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Glass Half Full: ‘In’ with the old, not ‘out’

Ruth Glass
Glass Half Full

We call them The Elders in our family, though some of them slightly resent the moniker: those over 80.

At our recent family reunion (my father’s mother’s side; let’s be clear), there were six Elders in attendance. Some of us in the next generation draw very careful lines when it comes to the age differences. My older brother, especially, wanted it known that he was not among that oldest group.

In fact, he was shocked to realize that he was the 5th oldest — until Uncle Hugh and Aunt Ann, 88 and 85, showed up at the last minute. Their appearance somehow made him feel much better.

One of the ironies is that our Elders are pretty remarkable, considerably more active than a large number of the general national population.

Two days in a row, Uncle Hugh and Aunt Ann played tennis with family members significantly younger. One daughter observed that her mother would actually be much better than she is, if her vision were not so compromised. Perhaps the games included fewer power shots than in the past, but so what?

We hold these family reunions every three years. Initially — the tradition began in 1992 — they were every five. We shortened the gap by two years when we all recognized that the longer interval meant fewer Elders each gathering.

The parents of most of us in my generation are no longer with us. The good news is that those who were babies at the outset are beginning to volunteer to help organize and run these events.

Though we gather from around the globe and the head count ranges from 60-100, depending on location, even our young ones recognize the value of these family bonds and make an effort to attend.

The fact is that our Elders provide a great deal of the magnet that pulls us all together. We have discovered that there is much we have taken for granted over the years.

My father, for instance, was the family story teller and song master. While my brothers and I knew every word and inflection to every story when he would tell them, we have discovered we can’t quite reconstruct them on our own.

The same can be said about family songs, many of which have deep, regional and historical roots. Fortunately, Dad recorded much of his music, and one of our 20-something cousins has committed to mastering those songs with me so that we can ensure they are handed down for generations to come.

Inevitably, my brother and I and the cousins with whom we grew up are going to be The Elders — at least, if we are lucky.

We can fight that notion, which will do no good at all, or we can embrace it with the grace and dignity that Uncle Hugh and Aunt Ann and our parents demonstrated across the many decades of their lives. I watch our youngest observe and appreciate our oldest, and I know all is as it should be.

Ruth Glass is headmaster at Lake Tahoe School. She can be reached for comment through her blog at http://www.laketahoeschool.org.


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