show because the people came with junk they had buried in their attic and left shocked that they had treasures worth thousands of dollars. How many nursing homes resemble these attics, filled with priceless treasures that are not valued, visited, hugged, kept company or thanked? There are countless priceless treasures within the heart, mind, experience, and love of each elderly person. How much does one man’s life change when he discovers his ashtray is worth $57,000? How much more does a person’s life change when they discover the treasure of the elderly – a treasure that is truly priceless?
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