I was raised to respect my elders. I don’t remember there just being one specific time when I was told “you must be respectful toward those who are older than you”; instead, it was a constant and consistent lesson that was always being reinforced.
I was lucky to have grown up with my maternal grandmother. She was a feisty little lady, who had a lot of energy and spunk. She was always on the go and was always dragging one of her “grandbabies” along with her. She was young at heart, and sometimes, she didn’t seem to act anywhere near her age, yet my mom always made sure that my siblings and I respected her. We did this, not just because she was a blood relative, but because she was someone who, as an elder, possessed wisdom and deserved to be treated with respect and reverence.
When she spoke, we listened. She loved to talk, so we were always being entertained by her stories and anecdotes. I always enjoyed her company and often found myself seeking out her company because we had a very special relationship. Having her in my life was extremely impactful.
Along with my grandmother, Miss Charles Emily Wilson, the matriarch of the Black Seminoles, taught me many invaluable lessons about the importance of respecting our elders. She always worried that our history and stories would be lost because the younger generations did not make seeking out their elders and learning the history of our people a priority. Instead of continuously complaining about this, she did something about it. She created Seminole Days and began celebrating Juneteenth in 1979 as a way to make sure that we would all gather around and share our stories.
The Seminole Indian Scout Cemetery Association’s motto is “Lest We Forget,” which, according to Wikipedia, is commonly used in war remembrance services. Every time I’ve ever heard or uttered this phrase, I can’t help but think about the people who came before me. Many of those souls have passed on and been gone for centuries, but there are still many elders among us who lived through very significant and unforgettable times. That is why, each year during Seminole Days, we do our best to find a parade marshal who is one of our elders. Last year’s parade marshal was Ms. Rodessa Jones, from Corpus Christi. She is in her early nineties. Luckily, she accepted our invitation and had a great time during the weekend. And again, when she spoke, we listened. She talked about her childhood. And what touched me the most was that she would look at someone that she may not have known and tell them how much they looked like one of their relatives that had passed on. Like my grandmother, that weekend, she was feisty and full of energy. Her youthfulness belied her ninety-plus years.
What does it mean, then, to respect our elders? I think it simply means to treat those who are older than you the way that you would like to be treated. I think it means that you should ask questions and engage with them. They are living fountains of knowledge, and it is up to us to drink from their wells and absorb all that we can so that we can be of use and of value to the generations that will one day look at us as their elders. There is an African proverb that states: “When an elder dies, a library burns to the ground.” Sadly, I don’t believe truer words have been spoken, but I do believe that we (no matter how young we are) can find ways to build relationships with those who are older than us and let them know that they are valued, loved, and respected.
Note: This blog appeared as an article in the 4/27/17 edition of the Kinney County Post.