By Cindy Sproles
I grew up listening to the stories of a wonderful man named Harold. Every Sunday when we’d enter the church he’d snag your hand and pull you to one side.
“Did I ever tell you about the time…”
As a teen, his stories rarely interested me. He’d grown up playing in the same schoolyard as my mother. I’d heard her stories about swinging on trees, playing basketball and sticking my father-in-law in the backside with a hatpin. So I really had no desire to listen to Harold tell his version of the story.
It was never a question of loving sweet Harold. Everyone loved him and you could count on that warm hug every Sunday morning knowing it was genuine and heartfelt. The point is I didn’t really listen.
I grew up, moved away and when I returned home some 15 years later, Harold had aged. He walked hunkered over, his smile was not as vibrant thanks to aging and arthritis, but his stories had not changed.
That first day back at church my kids bounded through the door and who was there…but Harold? True to form, he snagged my youngest pulled him close and introduced himself. He promptly poked a piece of gum in my son’s hand (Harold might have had the same stories but he eventually learned bribery worked if he wanted to share his adventures), and he began to spin a tale. My son was completely enthralled. Sunday after Sunday, Harold met my boys at the door of the church and the pre-church sermon began. The kids thought he was…well…as they put it…the berries.
My love for writing had bloomed and I told myself, I really need to write these adventures down. Not only was Harold’s stories fun, full of antics and adventure, but they always, bar none, had a moral — one that resonated with my children.
One Sunday after church, I put my arm around Harold and asked, “Can I write your stories? I’d love to write the Adventures of Harold.”
His eyes brightened and the deep, sunken wrinkles around his mouth stretched into a smile.”You bet. Have I got a book full of ’em.”
“Let’s meet on Wednesday before church. I’ll bring a recorder and you can just talk till your voice quits.”
Wednesday came. I loaded a tape recorder, paper and pen, plus the camera and headed to the church. I waited and waited. No Harold. “Where’s Mr. H, Mom?” My boys ran to the window and kept watch for his truck. After an hour passed my stomach grew weak. That nagging intuition that something wasn’t quite right.
You can guessed the outcome. Harold had passed away. In a minute, a lifetime of stories…joy…fun…and adventure was gone.
It only takes a moment to take in the value of our seniors. Years of wisdom, decades of decisions – good and bad. An era of history waits for us to simply ask. Simply listen.
I learned my lesson. A painful lesson. That was some 25 years ago but from that day forward, I’d never rush through anyone’s story again. They would always have my full attention. Especially those coming from our elders. The loss of Harold was sad but it was a shame I’d never taken the time to write down his stories…his legacy. His words of wisdom guided my boys and now that they are adults, they can still recount the joy and direction Harold offered.
Our seniors are golden and it’s sad that we as Americans cannot find time for them. We are one of the few countries who put little to no value on our aging. Eastern countries, African nations, European countries hold a deep respect for their elderly, bringing them tight into their family unit and caring fully for them.
Start the change. Spend a minute and take in a lifetime. The reward is greater than you can imagine.