Building Generational Bridges

I have been so blessed to have experienced the lives of my great grandparents and grandparents. So many people have not had the opportunity to share their lives with multiple generations. Recently, I realized that my grandchildren are enjoying the multi-generational experiences that I had, but they are also bridging all of our experiences together. They have me (their paternal grandmother), my mom (their great grandmother), and they also have grandparents and great grandparents on their mother’s side of the family. Up until 2007, they also had their great great grandmother, my mother’s mother. Each one of these generations have contributed a wealth of knowledge, perspective, and vantage points for this group of Gen Z’s.

To be honest I hate all the labels. Gen Z, Gen Y, Baby Boomers, Traditionalists, etc., but apparently we need them to distinguish and define the population. Sometimes these labels keep us from building the bridges that are needed to develop hope and character in the next generation. Where do we learn survival? Where do we learn perseverance? What do we we learn tenacity? Where do we learn identity? (Certainly, we can pick up a host of negative things too, but I choose to focus on the positive.) We can learn all these things from the generations that went before us.

The good news is, it’s not limited to relatives. In addition to all my ancestral family, their friends also invested in my growth. I fondly remember all the little old ladies from my great grandmother’s community and my grandmother’s church giving me some coins to spend on candy and a few lessons in modesty. I still have a beautiful handkerchief collection to remember many of them by along with their perspective on being a lady. (A perspective a born tom-boy needed, I suppose.)

When I lived in California, I was involved in a program called “Adopt a Grandparent.” The program was for first time juvenile offenders. The idea was to get them involved in community service that focused on something other than themselves and the issues that led to their legal troubles. The young people were assigned to spend several hours per week at a nursing home playing games with the elders such as checkers, chess, bridge, and bingo. Interestingly, most of the teens didn’t know how to play these games and had to be taught by the elders.

We learned so much as program leaders. One, our elders had no filters. They asked questions and made statements about the teens legal affairs that none of us expected. “What you in trouble for?” “Well, that wasn’t too smart, was it?” They also shared some of their own illegal dealings and close calls with the teens. The elders were one hundred percent committed to communicating with the young people they were assigned; not because they were in trouble, but because they were somebody’s children or could have been their child.

The young people (the majority, not all) became interested in the elders because of their stories about the bootleg era, number runners, big band music, and conk hairstyles. (If you don’t know what some of these things are, you need to spend some time with some elders.) Some of the teens actually showed up on days when they were not assigned to attend. Many brought presents to their elder counterpart. The relationships became intimate and long lasting in some cases. A generational bridge had been formed especially for those youth who never had grandparents around.

My grandchildren have enjoyed old-fashioned tea parties with real tea and crumpets. They have worn wide men’s ties with three piece suits. They have picked and ate blueberries right off the bush. They have danced to the boogie-woogie music of two generations. They have eaten tomato sandwiches while looking at pictures that date back to the first cameras. History has been stories told to them by relatives who lived it, rather than simple book information. Imagine what my grandchildren believe they can do because of their heritage. Imagine how their worldview has evolved because of their experiences and conversations with multi-generations. This is a bridge that continues to extend into the future.

Last week was a very difficult week for my mom. She lost three very dear friends, each from a different part of her life before the pandemic. They had made every effort to stay in touch over the phone and virtual platforms. Stricken with grief, my mom wanted to reminisce, sharing the memories of each one of her friends with me. Thankfully, I am active in my mother’s life so I knew them to some extent. Sharing those memories added to the bridge between us. It gave me new and different perspectives of my mother’s life, the things she enjoyed, and some of her post-pandemic dreams. Memories keep our friends and family alive for the next generation.

Our multi-generational family has made a consistent effort to build bridges with the elders in our community during the pandemic. The ties have not been just to offer some comfort or a social outlet to our neighbors and friends. It has been to continue building the bridges. Bridges that bind the beloved community together for all time. Bridges that will invest courage, stamina, and wisdom into the next generation. Bridges that will carry the living history forward even when the elders are gone and the next group of elders move into place.

You don’t have to be related to build some bridges. You just have to realize how important the connections are between one generation and the next.

This book is designed to restore the integrity of African-American history and is based on extensive research and documentation related to the African-American experience from the era of slavery until modern times. In this landmark book, Amazon.com

Stay safe! Stay sane! Build bridges!

In this magnificent testament to a nation and her people, Tom Brokaw brings to life the extraordinary stories of a generation that gave new meaning to courage, sacrifice, and honor. Amazon.com

Take the Time to Share Your Life

There are so many things we can share with one another from our lives and the way we live. It is something we don’t think about. So often we assume that everyone is living like we live. But each of us bring our own customs, traditions, and worldview to the choices we make in life. Each of us have our own stories to tell and our own experiences to share. During this time of physical distancing and quarantine, we could take this opportunity to share our lives with others, especially the next generation.

