Random-Lee: Adult Education

When I was 16 I knew way way more than my mother.

When I was 30, a young mother myself, I realized how much I owed my mom, who was always there when I needed her. To help pack and move, to cook and bake for special occasions, to babysit so we could get away and travel to exotic places.

In my 40s and 50s, I thought I knew everything there was to know about my mother. By then I was wise to the ways of the world and figured there was nothing else I could possibly learn from her.

But I was wrong.

I recently took off a few days to spend some time with mom, a chance to catch up, visit relatives and make sure she was OK. After all, she is 85 and living totally on her own, a good five hours away. She was recently widowed, and now that she no longer has my dad to take care of, she has a lot more time on her hands. Figuring she was probably lonely, it seemed to me that this might be a good time for her to explore some volunteer activities, to get out of the house, meet some new people, feel productive and useful. I couldn’t remember her ever doing volunteer work, so I brought up the subject one evening while we were having dinner.

Like most women of her generation, my mother was a housewife all her life (we didn’t use the term “stay at home mom” in those days).  She doesn’t have a college education and hasn’t travelled much – as a matter of fact, she still lives within 30 miles of where she was born. She doesn’t go to the theater, visit museums or frequent art galleries. Her whole life, it seemed to me, had been pretty well defined by cooking, cleaning and raising a family. Since I have definitely seen a lot more of the world, I figured she could probably use some advice on how to make her golden years more, well, golden.

So I brought up the subject, confident that I knew just what she needed to fill her days and broaden her horizons. “Mom,” I blurted out, “have you ever thought about volunteering? At a hospital? Or maybe a senior center? Helping other people? Getting out of the house more? Using your skills to help others less fortunate?”

Mom was quiet and she took a few minutes before answering.

“I’m not sure” she said, “that I have time to do that.”

“Right now,” she continued, “I take Aunt Pearl out every week to the bank and for lunch, since she can’t drive. She’s lonely, so I try to spend the afternoon with her. And then there’s dad’s cousin Helen who I take to the doctors every Thursday since her foot’s so bad and she has no other way to get there. And my old friend Theresa is housebound now, so I take her dinner several nights a week so she has something hot, and she also needs the company. Most times I’m at the church two mornings a week getting ready for one of our activities like the spaghetti dinner or the annual bazaar, and a few of us usually go over to the assisted living place next door to see people who never have any visitors. And some mornings I watch the little girl next door when her parents have to leave for work before the school bus comes. It’s no problem because she likes to watch me bake since I’m usually making cookies and pies for somebody’s wedding or graduation.”

And then a long pause. “I don’t think I need to drive far away to do volunteer work with strangers when I can do the same thing right here at home. I guess I feel like I’ve been helping people all my life.”

When she finished, it took a minute for what she had said to sink in. It’s been there in front of me all my life but I was too busy and preoccupied to see how full and rich her life is and has always been.  What simple wisdom from such a wise woman.

Even in my 60s, I’m still learning from her.

* Lee Miller welcomes responses. Please email them to leemiller229@gmail.com

About Lee Miller

Lee Miller began her writing career with four books about Pennsylvania/east coast wines and the creation of Wine East magazine. She then went on to found the Chaddsford Winery with her husband Eric, where she turned her pen to promotion, advertising, public relations and marketing of their successful business venture for 30 years. Last year Lee co-wrote the new wine book, “The Vintner’s Apprentice” with Eric, and retired from the Chaddsford Winery to pursue other interests. She is currently working on a book about her life in the wine industry and exploring the retirement life. Her goal in writing a column for Chadds Ford Live is to generate dialogue and elicit reader response.

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