By John Meng, General Manager/Editor I recently had the unique privilege of speaking with a very lively 90-year-old woman and I was reminded – and somewhat awestruck – at how much of our history was not really history to her, but actual life experiences.
Our elderly are living history. They have witnessed firsthand the Great Depression, some lived through the Dust Bowl, fought World War II, suffered through the high inflation of the 1970s, and enjoyed several cycles of our nation’s prosperity. They have seen it all.
Yet, as a society, we seem to discard our elderly. We banish them to nursing homes for care and tend to forget them. Young families have children, Little League, gymnastics and a million other things to do, so visiting their elderly family members seems to drop by the wayside. One official at a Jackson County nursing home told me that perhaps only 10 percent of the elderly residents at her facility receive regular visits from their families. The sad truth is that by ignoring our elderly, we are abandoning the history of our families and our country.
For example, photographs are among some of the most treasured family heirlooms. Unfortunately, like us today, our ancestors did not always label their photographs. At least mine did not.
I have a box of family photos, some of which are nearly100 years old. Yet, I don’t have information about some of the people in these antique photos. Nor do I know the stories of those people’s lives. Where did they live? How did they live? What job did they do? What are their names? What year was the photo taken?
Of course, I do have some basics of my family ancestry. My mother’s side of the family dates back to before the Revolutionary War, while my father’s side migrated here (legally) from Germany via a freighter ship in 1892. I sat down with my mother once, who at the time was around 80-years-old, to help identify some of the people in the photos. But her cognitive capacity was already beginning to fail and I wished I had sat down with her years earlier.
Now, there is no one left alive in my family that knows the stories of the people in those photos and what they went through, how they lived. I don’t even know some of their names. What a shame. All that history is lost.
According to 2019 estimates by the County Information Program of the Texas Association of Counties, 18.4 percent of the population in Jackson County are 65 years of age or older, and 2.5 percent are 85 and older. Those numbers may be higher now.
Today, there are more than 46 million older adults age 65 and older living in the United States; by 2050, that number is expected to grow to almost 90 million. Between 2020 and 2030 alone, the time the last of the baby boomers reach age 65, the number of older adults is projected to increase by almost 18 million.
So, spend time with your grandparents and great-grandparents while they are still on this earth. Ask about your family history. They are the unofficial record-keepers of your family history and all that you are. They are living history and we should all learn from them.