“Stomper, you may not know big words, but you’re smart and strong inside. My mother always says real strength comes from your head and your heart. Anybody can learn big words, but not everybody is wise like you.” (Look Back Move Forward, p. 109)
I can recall the curiosity my boys displayed as toddlers when pointing at objects they didn’t recognize. My older son would always ask twice, “What’s that? What’s that?” My younger son would go for the record asking, “Why?” As soon as an explanation was given, he’d throw at us another, “Why?” Between my late twenties and mid-forties, I was able to answer their difficult homework problems with ease. Is recalling a multitude of facts about a myriad of subjects the same as possessing wisdom?
Lately, I’ve been researching my ancestors and learning from their journeys. My great-grandparents, and both grandfathers immigrated to America; the men began working as laborers. The highest level of education attained by one of my grandfathers was 7th grade. In his golden years, he went on to become a supervisor for a major automobile company. He was a very bright man, learned quickly and devised solutions to many problems. He demonstrated how potential, ingenuity and invaluable experience increases with age. His wife lived to 103-years-old; her faith impressed me most. Although she lost her mother as a young girl, and her only son when he was three, my grandmother prayed the Rosary daily. When she was 82-years-old, I had surgery and remained in bed for three months. With her knees swollen from arthritis, she cared for me during the day keeping my spirits up, emptying my bedpans, and bringing meals. She proved strength transcends age when it comes from the heart. A lesson embedded in my memory.
Why in my fifties is this need to learn about my ancestors so important? I’m a spiritual person and believe their energy, or spirit, remains with me. It’s unfortunate I didn’t ask my grandparents more questions when they were alive. What was it like for their families immigrating here in the early 1900s? How did faith impact their lives? Why did their families choose to settle in Newark, New Jersey? The strength and wealth of information stored inside these gems are priceless. Like precious jewels, their brilliance and value increased with age. From their economically impoverished beginnings, they eventually purchased homes and made the American dream a reality. Academically, none of them completed more than 8th grade; yet, the wisdom they possessed was beyond anything taught in school. I hope my sons, now young men, will remember me as someone who demonstrated strength, shared wisdom, expressed the importance of love, humor, faith and hope they can embrace when dealing with problems not found in textbooks.