An often overlooked treasure in any community is the collective knowledge, wisdom, and experience of our elders. Having lived through so many great cultural and technological changes gives them additional perspective on things that younger generations lack. Learning about the past can broaden our understanding of the present, allowing us to better appreciate the progress we have made – or to keep us humble over what we might have lost. They keep history alive. What was school like? Transportation? Home life? Presidential campaigns? Having grown up in such a different world makes them the equivalent of immigrants from another country. Why visit Europe or Africa when you haven’t even visited past America?
I like stories of adventure. Not everyone has had an especially adventurous life, but since life itself is an adventure, everyone has a story of some kind. The longer the life, the more stories there are. What stories of bravery, cowardice, genius, and stupidity can our elders tell? I recently interviewed Robert Stoessner on his hundredth birthday in Dunedin to find out what stories he had to tell. It seems he has fought with the weather his whole life. During the Second World War, Stoessner was in the Tenth Mountain Division. He trained in Texas, which was “hotter than a son of a gun,” and in Colorado, which was “colder than hell.” Eventually, he was sent to Italy and the Axis powers surrendered soon after, but not before sixty men developed frostbite.
The Tenth is known for moments great and not-so-great. They were pivotal in ousting the Germans from the Alps after scaling Riva Ridge in the middle of winter – at night – to make a surprise attack from a direction the Germans didn’t even patrol because they deemed it unclimbable. It was a great moment. They were also the ones who lost more men to friendly fire than they did to the Japanese while in the Aleutian Islands. It happens.
After returning to the United States Stoessner lived in Ohio. He was married for seventy years, raised three sons, and worked in Ford’s foundry until finally escaping the “terrible weather” of Cleveland by moving to Florida in 1977. I asked him what the best thing was about Florida. “It’s warm,” he said. Stoessner now lives in Rosewood House managed by Angels Senior Living, which strives to keep the retirement years fun – and at just the right temperature.
Most of us know someone over seventy. What can they tell you?
Written by Daniel Noe, InkDoodler.com