Old Wisdom

I was partly raised in Suriname, South America.  I went to an international K-12 school there.  One year the school was short a 6th grade teacher.  A retired teacher in her 80’s, Mrs. Archer, who was the aunt of another teacher at our school, agreed to come all the way from Kansas to our little school.  I was a little “spitfire” of a student at that age for some reason and was forever being sent outside the classroom to sit on the bench as a punishment… but she never got mad or lost her cool and always had a little sparkle in her eye when she would send me out.  She represents to me the wise old woman that I want to become later in life. 

There was another elder named Mildred who I loved dearly in my life.  I worked at a small care home in Tucson and she was my sweet little friend there.  She gave me wonderful bits of wisdom.  Just being around her was a special treat.  When I was getting married a friend called me to tell me I was too young and didn’t know what I was doing… I started to second guess myself and I told Mildred my feelings because she always had good advice.  She said “Well, if you’re on top of a wall and you want to get down to the ground you have to jump.”  I will always remember and treasure that because it was true and one of the best decisions I ever made.  I would have followed my heart anyway, but she encouraged me and put special words to it that will always remain with me. 

I have heard some people say that they don’t want to live past their “usefulness” or “productivity” and I feel sad when I heard that.  I have been enriched by the wisdom of older people who were no longer able to fully take care of themselves.  But giving care to someone is not always a burden and receiving care is not always something to be ashamed of.  My life would have been much poorer without the Mrs. Archers and the Mildreds…

To gain some elder insight, I recommend:

The Crimson Edge:  Older Women Writing 810.8 CRI

This is an anthology of seven older women’s writings edited by Sondra Zeidenstein.  I found all of them to be interesting and well-written.  My favorites were Carrie Allen McCray and Anneliese Wagner.  There is also a Crimson Edge Volume 2 which I am looking forward to reading. 

Earth’s Elders: The Wisdom of the World’s Oldest People by Jerry Friedman 305.26 FRI

Jerry Friedman spoke at our library a few years back.  He traveled the world in search of these supercentenarians.  He describes his travels in the first part of his book and the second half is the real treat where we get to meet all of these special people.  Almost all of these people are optimistic & happy which seemingly contributes to their longevity. 

Touch the Earth: a self-portrait of Indian Existence  970.004 MCL

A compilation of Native American speeches and writings from a range of ages, edited by T.C. McLuhan.  There is also historical information and many pictures of the ancient people.  Among many beautiful and powerful passages, some of my favorites were Red Jacket, Crowfoot & Chief Flying Hawk. 

The Foxfire Books (most are in 917.58 FOX, Foxfire 10 is 975.812 FOX)

The Foxfire Books are compilations of interviews and research by high school students in Appalachia.  Particularly I loved “Aunt Arie” who shows up in many of the books.  Their first meeting with her is recorded in The Foxfire Book which is the first of many.  I am awaiting Aunt Arie: A Foxfire Portrait to read more about this special woman.  I also enjoyed learning about Walker Wood, who Chris Nix writes about in Foxfire 10. 

Growing up Native American: An Anthology   810.803 GRO

This anthology spans over a century of writing from 22 different Native American Writers, many written from older people telling their story from a child’s perspective.  These are selections that should get you interested in the books they are taken from.  I particularly liked the excerpt from Waterlily by Ella Cara Deloria. 

When I am an Old Woman I Shall Wear Purple   810.8 WHE

Another collection of writings from different perspectives, edited by Sandra Martz.  My favorites were the title poem by Jenny Joseph, Patti Tana’s Post Humus and Social Security by Barbara Bolz. 

The library is full of books by and about our elders.  I’m sure I haven’t even touched the surface of our ocean of wisdom here.  (Please place a comment below and share your finds with me & others reading this blog.)  :o)

Jesse Lee Harmon is the bookkeeper/library assistant at the Oliver Wolcott Library and is currently humming the song “When You were Young” by the Killers

4 thoughts on “Old Wisdom

  1. This was a wonderful post! I think there is an unfortunate tendency (especially in young people) to see aging as a degenerative, upsetting process instead of seeing the beauty and wisdom inherent in our elders. I would recommend the book Crowns: Portraits of Black Women in Church Hats as another title with lovely pieces of wisdom from women of varying ages. The photographs are beautiful enough on their own, but the writings about each woman make the book complete. “Our crowns have already been bought and paid for. All we have to do is wear them.” –James Baldwin

  2. Jesse – another great post! What an interesting path you have walked in your young life – and now you are bringing us new ways to look at things/ideas/people!

  3. Hi Jesse – thanks for this wonderful post – I also cherish my relationships with older friends – for all the reasons you’ve mentioned. Thanks, Denise

  4. I am reading “Touch the Earth” thanks to your blog – wonderful to find the listed books right on that table by the door!

    This book of quotes, pictures and info relating to Native Americans is thought provoking; such wise words that ring so true even today. I like the phrasing as it speaks to me in almost-heard voices of wisdom and guidance.

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