Connecting across generations

by Sheep Farmer

I recently attended a memorial service for an 87 year old woman. She had outlived her husband and all her kids. Her grandchildren were scattered with families of their own.

One of the speakers at her service was a 21 year old young man. When he was 15 he started working for this woman on her sheep farm. Over the next six years they developed a deep friendship. This young man credited this woman with teaching him a lot about life, about running a business and a farm. One of his comments was that she was his college education and that she taught him more than he could have learned from four years in a classroom. This special friendship developed into more than either could have ever imagined. She willed her farm to him.

I don’t want this to turn into a college vs. no college discussion. Obviously this man is going to be very successful without ever having stepped foot into a college classroom. What stood out for me was his admiration and respect for this woman who was old enough to be his grandmother and the kindness and generosity that she showed him. Have any of you ever had a special relationship with someone of a different generation who was not family member?


36 thoughts on “Connecting across generations

  1. I don’t have an experience to share but just wanted to say what a wonderful story that is.

  2. Sad to admit this but my first thought was “And the grandchildren didn’t sue?” I spent a summer working for a non-profit that provide eldercare legal support. Our typical clients were elderly people who had been institutionalized against their will and were fighting with their relatives over the competency and assets. That experience drove me away from practicing that type of law.

  3. On a more positive note, my neighbor – a retired widow (who would not want to be called elderly) has turned into a good friend and practically a third grandmother to my kids and dog. Our family has occasional meals with her; she walks the dog once a week; she and I grab lunch once in a while, etc. The kids do chores and run errands for her; she is teaching them how to crochet and cook. Each Christmas she helps the kids make gingerbread houses (she does all the baking, they do all the decorating). We’re so fortunate she’s our neighbor.

  4. I like the idea of cross-generational friendships, but find them a bit hard to develop. I have a few that are old coworkers or family friends. Sometimes it is really nice to be around those not going through the same trials and tribulations. Right now, all my friends seem to be having the “why is my life not what I wanted” (early 40s) dilemna. It gets old (and depressing) hearing the same thing and feeling it yourself, with no solutions. Older friends give you confidence to get through and better advice. Younger friends can be more fun and light-hearted.

  5. I have had friendships with older women either initially through work or through volunteer groups I belong to, who were 30 to 40 years older than I was at the time. I found there was a lot to learn from them. I would not liken any of mine to the level of the one described, but I am often amazed at how much others are willing to impart if they feel they are talking to someone with open ears, minds and hearts.

    On the grandchildren suing – First, the value of the farm. It may not have been of significant value, especially not knowing how many parts it would be split into. When my SO’s parents passed, he assumed their family micro farm was worth a tidy sum, and he was quite miffed when the selling price (and his half) was much less than he expected. The reality was, while the farm brought in some income, it was more about cost reduction (grew almost all their own vegetables/berries/herbs) for the family.

    Second, the grandchildren may not have been emotionally connected to the grandmother to care what she did with the money OR they knew and were supportive of this decision. Not enough facts to go on.

  6. It’s a nice story. But I’m most surprised that an 87-year-old has outlived at least two children. And it’s great that the farm went to someone who has worked it and wants to continue to do so.

    I don’t have any deep friendships with unrelated people of different generations. Or at least not 30-year differences. Very friendly relationships, maybe initiated through work, maybe people 20 years older…sure.

  7. AustinMom – Yes indeed. And, of course, not every elderly person is being taken advantage of and not all distant relatives are money grubbing jerks. I just saw enough at that job and am trained to be skeptical that my mind immediately went to litigation.

  8. nice story.

    My mom is friends with younger people in her apartment building. I haven’t met them, but I am grateful for them because they sometimes dig out her car in snowstorms. I used to visit a bunch of elderly neighbors when i was a kid. NYC apartment buildings make these relationships easier to form vs. single family homes in the burbs.

    I’ve become friendly with some women at pilates that are about 20-25 years older than me.

  9. I’ve posted before that I have a buddy at the gym who is 30+ years. He doesn’t have any family, and his close friends live far away. I can’t say that I learn anything from him, but he is about my dad’s age and definitely has a lot of opinions like my dad, and offers advice (that I never asked for nor need) like my dad, so in a way, he is like my dad (who i only get to see a few times a year).

    I also socialize with a few ladies who are 20+ years older. Their kids are grown and married and they have recently retired. Grabbing a coffee with them is a joy. I love hearing about their adventures, and they have been great in helping me navigate raising children, especially with medical issues.

