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Tales from the old-timer

The “Other” Contract Between the Generations

By Jane Thibodeau Martin,

daughter of the Old-Timer



**********

This term sometimes is used for Social Security, but there is another contract between the generations you see all around you.

When I was young, I remember my parents headed to “town” in Peshtigo, about five miles away. Trips to town were not a common thing for us then, and when the kids got to go along it was fun for us. Town meant the possibility of some candy, seeing our older relatives, and playing on sidewalks (a big novelty for us, since we had a sand driveway and a rough-surfaced country road).

We had two households to visit on Noquebay, that of our paternal grandparents and, right next door, that of a step great aunt and uncle. I have few memories of my great uncle, who was in poor health and always sat in a chair with a spittoon right next to it. But my great aunt would always have a glass six-ounce bottle of warm 7-Up for us, something we seldom got at home. Mom and Dad would mow grass, rake leaves, put up and take down storm windows, trim trees and run errands.

A frequent chore was hunting down a rogue bat inside my great aunt’s house, causing her great terror and sleepless nights. If the work list was long, Dad might lash our bicycles or trikes onto the family Volkswagen for some entertainment for the kids while Mom and Dad worked. We had to request clearance to “go around the block,” which seemed like quite a long and somewhat risky trip to us.

Eventually we got old enough that the two oldest of us were issued a dime and helped across the highway, and then set free to walk to Stibbe’s Store on the far side of the bridge. We were strictly ordered not to cross the highway again, putting the Ben Franklin out of range, but enjoyed picking out a bag of chips or some candy at the store. Then we lingered on the bridge, watching the water, before heading back and making the perilous re-crossing of the highway to get back to Grandpa’s.

I see this same shift of younger helping older, in nearly imperceptible steps, with my own adult children. Our 22-year-old daughter helps me figure out why my cell phone won’t do, or keeps doing something; our son, nearly 26, comes to help us stack our summer horse hay into the barn for the winter. At 57, I have started to think putting up the hay is something I should leave to younger folks.

When my siblings or my family visit my parents we are happy to ask for their “list” of things that need to be fixed or replaced. Maybe they need help with red tape to be cut through, or an insurance bill explained. If it’s a big job, all the siblings travel to meet up for a few days at “home” and tackle the project. We reconnect as we sweat, hammer and eat together for a day or two. There is no feeling that compares to helping those who mean the most to you, and those who demonstrate this quality with their parents will someday have children who not only expect to help, but treasure the chance to do so.


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Peshtigo, WI 54157
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