The gift of an older friend...
You shall rise up before the grayheaded and honor the aged, and you shall revere your God; I am the LORD. (Leviticus 19:32)
He was an eighty-year-old Spanish American War veteran and I was a seven-year-old boy who loved the circus. He had a television set in his house and the Baylys didn't, so after dinner every Thursday evening I'd walk down the block to his home and knock on the back door. After a long wait, Mr. Fedders would come and let me in. Then we'd walk to his front room where, together, we would watch the circus and the first half of Sing Along With Mitch. It was the only television and the only pipe smoke of my entire childhood, there at Mr. Fedders' Thursday evenings. It didn't matter how much Mr. Fedders liked the circus nor how much I liked Mitch. The two of us--one seven and the other quite ancient--were friends.
Older adults were always a part of the Bayly family. Whether it was my older brother and sister, Joseph and Deborah, cutting grass and shoveling snow for elderly people in our neighborhood, my two younger brothers, David and Nathan, hitting up the elderly lady across the street for candy, or Dad and Mud caring for a woman in her eighties in our home until she died, old age pensioners (as the Brits call them) were our friends. If we all had to choose a favorite, I'm sure it would be Aunt Gail. She wasn't a blood relation but she was a part of our family. We all have warm (and a few not so warm) memories of Aunt Gail. Here are a couple of my own.
When I was in junior high school I would walk over to Aunt Gail's house after school one day a week and spend the late afternoon and evening with her, until it was time for me to go to church for our weekly Boys Brigade meeting. (Our home was eleven miles out of town, so this saved my parents some driving.) Often there were little odd jobs Aunt Gail would wonder aloud whether I'd mind doing for her. The one I detested was washing windows...
Aunt Gail would take hours preparing for the job. All the right tools had to be used and before I climbed on the roof, she'd warn me for the twentieth time, "Be careful! I'm not going to have you hurting yourself while you're doing me a favor." Outside washing the window, she was always on the other side peering at the glass, pointing out each place I'd missed. It seemed impossible to remove one smudge without adding another, and junior high boys aren't known for their patience.
My mind has a clear picture of one evening. We had just finished dinner (as usual, my favorite, beef stroganoff) and I was sitting on the sofa listening to her talk. Really, I was waiting for the time to come when I could leave for Brigade; it was Aunt Gail's habit to go on at great length listing names of people I had never heard of and telling me who they were related to as part of her monologue. I made every effort to listen politely, but usually I was stifling yawns and chewing my fingernails. This time, in the middle of her discourse she stopped and, looking straight at me, said, "Why are you biting your fingernails?"
Snapped back to reality, I replied, "I dunno."
To which she retorted, "You're too old to bit your fingernails. You should stop it." I did.
The family would regularly stop at Aunt Gail's for a short visit on our way home from church. I recall the musty old-home smell as we crossed the threshold. She usually complained about how long it had been since we'd been there or how short our visit was (even if we were there for more than an hour). After complaining, she'd tear out of herself the final surrender of a longsuffering woman: "Still, I'm grateful for little favors." We didn't let her complaints keep us from including her in our circle of love and she didn't let her disappointment get in the way of enjoying the time we had together.
Along with other guests, Aunt Gail was always in our home for special occasions such as birthdays and holidays. I guess all of us remember her standing at our sliding glass door on Thanksgiving Day, looking out over the cornfield and reciting psalms of thanksgiving from memory. Then, as we sat down at the table Dad would ask Aunt Gail to say grace. Oh how she would pray! She's spent her life in God's Word and her prayers lifted us to the very presence of God.
At ninety-three, Aunt Gail died. I was twenty-two at the time, and when I heard of her death I cried. She never wavered in praying for me through all my difficult teenage years. God heard her prayers.
As a young adult I continued to know the joys of being around older people. While attending Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Massachusetts, I had a part-time job working as a gardener/house cleaner/ chauffer at an estate on the rocky Atlantic coast. The home, gardens, and expansive lawns overlooked Lobster Cove. It was a setting only immense amounts of money could acquire and maintain, but the real wealth on the estate was an eighty-three-year-old man name Enoch Follett. Crippled with arthritis, he had served the family faithfully for many years and I was hired partly to be his assistant.
One afternoon while packing away the dahlia tubers in peat moss for their long winter's sleep, Enoch and I began to talk about temptation. I asked Enoch for wisdom in handling some temptations that were particularly pressing at the time. I wondered whether he had ever been discouraged by his love of sin?
Enoch wouldn't say anything lightly but I'll never forget the knowing look he gave me just then. It said "I've been there too, boy." He told me of a time when he'd been working in the basement of a home, repairing the furnace. He told me the Devil had waged a fierce battle against him and Scripture was all that saved him.
I told Enoch I, too, had had a similar experience and I'd memorized Psalm 1 as a way of fighting off my temptation. Enoch began it, "Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly..." We stood there reciting Psalm 1 together.
In eighty years, Enoch had accumulated a lot of patience. He never said a word to indicate to me that I had failed. When I neglected to do something he'd requested, he would either do it himself or repeat his request in such a way as to obscure the fact that he had already asked me to do it once. He preceded every request with "Listen, boy, if you get a chance..." Do you think there was anything I wouldn't do for him? Most of my spiritual growth during seminary came from being with my wife and children, and Enoch.
Can your children afford not to have an Aunt Gail or an Enoch Follette? Where else will they get the sense of timelessness that comes from sitting and listening to the reminiscences of a ninety-year-old woman? Who will be more faithful in praying for them? When you're thirty years old, married, with two children, can you match the warmth of being referred to as "son" or "boy" by an eighty-three-year-old man?
If your parents aren't available, near, or inclined, then adopt someone from your church. And if your church can't fill the order, go to the local retirement village or nursing home. Give yourself and your children the gift of a friend who's filled with wisdom and close to Heaven.