In Praise of the older generation

I have just had news of a death of an old lady in Missouri, two weeks before her 102nd birthday. I am not related to this lady, have never met her and only got to know about her about a dozen years ago through the Internet.
She is part of a complicated network of connections that children without parents can accumulate in passing, without becoming aware of them or forgetting, not having a continuity of the family around them.
This lady and her younger sister were London girls who met American servicemen during the war, married them and followed them to a small community which probably was very strange to them.
We have had occasional news of them from a daughter-in-law who has given vivid descriptions of them and of her own life on a farm which they have maintained along with outside jobs.
These stories resonate with my wife who grew up on a small farm.
The two old ladies have been widows for a long time but have kept close to their families and in the later years, when the time has been taking its toll of their health, have still been busy knitting and sewing, in the classic grandmother mode. Their socks, mittens and garments have been popular in the local charity sales as well as with the grandchildren.
She will stay with me as one of the many examples of the members of the older generation, the likes of whom will not come again because the world has changed so much.
My family of in-laws here includes several such personalities who, despite failing health and faculties, still represent something solid to us. They are important because they maintain a database of personal local knowledge accumulated during the long life through experience and living close to their land and neighbours.
They know the family connections of everybody in the village: who married whom, who left to find work in Tampere, Riihimäki or even farther away in America, who died in the war or drowned in a storm, when a lightning struck a house causing it to burn down, how some farm was divided between siblings etc. etc.
A lot can be found on the Internet these days, but it is much more pleasant to hear it from a human mouth around a coffee table!
I know there are similar personalities in the making in our generation and in the ones following – I can think of several already – but their contribution to the memory database will be of a different kind because their life experience is different.
However, they still have a connection with those who are now leaving us and can transmit that knowledge and their own memories to the children of today.

Paul Dockree


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