    There a few contributors here that I love hearing viewpoints from. I’ve learned a lot about how to handle my parents and how to be a good human from Old Mom and Meme, and many others (and don’t forget PTM).

  10. There was a guy, 20-25 years older than I, who helped out with the local Little League when my kids began there. His official board role was league historian but I got to know him because he got his graduate degree at the same place I got mine. We did actually mostly talk baseball, whether LL or MLB and I felt sad when he died maybe 10 years ago.

    We really do not have ‘older friends’ meaning of the older generation. Likewise, I really do not have friends who are of a younger generation.

    Nice story and good topic.

  11. My dad used to have a hunting buddy that was a generation older. My dad’s father passed away young (early 50s) so this guy became like a father to my dad. Really nice guy. They spent a lot of time together enjoying the outdoors. The guy’s son came to my dad’s funeral and some of my family are still in touch with him.

  12. I also enjoying hearing everyone’s perspectives here, especially those who are ahead of me, so I can anticipate things! I only have a few friends IRL who are older and younger – mostly through my outside-of-work activity, although there are some people at work who are 20+ years older than I am, and then the millennials (I think they are all millennials, they are 30 or so) whom I supervise. We are slowly getting to know our neighbors and they are all about 20-30 years older than we are. I expect that will change over the next 10 years as they retire and move away (or die, I guess).

  13. Kerri – those are the cases that I *hate* and try to stay far away from (which). As soon as I get kids trying to talk to me instead of the parent, or putting the parent on the phone etc., I will need a meeting and a competency letter for the parent before I’ll do anything else. That usually drives them away, since at that point mom (usually mom) isn’t really competent and the kids are fighting over who can get more out of her or get her to change her will before she dies.

  14. We don’t have close friends of other generations, but my elderly aunt and Uncle developed a friendship with younger neighbors after they retired down at the shore. They would have my aunt and uncle to dinner, help them with stuff around the house and generally help out where they could. When my uncle was widowed and his health began to fail, my mom was able to use the internet to find their name and contact them. The woman would check on him in the hospital and nursing home and would provide my dad updates. My parents lived 1500 miles away so it reduced the number of times they had to fly out to help him. After my uncle died, my dad gave them a very generous gift from the estate. This, sadly, alienated one of my cousins who expected to receive a sizable share. He lived an hour from my uncle and never was willing to help or to drive down and check on him. My dad didn’t do it to be punitive – he was the sole heir and had no idea his nephew expected to receive 1/2. My cousin received a larger amount than my siblings and I did, but none of us had expected any so were delighted with what we received. My parents were genuinely very appreciative of all the help and companionship the neighbors provided and wanted to express that. They still check in with my parents on occasion but my cousin has cut ties with my parents. This stuff can be very messy.

  15. L – I worked at Greater Boston Legal Services that summer in their eldercare unit. It is (was?) ridiculously easy to have someone declared incompetent and (at least temporarily) institutionalized in Massachusetts (or at least it was). I recall some lawyers going to court to make the case that some public official (the Governor?) was incompetent to prove just how easy it was.

  16. Kerri I remember seeing an exposé on something similar happening in Arizona. Some agency was getting elderly declared incompetent and quietly bleeding their accounts dry. It was taking people years and huge sums of money to get it reversed. It was crazy.

  17. My parents involved me an a lot of their financial and health matters while things were still “good”. Having a relationship with various professionals, especially with their primary care and cardiologist, made getting things done for them as they failed much, much easier.

    What I find so odd, is even when I was dealing with a new practitioner, I would say I am calling to make an appointment for my mom and none of the office staff batted an eye. But, when I call and say the same thing about my 19 year old daughter, I am told I need a form from her before I can even make the appointment.

  18. This is a great topic. In the summer, I get to spend time on the beach with people of various ages. A few families, like ours, have had their cottages there since the 30’s so they have known me my entire life. It was so comforting last summer to have them speak about how much they missed my mom and ask how we all were faring in our first summer without her. To say that I value their advice is an understatement; it’s gold.

    The best night we spent last summer was with one of those lake families, the A’s. Their daughter is my age and one of my favorite people. Mr. & Mrs. A met when they were both working in Africa with the state department in the late 50’s, and we spent that evening listening to how they met and the things they did and saw while working for the state department. Amazing stuff! We kept them up far past their bedtime asking questions!

