Let me set the scene: It’s 1967, maybe 68. I am around 8 years old and just starting to explore thoughts beyond, “where to play?”, “when is dinner?”, “how to best dodge my Pop’s back hand?” It’s like there is this real life adventure which is playing right there in front of me beyond my front yard. Viet Nam is going strong, 475,000 troops, so much tension and yet I had no real understanding except knowing my Pop’s was part of it. My Pop was not one to express emotions – at least not in words. On the news, I hear Mohammad Ali was stripped of his title because he would not join the Army. I thought everyone went into the Army. My mind was really traveling beyond the protected grounds I had lived for many years.
I will always remember one of the most interesting people of my childhood, Mr. Strider. He was about 60-years-old with so much knowledge, history, and life lessons. He lived directly across the street and was only home about four months out of the year, which was intriguing. Now, depending on whom you asked, my Mom said he was a professional card dealer spending a lot of time in Las Vegas, my Pop he would just say its best we don’t know what he does for a living, the neighbor swore he was in the Witness Protection Program, and my older brother, who had a vivid imagination, said he was a professional hit man. Well let me tell you anyone of those could be true.
When Mr. Strider was home, he always made a fuss over our family for many reasons. I had three brothers, two of whom had Muscular Dystrophy and were in wheelchairs. My Mom had many roles as a nurse, a cook, a mediator, a teacher and numerous others. My Pop’s was mostly off fighting a war. I remember one time Mr. Strider rented out a complete country club where my whole family and my aunt who was visiting all spent the whole day swimming, eating, and playing. We had a wait staff that treated us like royalty that day. What a memory.
What I remember most was that Mr. Strider would talk to me like I was an equal. He would ask me what I thought and he would say “Son, explain that to me.” This was different to me, where let’s face it in the 60’s kids weren’t as visible as they are today, and to be involved in adult conversation was different and limited. The biggest thing I remember is how neutral Mr. Strider seemed to be with no agenda. When talking about world events or some news story of the day he would always say “Son there are so many different ways to play a hand and you best know what you are doing before you play.”
I learned many things from Mr. Strider – history, ways to analyze information, how to study people with my eyes and not just my ears, and how important it was to always be learning. Mr. Strider may have been old, but that was what drew me in deeper. He had so much knowledge and such an understanding of life, especially to an eight-year-old. He valued my understanding and my interpretation and now looking back I know he was learning from me just as I was learning from him.
It seems the younger generation today does not take advantage of this resource. The younger generation looks at the old which could be anyone above 50 and they see someone finished and not worthy of their time, thinking what they did know they have probably forgotten. It’s a real shame. Is it because we have the Internet and Google with everything right at our finger tips? Maybe we now live in a society that places so much value on self that we feel it is a failure to learn from others, especially the seasoned. Maybe we have reached a point where human interaction is just not needed to grow.
I grew a lot from my personal interaction with Mr. Strider, just from the visual content alone I gained so much – the facial expressions he would show when speaking of a time in history added so much to the story. He had a way with his eyes where you just knew that what he was telling you was important. Even his body language taught so me much. There was enjoyment in learning from one who had so much knowledge, experience, adventure, and feeling. We hear a picture is worth a thousand words; well human interaction has even more value. We have to ask ourselves why learning from the older generation has become so extinct.