Today is our Mum’s birthday; she was born in Saskatchwan in the middle of a raging blizzard. She taught me to speak, read (by four; by six I was reading what are now called chapter books; I still read voraciously, just like Mum!). She taught me to love language, words, poetry, literature and pretty much every art known to woman, from creating and caring for a home to making pretty much anything one wants. She does or has done the following and more: weaving, knitting, crocheting, quilting, sewing, basketry, embroidery. She loves gardening, although we are currently on the ninth floor of a converted apartment building, so only have our houseplants. She and my Dad worked together on many projects before and after he retired. Wonder where I get my passion and interests from . . .
In honour of this birthday, and of Mum’s love of language, I am posting a word for today; it is: Elder. I’m sure you are wondering where I am going with this . . .
I so often hear my elders referred to as ‘the elderly’. I frequently challenge people to give me one positive connotation for that word; so far, no-one has been able to give me even one. On the other hand, when asked for connotations of ‘Elder’, I hear words such as: wise, experienced, caring, teacher and leader.
I feel very strongly that we need Elders; we need to cherish and respect them. We need their thoughts, the benefit of their experience and their opinions. We won’t always agree with them, but that is not the point. We need to listen to them; to what they think, do and want. We need to stop warehousing them as an ‘efficient and cost-saving’ measure. We need to make sure that children live in a society where they encounter elders often and where those children are taught respect, helpfulness and a willingness to learn.
Most of our Elders have skills that are being lost; we need to ensure that we and our children learn while it is possible. Skills are valuable, whether or not we think we will use them; one never knows, as history has demonstrated over and over again. How many in our culture can make cloth, design and sew clothing, make a shelter or a small home, care for a garden and/or animals, put by food for the winter and seeds for planting next spring? How many can design and make even a simple piece of furniture, a tool for the home or outdoors? There is so much more to know and do and our Elders can show us the way.
This month, I challenge you to cultivate a friendship with an Elder, whether in your family or your larger community. Allow that person to teach you something that they know. Listen to their stories of living history. If you have a child, encourage them to join you and to try a new skill with the help of the Elder.
I am eternally grateful to my parents, my aunts and uncles, to all the Elders I have worked with and for over the years. I have mastered some of the skills they taught me; others I know but have yet to master; still others I have knowledge of, but no practical experience. Even that is useful, however.
It is thanks to my Mum that I love language so much; and of all the poets I love and whose works I read, I love Gerard Manly Hopkins the most.
Also in honour of my Mum’s birthday and of the love of language I learned at her knee, I quote this work of his, which is one of my favourites:
A windpuff-bonnet of fawn-froth
Degged with dew, dappled with dew,
What would the world be, once bereft