Retirement Talk

WHAT to do with the rest of your life?


Episode 377(070) Relating to Grandchildren

My grandmother never talked to me. She talked at me. And she did that sparingly. She died when I was in my twenties and I can honestly say – we never really communicated. I remember her as rather sever. She bore ten children and raised them on a Midwestern farm in the first half of the 20th century - around 100 years ago. How difficult could that have been? Those were the days of washboards, cob fired cook stoves, tub baths, and outhouses. Maybe that is why she didn’t have too much time for me, and perhaps other grandchildren.

This is Retirement Talk. I’m Del Lowery.

When I was perhaps 10 years old I stayed with my grandparents at various times for a few days. They kept horses for a sale barn. It was the perfect place. I could always ride horses – different horses. They had lots of pasture and the Iowa River running right through their farm. They milked cows and had a big barn.

One day my Grandpa said, “Stay out of the barn, a cow is having a calf today.” Of course, after breakfast I went directly to the barn. Up in the hay mow I found a place where I could look down through the hay shoot and have a perfect view of the birthing process. It was an amazing thing and I watched from beginning to end.

At lunch I could not keep quiet. Over meatloaf and mashed potatoes I described in detail what I had witnessed. I remember my grandparents remaining absolutely silent. They didn’t tell me to be quiet, nor did they encourage the story. We never talked. I smile whenever I think of my colorful description. How did they hold a straight face? I painted a pretty graphic picture.

The relationship we have with our granddaughter today is the exact opposite. She is twelve. We talk. We talk a lot. She talks. We talk. We listen. And recently, she has learned to listen also. She asks questions. During our last phone conversation we talked of profanity in the halls of her junior high school. We also talked of genres of books: biographies, science fiction, novels, mysteries, etc. I’m not sure how long we will be able to continue to communicate, but I hope it remains part of our relationship.

Communicating across generations is something of a challenge that we retired people have to learn. There are no classes, college courses, or “how to…” books on this one. We must all invent our own method. Or, we can just let it happen…if it does.

I guess we all get a start through learning to communicate with our own children. This is done better by some than others. Some parents and kids talk. Some don’t. I like to think we are among those who talked with our children. Hopefully this will carry over one more generation.

Talking with our own children was aided by the lack of a television. We made a conscious decision to do without one. I always told my wife that the day I got a television and put it in the house is the day she can tell others that I find television programs more interesting than her and the kids. She should file for divorce. Of course that was me as a young man talking. I’ve come to realize there are good reasons for having a TV; although, there is still no TV hookup to our house.

When the kids were young, our dinner hours were always sacred. We all sat down to eat at the same time each day. We sat at a round table. I didn’t want a “head” of the table in our house. It was a philosophical thing about fostering equality. We always, and I mean always, turned off all of the lights in the house. We, and our dinner, were illuminated by a single candle. Focus was on the food and on the conversation. There was no hurry. There was no program coming up on the TV. There was no radio or music playing in the background. There was just conversation.

With grandchildren today I wonder about continuing to be able to relate. They are playing computer games at age 2. They read of fantasy worlds of which I know nothing. I asked one of my grandsons what he was reading a few days ago and he responded by saying he was reading a classic. I asked the name of the author. I had never heard of the guy. It was some type of horror stories. We have different interests.

We older folks need a plan of attack. Perhaps it is just a method for staying in touch via email, cell phones, Skype, webcam, or podcasts. It is strange but true that our favorite method of communication with our twelve year old grandchild is with snail-mail; just letters: good old US post.

Being concerned and aware of the generational differences won’t be enough to forge some sort of bond. I’m sure effort is required.
Seven years have passed since I wrote the above. We now have four grandchildren ranging in ages 19 to 7. Our means of communication have changed. We now talk on the phone since it is easy and practically free. We text on occasion. We video call so we can see each other and what new pictures, toys, gifts or dance steps they may have acquired.

Our oldest is attending college in our town and we meet for coffee one day a week. Then we walk to our home for a real dinner. We talk - face to face. How great is that? We watch a video. The pictures we see on the screen make my description of the birth of a calf seem very tame. Sometimes I find myself a bit embarrassed by the graphic sexuality but - times have changed. If we want to communicate we had better be prepared to make some adjustments. My grandmother must be rolling in her grave.

This is Retirement Talk.





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