There is this place, hidden in the nooks of one of the many valleys in Southwest Wisconsin. This place isn’t just like any other small town in a valley; it’s the town that I call my home.
As you enter the town from either side you become surrounded by the beautiful untouched hills of the driftless region; sometimes I feel it’s easy to forget about the town with the beauty that surrounds it. This is what has captivated myself, my parents and the generations before them. It is what has kept my families roots strong throughout the years here in Viola, Wisconsin.
Not only has its beauty kept the generations of my family here, but the community. In Viola, you know everyone, they know you, and you might as well be considered one big family. When someone is in need or is celebrating, the entire community is there to grieve or celebrate with them. In this community there are many people who have played a major role in others lives; one of these people in mind is Naomi Sanford, my grandmother.
Naomi is a 93 year-old live wire; when you see her the first thing you will notice is her beautiful snow-white hair and the calming sound of her voice. If you have the privilege of visiting her home she will invite you right in like family. The first thing you will see is the blue cabinets in the kitchen and to your left a beautiful family dining room table. From there you will be lead into the most warm and inviting living room, other than your own. Most likely you will sit on the floral pattern couch facing the panoramic view of the old schools playground. She will offer something to eat or drink because at Naomi’s house there are always leftovers to share; it’s over these leftovers that the lessons begin.
Whether it’s about health, faith, family or the weather, Naomi always has a piece of advice and a story to share. It’s elders like her who have been forgotten in cultures such as our own. I remember always being told at a very young age to respect your elders and feel that here, in the United States, it has become a forgotten concept.
In other cultures, I feel elders play a higher role. After researching the topic, I found many examples of the role of elders in a family and community unit. An example from India, Achyut Bihani, answered the question, “In your Country, What Is the Role of Elderly People?” Bihani explained that the elders are “held in high regard.” He talked about living in a joint family home, which meant that two or more generations shared the same house, and that “the eldest members head the household”. Bihani also said:
“Advice is always sought from them on a range of issues, from investment of family money to traditional wedding rituals and infra-family conflicts. And this is not just passive advice; their word is last in settling disputes.”
Bihani explained that not only were the elders the head of the household but that they also play a significant part in bringing up the children in the home. Bihani explained, “From babysitting and storytelling, to cooking for and feeding the kids, they offer a unique kind of loving care, which is one of the best parts about growing up in a joint family.”
If we take time that we have with our elders to just sit and talk we might be able to learn something. They have so many more life experiences than we do, they lived through different times than we did. An elder’s insight on the world today is incredible. It is amazing the lessons you can learn and the stories you might hear when talking with an elderly person.
My grandmother, Naomi Sanford, wrote a memoir of her life, just as her mother before her did. I remember as a child, spending time at my grandmas, listening to all of her stories about when she was a little girl and learning about her mother. Those moments and days spent with her I will never forget, and know that because she took the time to share and write down those memories for all of us, we can cherish them forever. I feel like when you speak to someone like Naomi, and get to know or read his or her story you gain a sense of respect for that person. By talking with someone it helps you understand, they have lived through a life that we have yet to see.
My challenge to you, is to find a person like Naomi, and converse with that person whether it is about life, work or whatever you would like , and see if you can’t learn something from or about that person. When I say converse, I mean, sit and talk with them for a while, don’t just say hi and how are you and call it good. I want you to take the time to get a glimpse of what it is like for me when I to talk Naomi. If you choose to take the challenge please comment about your experience.
These memories and stories that have become a part of my families and my life are the types of artifacts I wish every family and community got to have. That is why I urge you to take the time to listen and learn to respect; you don’t have to write a book or even write anything at all, but just listen. Take an afternoon of your life to go learn about someone else; it is amazing the stories you might hear.
“The privilege has been all mine.”