Photo by Free Fergerson, via Flickr

September 18, 2017 Mollie Finnegan 0Comment

Experience teaches us more about life than anything else.

I am already tired, and slightly overwhelmed, with all of the talk about the iPhone X coming out, and it is not even here yet! It is mind-blowing to think about how much technology has changed just since I received my first smartphone 6 years ago. Then I remember that I grew up in this generation, which has given me an unrivaled advantage compared to past generations who have to be taught the same skills decades later in life. My grandma told me last week she doesn’t have an E-Mail, but she has something called a G-Mail. This is what I am working with when I try to explain to her that not every phone call is a FaceTime, and why her Facebook is always changing because her 9 friends are making new posts. It also gives me perspective in just how little I can actually teach my grandparents compared to the lifetime worth of knowledge they can hand down to me.

One thing that I have always admired about older generations, especially my grandparents, is that the things I was tested on during my U.S. History class in high school was in fact part of their upbringing. All of us should look towards the living examples of history we interact with daily, instead of scoffing at them for reminiscing on “the good old days.” My living grandparents were both born just months prior to Pearl Harbor, and grew up through several wars, the Space Race, and the invention of many items we take for granted today. While we all joke about telling our kids and grandkids about the election of 2016, they lived through the events that created the infamous election cycle. They can explain just how unprecedented it was in certain ways, and in ways that it wasn’t. They experienced this history.

“It also gives me perspective in just how little I can actually teach my grandparents compared to the lifetime worth of knowledge they can hand down to me.”

No textbook or documentary can describe to me how my grandpa would go from baseball practice to listening to developments during the Korean War in real-time. Or how my grandma was raised by a non-English speaking immigrant while her uncles were off fighting somewhere she could not even pronounce. There is no substitute for a primary source when it comes to learning, and we have access to those who lived through some of the most defining eras of our country’s history at our fingertips. I think one of the coolest things we can take from our grandparents is just how much they have seen, and how their life experiences can teach much more valuable lessons than the difference between an emoji and a GIF.

Another thing I have started to appreciate more as I have grown is not only the historical facts my grandma and grandpa can offer me, but also the stories about my family and where I come from. While the family drama I have picked up in my recent addition to the “Grown Up” table at Thanksgiving has been eye-opening, the details about my unknown family has always been an interest of mine. Part of my family came over through Ellis Island just before the First World War from Czechoslovakia. Hearing about my uncles and grandparents I was never able to meet fascinated me to no end, and always made me think about them as individuals, and what their perception of me would be.

My Grandpa grew up in a bar! He was 6 and knew how to pour a drink perfectly from the tap. That is not something many of us could have ever experienced nowadays, and nobody I know would even consider raising 5 boys inside of a smoke filled bar. These stories give me perspective on just how much the world has changed over time. The tales of his brothers and cousins running the streets of my hometown sounds like an old movie, which only entices me to hear more about their experiences together. Listening to relatives discuss your family will give you a sense of belonging, even if you never met the people from their stories.

The greatest generation has many qualities that I have always admired, and even though my grandparents were mixed in between that and the Baby Boomers, I am very glad they were able to inherit the manners of the generation before them. In our culture today, respect and manners are not held to the same standard as our grandparents’. Authority, it seems, is something to defy in this current era. Whereas our grandparents respected and saw authority and their elders alike as groups they would never hope to openly affront.

Besides manners in terms of those in power or superior positions, my grandparents also taught me a lot about how I should expect to be treated by others. My grandpa automatically walks in between the street and me, while my grandma has taught me that I am strong enough to do anything, but I should not look down on anyone trying to help me in life. I could not imagine acting like some of the people I encounter in my daily life, because I have been raised and held to a higher standard my entire life. This system was put into place by my grandparents who took their values and made sure to instill them in their descendants. I think we can all appreciate those qualities we have been handed.

It is easy to think of all of the things I have taught my grandparents in terms of new experiences and toys, but all of those pale in comparison to what they have taught me. From car rides blaring Frank Sinatra to family recipes still in use weekly, some of my fondest memories have come from moments I have spent with my Grandma and Grandpa. The lessons we can take from them will stay with us throughout our lives, and it is our job to instill them in the generations following us.  

Follow this author on Twitter: @mollie_finnegan

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