The old and the young have a special relationship as illuminated by Old Mother Goose and her nursery rhymes, as well as grandparents and their grandchildren.
The old and the young enjoy a greater leisure and care-freeness that allow for the pure enjoyment of play and the sheer delight in each other’s company.
All children cherish the availability of adults to play with them, read them stories, answer their questions, introduce them to new games and adventures, and accompany them to exciting places; older, retired grandparents have more time to revisit and relive their own childhood through their grandchildren.
The old enlarge and broaden the world of the young, and the young renew in the old a love of life and a fondness and remembrance of their own past childhood that comes alive in the company of innocent children reveling in the bliss of play. The old enrich the life of the young with their stories, memories, antiques, and heirlooms, and the young invigorate the old with their robust energy, lively spirit of fun, and sense of wonder at all of creation.
The Old House
Hans Andersen’s “The Old House” captures the beauty and tenderness of this unique relationship.
In the story an ancient home that dates from several hundred years ago lies in a state of neglect and in need of repair. It occupies a lot in a neighborhood of newer homes owned by adults that find the old house an embarrassment. The neighbors protest, “How long is that monstrosity going to cumber up the street!”
The younger occupants of the newer homes judge the old house exclusively by its exterior appearance and have never met or visited the old man who occupies the house. They complain about the bay window that “sticks out so far that no one can see from our windows what’s happening on the other side of it!” They dislike the wide steps, the gutter spouts, and the brass knobs of a by-gone age that detract from the modern styles and the elegant respectability of the neighborhood.
Because a young boy overhears his parents comment about the loneliness of the elderly widower, the sole occupant of the large antique family home that appears out of fashion and out of touch, he takes a special interest in the gentleman.
Sensing that the retired gentleman has no friends or visitors and no one to play with him, the boy initiates a friendship with a kind gift that a messenger delivers: “Listen, will you take this from me to the old man across the road? I’ve two tin soldiers—that’s one of them: he can have it, for I know he’s so dreadfully lonely.”
Touched by the thoughtful gift and kind heart of the child, the old man reciprocates with an invitation for the boy to pay him a visit. With parental permission the boy welcomes the hospitality of the gentleman and enters a rich, colorful, cultured world of the past that the interior of the home conjures.
The boy enters a home filled with the history, art, fashion, beauty, and craftsmanship of an earlier era: flower pots with faces, high arm chairs with carvings, portraits of women in silken gowns with powdered hair and knights in armor, walls decorated with pig-skin, and picture books with “the strangest-looking coaches.”
The boy does not just enter an old home but discovers a whole world, a great history, and another culture.
Something of the Precious Past
Just as the little boy offered the old man a toy soldier and the old man responded with an invitation, the boy and the man both give and receive during the visit. The boy’s visit provides him an education inspired by a sense of wonder at the glorious art, exquisite taste, skilled craftsmanship, and fascinating history of another era. The old man’s hospitality welcomes new life into the old house. When the boy arrives, the brass knobs “shone more brightly than usual,” the trumpeters on the carved door “seemed to be blowing with all their might,” and the armor of the knights “rattled” and the silk gowns of women “rustled.”
In other words, both the old man and the young boy breathe life into each other’s ordinary world. The old man possessed a storehouse of knowledge that needed to be passed down to the young.
The boy possessed a capacity for wonder, love of knowledge, and interest in the past that brought vivacity to the old house. The man and the boy revitalize each other, providing what the other lacks and bringing fresh life and new joy into both the worlds of the older and younger generations. They touch each other’s life.
Shortly after this episode the old man dies, an auction is held, and all the belongings and furniture are sold. With the passing of the old man in his coffin to his burial site also go to the second-hand shops “the knights and ladies of days gone by, the flower pots and the long ears, the old chairs and the old cupboards.”
Soon the house is demolished as “an unsightly old place” and a grand home is built on the same site. Yet not all the goods are sold or taken away. Something of the precious past is preserved and passed down, even in a small reminder like a toy soldier.
A Memory for a Lifetime
Years later the boy marries and purchases the new home built on the old site. As he and his wife are working in the garden, the woman cuts her finger with a sharp object: “It was—just think! It was the tin soldier, the one who had been lost up in the old man’s room . . . .”
Amazed and fondly recalling the childhood episode when he sent a toy to the old man, the husband recounts the poignant story to his wife as they both lament the unrelieved sadness and neglect the old man suffered in the forlorn house—except for occasion of the boy’s visit.
This visit of a few hours long ago created a memory for a lifetime. An old man cherishing the tender life of a child and a child feeling sorry for a lonely old man span the ages and link the generations. Life delights in life.
Human beings, both young and old, energize one another when the torch of life is passed down and received from one generation to the next, when the young give their gift of joy (a toy soldier) to the old and the old give their gift (wisdom) to the young.
In Wordsworth’s famous words, “The Child is father of the Man.” No matter how old a person’s age, it needs the rejuvenation of a child’s visit, playful nature, and favorite toy.
No matter how young a child, he needs the tender gentleness of an older person’s loving care, lighthearted spirit, and knowledge of the human heart.
Grandparent & Child © danr13 / Dollar Photo Club