Respecting Your Elders

Hank Mattimore
Reproduced with Permission

Actually happened. A bunch of my tennis buddies, all older guys, are sitting outside a coffee shop getting their morning fix of java and discussing everything from Roy's sore knee to why it was a mistake for us to invade Iraq.

A man approaches with his seven-year-old little girl in tow. He motions to his daughter to sit at the round table next to where the old guys are ensconced. "Now, Annie. I want you to sit here while I go in and get you a hot chocolate. See these gentlemen here. They are senior citizens. They have lived many years and have a lot of life experience, understand? I want you to listen to what they say and you'll find that you'll learn something. Okay?"

Well the little girl did as her Dad told her. She listened as the older gentlemen continued their conversation (hopefully cleaning up their sometimes salty vocabulary as they talked.) I don't know what my friends chatted about while their young guest was present. Knowing these guys, I'm sure they really did have something to say. But, what knocked their socks off and impressed me, when they related this story, was the fact that a young Dad would show this much respect to the older generation. Leaping lizards! The man actually believed that senior citizens have some wisdom to impart.

Sometimes I think we older folks have a skewed perspective on how we are viewed by the younger generations. Envious perhaps of stories we hear of the honor in which older Orientals are held, we feel that in our country we come up short in the respect department. I'm not sure I buy it.

As my own gray hairs have accumulated, I can observe first hand that I am treated with greater deference by the young cashiers at Longs or at Safeway. In my experience, retail staff, in general, is pretty patient with old farts and fartettes at the check out line. We usually do take longer, you know. Two out of three of us will invariably put our charge card in the wrong way. If we choose to pay in cash, how many times are we searching in purse or pocket for that elusive penny, while folks behind us wait patiently.

In restaurants, young servers, for the most part, are also courteous of old folks. It has to be hard at times given the fact that some of us ancients still think that we are being generous if we give a 10% tip. C'mon gang, give the poor kid 15% or even 20% if he or she has done a particularly good job.

While on the subject of restaurants, I don't feel disrespected at all if the waitress calls me "honey." Actually, I think it's kind of cool. I've found that waitresses sort of enjoy flirting with geezers, at least when we're alone or with other guys. Guess they feel we're harmless.

I have to admit that I do have a bone to pick with younger waitresses who, when I was out for dinner with my late wife, used to address both of us as "guys." Women of a certain age just don't relate to that term. It made me feel uncomfortable for her. All in all however, I have little to complain about the way elders are treated.

While most of us can't expect the kind of experience that my tennis buds had with the Dad and his young daughter, we seniors are not treated all that bad in our society. We need to remind ourselves that respect is a two way street. It helps if we do our part to earn it. There's nothing worse than an old coot who thinks he's entitled to be arrogant or demanding just because he has a few gray hairs.

That's not the kind of wisdom the young Dad had in mind.