Kings have their wise men, and our family has Uncle Jack. Young man about his great-uncle
Older people, with their firsthand knowledge of the past and their lifetime accumulation of skills, play a vital role in creating, preserving, and passing down cultural traditions from generation to generation. Through their stories, art, memories, and keepsakes, older Americans embody and express the values and history of their families and communities. They provide an invaluable link to our past and they give meaning and direction to our future.
In every community there are older people eager to share a lifetime of memories and skills, people like 104-year-old Rosina Tucker of Washington, D.C., who can tell you about her part in the fight to organize the first black labor union--the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters; or Albert and Sarah Weisfeld, who can speak of all the changes they've seen from behind the glass of their neighborhood grocery store--which has anchored the same Washington, D.C. street corner for 50 years.
As witnesses to life in a family or a region over a span of years, the old have a unique perspective on local history and tradition. Rick Stewart, a young schoolteacher and cooper from Hancock County, Tennessee, has come face to face with this rich legacy through his late grandfather, Alex Stewart:
Being with grandpa was almost like reading a history book. He didn't just do the coopering, he taught me a little bit about herbs, and how to make furniture, and he'd tell stories--about family history, community history--things that actually happened. I feel like I know my great-great grandfather almost, even though I never met him.
Through his grandfather's colorful anecdotes, the past comes to life in the present, filled with vivid images of people, places, and events.
Ed Hazelton of Manahawkin, New Jersey, himself a well respected old-timer at age 73 actively seeks out older neighbors for what they can tell him about the local area. "Every time I visit with them," he says, "I learn something new, because they were born and raised and spent all of their lives here. They can tell me who married who, who farmed what land, how people lived and how things have changed.... Through them I'm enjoying the best of two worlds!"