This week I shared an author interview with my granddaughter in California. She called me by Face-time and I turned the phone toward my computer screen so that she could see and hear the interview sponsored by the Decatur Book Festival. (These events happen every Tuesday, it’s really worth checking out if your are a reader looking for new authors or if you are an author seeking to hone your skills.) While we we chatting about the author’s comments and how we could move forward in our own writing, my granddaughter posed a couple of questions out of left field.

“Do you think I could have grandma’s recipes or cookbooks,” she said. “I don’t know,” I replied, “you’ll have to ask her. She went on to explain that she was trying to make my mom’s bread pudding recipe, but something was missing from the way she did it. She went on to say she wanted all the recipes, and she wanted the special pinches of this and that that her grandmother added to the cookbook recipes to make it her own special concoction. Then she asked about my husbands breakfast recipe. I said, “It’s just potatoes, onions, spinach, and eggs. She laughed. “No! It’s not! He puts in mustard, and pancake syrup, and peanut butter and spices.” Obviously, she had made it with him at some point. This side conversation got me to thinking about the things we could share from our lives and experiences.

My great grandmother was a midwife. She practiced homeopathic medicines long before it was call that. I often wish had written down some of her remedies when I had the chance. One of my first cousins told me about an experience he had when his mother and his grandfather passed. He felt it was supernatural. I really want to get with him to write his story. My mom has been able to recreate herself and her skill set many times over, including now. (Now, she is mass producing masks for college-bound students.) I’d really like to know what motivated her to try so many different things. Many people know my husband as a fine artist, particularly as a painter in oil and acrylics, but he is also a sculptor – a skill that the pandemic has brought back to life. He has signed up with a non-profit to teach art to juveniles in a second chance program. These are just a few examples of things that could be shared from our lives and the lives of others.

Our family has lived communally for many generations. I have learned that this is not typical of all families. We take it for granted that great-grand parents, grandparents, and parents have been there for us, and since they were, we try to be for the next generations. Yet, one of the major differences between us and them is that they shared their stories. We have allowed ourselves to be so bombarded with activities and busyness that we have not taken the time to share our stories. (Especially, before the pandemic.) Why do we do things the way that we do? How did we come to live where we live? Who influenced our decisions, our career, our lifestyle, and hobbies? (Did you have time for hobbies before the pandemic?)

The pandemic has decluttered our lives, so now we have the time to share our experiences and our stories. There are a plethora of ways to share. We can create our own cookbooks. We can record our genealogies and create a family tree. We can sketch family faces or make caricatures of family members. We can write a story explaining how we came to our faith or how we reached our political views. We could can our favorite fruits and vegetables and distribute them as gifts. We could build a memorial bench to place in the family garden or flower bed. We could compile photos of the “good ole days” and label them with the date, the event, and the people present in the photo. We could interview the oldest person in our family, our church, or our special interest group and share that story with everyone.

There is probably an inexhaustible list of things we could do to share a part of ourselves with others. This is not just a plan to keep busy; it’s a way to pass on a legacy. It’s a way to share the things that really matter to us. My husband asked my other granddaughter what would she put on his tombstone when he died. (I know it’s a morbid question; you’d have to see their relationship in action to understand.) She thought for a few moments and then she said, “It was nice knowing you!” I’m convinced that this epitaph would be very appropriate because he has shared so much of himself with her that she can really say she knows him. Now is the time when we can really help someone to fully know us before we are gone or before we resume our busy, cluttered lifestyles in the new normal.

The person from the Decatur Book Festival that was doing the interview I mentioned early asked the author several questions posed by the audience: “What would you say influenced you to become a writer? How do you balance this passion with your work as a doctor? Were there relationships in your life that help you craft your characters? What appeals to you about the historical time you wrote about (time around the Haitian earthquake)? Who, if anyone, did you pattern your life as a writer after? If you could talk about any one thing that we haven’t asked you about, what do you want everyone to know about you or your book?

Here’s a question for you? What is the one thing you would share with your family and friends if given the opportunity? If something came to mind, I encourage you to make a way to share it. Just as the answers to the questions posed by the interviewer were important to us, an audience of strangers, your story will be important to others. I’d love to hear some of your ideas, no doubt so would the people who love you. Take the time to share your life.

Be safe! Stay well!

Remembrance
This is the author and book that was featured in the interview. “Stunning. … Family is at the core of Remembrance, the breathtaking debut novel by Rita Woods.” — The Boston Globe. This breakout historical debut with modern resonance is perfect for the many fans of The Underground Railroad and Orphan Train. Amazon.com
Dad Share Your Life With Me
Mom, Share Your Life With Me

Available at Amazon.com