Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The Golden Years

That's my Pa Dutton--my sale barn buddy, my favorite cowboy, my go-to guy. Because my Pa Dutton makes it known that I'm his very, very favorite. And he loves me more than anyone else on this earth ever could. He especially loves going to eat with me at I-40 on Thursdays so he can brag to his buddies that he can get the young girls to come eat with him. I love that man!

When I was in high school, I had the coolest job! I started as a janitor with side duties of passing ice at the local nursing home. One of the directors approached me one day to see if I'd be interested in taking CNA classes the summer between my junior and senior year of high school. I was ecstatic! Not only would I be receiving a raise to $7.00/hour, I would also get to be part of the residents' everyday lives.

It was an experience I'll never forget and one I often long to go back to. If you know anything about CNAs, you know they have the hardest job in America. In my short tenure, I got chased down the hallway, my hair pulled out, told I was in the middle of World War II, and so much more. I bathed, fed, changed, and talked to the residents every single day. It was gruesome. A lot of times it stunk, literally. But I loved my job from day one, and I fell in love with the residents, their stories, and their families.

I learned quickly my passion was for the elderly. It was never a question in my mind or those close to me that I always gravitated toward people several generations older. Even today my dearest and closest friend in Alma is a woman a few years older than my mom. (Not that she's elderly..she's just older! :) )

Knowing that, it may be a shock that I'm in education. However, what I strive to do in my job is give my students an understanding and appreciation of the world that our elders have made for us. I try to exemplify to them the things generations before of us have endured: a bloody Civil War between brothers, cousins, and friends; a depression that simultaneously weakened our economy and strengthened our American spirit; terrorist attacks that threatened our national security. I could go on and on about what other generations have endured for us..and that is why I admire and respect them so much.

Luckily, I had some wonderful grandparents that top the list of my favorite elderly people!

My Granny is hands down the best cook on earth! She and Pa have always opened their home to our huge family, and Granny slaves over her stove making me baked beans and baking Brad pecan pies. We are, after all, the two favorites!

She's also the sweetest, kindest person I know. Last Christmas a little girl that rides her bus broke her present for her teacher one morning at the bus stop. Granny went to Wal-Mart and bought another present for the girl's teacher, even though she probably didn't have the money to do so. She makes sure every single person that comes to her house for Christmas has at least one present to open. And most of the time, she has spent the entire year making us presents with her own hands. I could just cry thinking of the time she dedicates to other people.

And my Grandpa Kuykendall...the best man God ever made. He and my grandmother were married for 53 years before she passed away. The last 3 years of her life she had Alzheimer's, and she couldn't even remember him most days. Still, he loved her more then than he did the day he married her. He slept in the recliner next to her all those nights and would just hold her hand when she asked. Love like few of us exemplify it.

That's my Grandma Kuykendall! She passed away last October, and I had the honor of speaking at her funeral. I could never say enough about how much I loved her...and how much she made me laugh! It wasn't a question who was her favorite--all of us! She was the best grandma, and it was hard to watch her forget us in her last years. But it gave me an understanding for what thousands of other people go through.

Grandpa K likes to do things with us more often now. He went with us last fall to listen to the elk bugle in Boxley Valley. A lot of times he'll come to Alma to take me on "dates." We will go have what he calls a malt, aka a milkshake. And he'll just sit and tell me stories of when he was younger, all the girls he dated, and all the trouble he prayed we would never find out about!

Between my grandparents, the residents I served in the nursing home, and the people I strike up conversations with in the local diners, the elderly are no doubt my passion. They say your golden years are your last, but having a passion in life for that generation has helped make every single day golden for me.

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