  19. One of those beach grandmas is very funny. When the kids were younger and my cohort of young moms was commiserating about misbehaving kids, this woman (4 children, 9 grandchildren) chimes in with a completely straight face and says, “Oh, that would never happen in MY house.” Took us a minute to realize she was joking, which we should have gotten right away because her kids were our age and we knew the stunts they had pulled. I loved it, the saying stuck with me. I use it all the time now, it’s a regular saying between me and friends.

    The saying is a great litmus test for friends. I can’t be friends with anyone who doesn’t appreciate the self-deprecating sarcasm or won’t admit that their families might not be perfect!

  20. According to the obituary, the woman had three grandchildren, two lived in New York and one lived in North Carolina, not close enough to help her as she became increasing feeble the last six to eight months of her life. My guess is that this young man’s parents stepped in and helped with the doctor’s visits, etc. for this woman and maybe this is her way of paying them back as well. I seriously doubt that she was being taken advantage of. I live in a small community, and the sheep community is even smaller. Everyone knew well before she died that she planned to leave her farm to this man, and no one questioned her decision.
    I did not stick around for the reception after the memorial service so I did not get to talk to her grandchildren or even find out if they were there.
    I looked on our county GIS system and saw that the farm was valued at around $130,000, so not a huge amount but a great start for the young man.

  21. Thanks for the update Sheep Farmer. That is sort of how I imagined the situation would have come to pass. Agree that it is not a huge amount, but a great starting off point for the young man.

    It reminded me of a training course I took when my kids were young. The speaker talked about how much character matters over education/skills or focusing on the outcome/success. Success at all costs is not truly in a businesses best interest and it is much easier to teach someone how to do something than it is to teach them to be of “good” character. It sounds like this young man had that character and the woman was able to take that and teach him what he needed to run the farm.

  22. My first boss out of college was about 25 years older than me. He was an unconventional and fun-loving person who liked to hang out with younger co-workers. He taught me to golf, we went camping together, and spent many happy hours at local watering holes. It was a rewarding relationship that helped me during my first job in a new town and I will always remember him fondly.

    I used to play tennis with a group of older women. We had good times together and I appreciated their more mature perspective on life.

    My older sister is retired and a new grandmother. She occasionally works at a boutique and has become very friendly with her young co-workers. When I visited her I could see that their relationship is valued by both sides. Like with my first boss, my sister’s young friends view her as young at heart.

  23. Does it have to be an informal friendship? I notice July mentioned her boss, which is more of a formal relationship. I have a similar tale – my PhD advisor. So many people hated their PhD advisors and found the process to be one of misery, but not me. My advisor was kind and smart. He started teaching in my graduate program the year I started. I was 21 and he was probably in his 40’s. He came to our program from one of the big industry research labs, having made a name for himself in what were considered to be advanced database systems at the time. Many PhD advisors encourage their students to compete with each other and fight for attention and resources, but that was not my advisor’s way. He formed us into a cohesive group and encouraged everyone to help each other. I am sure he was influenced by his industry background. His first name was Fred, and we all called ourselves the Fredpeople. We had a lot of potlucks at his house, and went to lots of conferences with him. We all ended up getting our PhDs and going to good research labs and universities. He eventually went into higher ed administration and ended up as provost. He passed away a couple of years ago.
    The Fredpeople are all still very much friends. We still rely on each other professionally in a way that never happened with any other group from my professional life. I think that is his legacy.

    So, yeah, that is kind of different from the teen who helped the lady on her farm…

    By the way, I did something like that one summer – I had a job when I was between 9th and 10th grade cleaning out chicken coops for a lady who had a small hobby farm (she was an engineer by day). Dang chickens were some kind of fancy show chicken breed. They had hair that covered their eyes so they kept running into everything. Disgusting dirty birds. They used to poop in their food. I also did stuff with her goats and cow. The best part was riding her horse sometimes. But I can’t say I learned much about life from that lady, and she didn’t will me her show chickens!

  24. I had a very similar relationship with my PhD advisor that MM did. We were (and are) cohesive. We are all still friends and colleagues. He had this way of mentoring students by meeting them where they were – he was the mentor each student needed individually. It was an innate talent to read people like that. He was also a fantastic story teller. I miss him dearly, and the brain power he had would have been phenomenally useful in my job. Like MM, we called ourselves “LastName-ites”. We still do. And when we’re together at conferences or work related things, it’s always “Oh you’re FirstName LastName students!” from outsiders. I think we have a reputation or something. Also, he managed to surround himself with female students. Strong, powerful, confident women (that I pretend to be on a daily basis…). Rumors flew about that (and TBH, one was true, the rest false).

