written by Dana Herron
A Thanksgiving Opportunity
With the Thanksgiving holiday just around the corner, our minds are collectively turned towards the many good things in our lives. We gather with family and friends to celebrate with good food and to enjoy time together. And, of course, there’s plenty of football!
As we number the things for which we’re grateful this holiday season, don’t forget to count the older folks in your life. If you are fortunate to have parents and grandparents with you, make a special point to give thanks for them.
Thanksgiving may also be the perfect opportunity to ask them to share their stories. You might be surprised at the wealth of knowledge, experience, and humor you uncover. Some of my favorite times spent with older friends and family have been listening to them tell about their life experiences. I walked away not only with a history lesson, but also with a much deeper appreciation for them as special people in my life.
But you have to ask questions first. The folks who are part of “The Greatest Generation,” for instance, often don’t see themselves as having anything particularly important or interesting to share. They also lived in a time that was much more private—a stark difference to today’s egocentric focus and constant posting of “selfies” and personal information on social media.
I’ll never forget two 92-year-old ladies I met. I asked them what one invention they’d seen over the course of their lives had had the most impact on them. No, it wasn’t the television. It wasn’t the computer or smartphone. It wasn’t the internet. Nothing came to their minds that might be top on the list for a much younger generation. For them, without hesitation, the best invention was the washing machine. Air conditioning came in as a close second. They’d lived through a time when they washed their husbands’ military uniforms and their children’s cloth diapers by hand. Think about it. You can surely imagine the thrill they felt at having a machine to help with that chore. Mind you, though, they weren’t talking about the type of washing machine that’s commonplace for us. Google it. The old washing machines were much more challenging to use, but still a great advancement in these ladies’ opinions.
Then there was my friend John. He had served with General George S. Patton in World War II. He didn’t really see that as anything special. But when he told me about his experiences during the war, I was spellbound. Once John and I began talking about his experiences, some ladies also told me what it was like at home and how they cherished the letters that came from their husbands and brothers overseas. They talked about the letters being censored before delivery, but they understood it was for their loved ones’ safety.
These stories are treasures for family and friends to keep and pass along to future generations. Take some time this holiday season to connect with elderly friends and family members. If you’re not sure how to get them to start talking, try asking some of the questions below. If one topic doesn’t seem to generate much conversation, try another question. Having the opportunity to share life experiences can be magical and can remind us of what’s most important on our list of reasons to be thankful.
- What are your favorite memories of Thanksgiving with your family (or Christmas or other holidays)?
- Tell me about your first Thanksgiving (or other holiday) as a married couple (or away from home).
- What accomplishment in your life pleases you most? Why?
- Tell me about your first date. Tell me about your first love.
- What was it like to grow up when you did? How do you think things have changed for young people?
- What were your parents like? Your grandparents?
- What is the most unusual, wild, crazy thing you ever did?
- Is there a person or an event that changed the course of your life? Tell me about this time.
- What is your favorite childhood memory? Your favorite memory from young adulthood?