Lessons from the Greatest Generation to the Millennial Generation: What a 90-year-old Woman Taught Me in One Afternoon

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This crazy world spins around at such a fast pace, it’s amazing what slowing down can do for your soul. It’s also surprising what two women, generations apart can learn from each other if they take the time.

This past weekend, I had one of the best yet simplest days I’ve had in a while. I spent my afternoon outside under the trees hanging out with a 90-year-old woman . Her grandchildren and 34 great-grandchildren know her as Nana. She is exceptionally agile for her age, has beautiful dark hair that is perfectly coiffed and is beautifully dressed.  She loves to garden, cook and is still sharp as a tack. She’s involved many groups like “Daughter of the Pioneers.” Her sprawling yard is full of big beautiful trees, gorgeous flowers and expansive “Virginia Crawlers” spread along archways, which she proudly mentioned she brought back from the East. Her yard has a very “secret garden” ambiance. You can see the love and attention she’s poured into it.

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I went South to Mount Pleasant with a friend for a small cookout. Nana’s house was beautifully put together. Most of us ate in the living room. I was the first to finish and didn’t see Nana so I stepped outside to find her sitting under the shade trees. We agreed, despite the hot temps, it felt nice to sit under the trees with the breeze. It was peaceful.

She asked what I had done the night before and I told her we went to the Salt Lake City Bee’s game. She recounted how she and her late husband used to love to go to ball games and she still remembers when that stadium was built. “I had my fun times living in the city, so I like the calm here now.” I asked her what it was like to see all of the changes that have happened from the late 20s until now. She recounted working as a sophomore in high school at a factory during WWII and having to catch the midnight train Friday nights to get back home by 7 am. To get back to the city they had to catch the Sunday 7 am train to make it back in time to catch a cab. She talked about all the changes she has seen over the years from transportation to the technology.

I told her how my great-grandpa Dawson used to tell me stories of the changes he’s watched over time. I always loved his story of how he could take my great-grandma on a date to a movie, get a hamburger and a malt before and it all cost him less than 50 cents. He gave me a love for classic cars and jazz music. She told me she also loved jazz music and all types of music, except for that hard rock stuff. She also told me when she lived back East, she’d take her teenage grandson to school. He liked rap music. So she made him a deal, on the way to school she would listen to his rap music, on the way home from school, he had to listen to her music. “I ended up liking some of his rap and he ended up liking some of my music.” What a great lesson for us all, among all of the chaos and fighting. Just meet each other in the middle.

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My great-grandpa Dawson in his WWII Navy uniform

I’ve been very fortunate not only to know my grandparents but also 6 of my great-grandparents, who would be  around Nana’s age. Some of  my favorite memories are baking with my great-grandma Dawson, fishing with my great-grandpa Dawson and picking strawberries with my great-grandma Scott. At the time, as a child,  I didn’t realize the lessons I was learning. I thought we were just having fun.  I look back now and reflect on all I’ve learned from each of my grandparents and great-grandparents. My great grandpa used to say, “A person only cusses because they can’t think of anything more intelligent to say.” My generation could undoubtedly take that lesson at large.

I think my generation could take quite a few lessons from The Greatest Generation. Just like Nana this weekend, my great-grandpa was always dressed well regardless of whether he was going out or staying in. He was always willing to lend a hand. There was no reason to sit around and complain about a problem, in his eyes you just jumped in and worked toward a solution. Nana mentioned how she could never have married a man who was nit-picky but she did have a sister who was. “She was just so bossy,” she said. “I looked at her one day and said, ‘what makes you think your way of doing things is any better than mine?” Her sister turned and said she hadn’t thought about it that way. Isn’t it funny how we get so dead-set on our own opinions, we can’t see beyond them.

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I asked Nana about her time living on the East coast. She had spent more than 20 years living in Provo, Utah but she also spent more than 20 years living in Virginia and D.C. She recalled moving there after her husband left the 82nd Airborne Division in Ft. Bliss. Once they relocated, he worked on the hill. Her daughter would also end up working on the hill. When referring to her late husband, she smiled and said, “you would have liked him.” She talked about his calm demeanor. He’d always say, “give it twenty-four hours before you say something or make a decision.” What a smart man. “I think that is why they called him up to settle so many disputes on the hill,” she mentioned. “He just had that cool, composed manner.” I asked her what it was like, being so ingrained with the political arena for so many years. “We were always up there working at the White House, volunteering, holding receptions, it was a busy time,” she remembered. “We lived just down the street from the Kennedy’s, who we visited with frequently… and we too, always had visitors.”

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While on the topic of politics, I asked Nana what she thought about the current political race. She looked at me and said,”They are just a bunch of monkeys performing on the beltway. There are just no good statesmen anymore.”She nailed it. Her generation had a sense of pride and respect for themselves as well as their community. Future generations have traded in their sense of purpose for their sense of fame and fortune. Our political system is completely broken and it’s embarrassing to watch from both sides. Nana shared her thoughts, “Now my motto is to just take a ticket and watch the show.” Generation Z to The Silent Generation spends most of their time spewing opinions but seldom working toward a viable solution. There is no sense of pride in keeping our country running pristine for the betterment of all anymore. It’s very similar to how The Greatest Generation kept their cars in pristine condition after working so hard for them. I would say they felt the same about their country. Today, we treat our country like we do our cars, we trash them. How sad it must be for those left of The Greatest Generation to watch all of their hard work and ingenuity go down the drain in the hands of the younger generations.

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Younger generations always think they know better. We love to argue with anyone older than us and prove them wrong. We’d be better off if we slowed down and sat down with the Nana’s to learn some valuable lessons. “Sometimes it seems like it’s been long, sometimes it feels like it’s flown by and other times it all seems like a dream,” Nana said in regards how fast life is. Before long, we won’t have their example and stories to learn from anymore. From their sense of pride in always dressing well to their sense of country and aide, we can all take note. I encourage my fellow Millennial’s and other younger generations to take a step back and sit under the shade tree with Nana and see what they learn.

Lessons Learned from :

  • Slow down and take time before you respond
  • Meet in the middle
  • Understand there is not only one way to do things and be open
  • Appreciate the greatest teachers we may ever have in our beloved Greatest Generation before it is too late
  • Come together and work towards betterment rather than tear each other apart
  • Take pride in all we do
  • Work hard
  • Faithful commitment

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If we take the lessons and combine it with our knowledge and technology, we just might have a chance to revitalize our country. Let’s get back to taking pride in ourselves, others and our country.

 

 

 

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