    He passed 7 years ago. He was one year older than my father. We talked about that too, and he understood my history with my father because it matched his a bit. I will never forget our talks, both about my work and about life.

    I’ve had passing friendships with older men and women. Nothing like my PhD advisor or Sheep Farmer’s story. I do treasure those friendships.

  25. Rhode, we also had a higher than expected number of women in our group – about a third. Most unusual for computer science, even back in those days when there tended to be more women at least at the undergrad level.

  26. A few years ago, I became very close to a retired priest, who lived in one of the retirement communities run by his order. He was a friend of a friend, and a great help during my illness. After my recovery, I didn’t see him as often, until one day he called and asked “Why don’t you come see me again? I miss our visits.” Several months after that, he was diagnosed with cancer, and it was my turn to help him out. He was about 80, and his much older sisters had died, so I became his female family member stand-in. He asked he to stay when medical people came by prodding and poking (even when it was kind of embarrassing for both of us) and was completely open with me about his medical situation. (I was actually closer with him than with my own dad, who is thankfully pretty self-sufficient at this time.) We talked about politics, books, theology, and the Church crisis — and he told he lots of things that were prefaced by “now don’t tell anyone I told you that” about the university and his fellow priests. He died in February and I still miss him, though I am happy that he had a “good death,” as those things go, and that he was more than ready by the end.

    I also have a young friend, the daughter of a good friend in town, who is in her mid 20’s. We also bonded when I was recovering from cancer treatments and she was recovering from a serious auto accident. When she comes to town to visit her family, she texts and we go to the beach or get coffee. I figured that she was just being nice to one of her mom’s friends, but her mom told me that she actually likes hanging out with someone her mom’s age who is not her mom. Go figure, but I’ll take it. Her mom wants me to fix her up with DS2, but I think that might ruin things.

  27. Her mom wants me to fix her up with DS2, but I think that might ruin things.

    I don’t think it would. She might like you better than she does your DS2 !
    I was introduced to a guy, I liked his mother and the family, we got along so well but unfortunately the guy had a girlfriend (which he didn’t mention to his family). If I could swap DH’s family for that one it would be ideal.

  28. Actually I just remembered one more person – a faculty member in my father’s department. He came in as a “young turk” but quickly became close friends with my family. I was in college then, but we would all get together when I was home. He had great parties. After my parents split, he stayed good friends with my mom. His kid was often at our house because my mom would watch her when they needed help. Over the years, we always kept in touch and I always made it a point to visit him when I was in town. When my mother passed away, he and his wife were with us at every step, holding hands, helping with mundane details, etc. We still stayed in touch and whenever he came up to NYC we would get together, or when I brought my kids down there. He would regale them with tales of radio telescope arrays and regale me and my husband with tales of wine tasting in France. I am actually hoping to see him in a few weeks when we go down for a visit…

  29. When DH and I were DINKs, we attended a lot of film and music events in town. In both venues we made friends with retirees who were decades older than us. A couple of our movie friends had been actors during the Studio days of Hollywood, so they had some cool stories. We weren’t able to participate after we had DS, and so we lost touch. We are also the youngest members of our winetasting group. However, we are on the older side of parents that we meet through DS’s activities.

  30. I have to work hard to find people in their 50s with whom to form relationships, much less people who are significantly younger. I am friendly with the young families in the complex and have let them know that I would be happy to babysit, but they mostly trade that off among themselves. My husband’s bridge pro partner is in his twenties.

  31. I have sometimes avoided older people because they can be disapproving and offer unasked-for advice, and I felt like my mother was the queen of disapproving and advice-giving, and I didn’t need any extra, thanks. And the teenagers at work freeze when they see me, at least until I’ve gotten to know them (and smiled, and said “fuck” a few times). I was friends with some of the older people at church, but the younger ones were only interested in each other, and that’s probably in part because they didn’t want any more “mentoring” from old people.

  32. “However, we are on the older side of parents that we meet through DS’s activities.”

    When DS was in a public school, most of the parents we met (and there weren’t that many) were noticeably younger than DW and me. At the totebaggy private from which he graduated, I think I was within a standard deviation of the median.

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