By Jerry Woods
In many homes and communities the phrase “Respect your elders” was often used, readily recognized and strongly enforced. For those of us in the Baby Boomer generation and before, the term was uniquely commonplace.
Today in retrospect, there are instances where elders do not hold their former positions of respect and recognition.
Renee McCoy, Ph. D. of Washington University relates.
“I long for the esteem enjoyed from us, the quiet attention and reverence they earned simply because they survived the hazards of a racist society.”
Our elders, comprised a group of church ladies, deacons, farmers, teachers, domestics, aunts, uncles, grandparents, cotton pickers and more.
While their occupations may have varied, they garnered the same respect because they were our elders.
With the 2021 Black History Month theme being focused on the Black Family, allow me to share the wit and wisdom of two local elders within the African American community, namely Mrs. Sallie Woods and Mr. Frank Johnson.
Much of the wisdom of Sallie Woods, 93-years-old, from Pinson, Tennessee, was expounded in folk sayings and idioms no doubt passed to her from prior generations. Dorothy Franklin, the oldest of her five surviving children, spoke with her mother and shared these following idioms and sayings:
“If you make your bed hard, you will turn over more often.” Meaning – You have to live with the decisions you make.
“Hard head makes a soft behind.” Meaning – You must pay the price of not following the rules of proper conduct.
“You think you are slick, but you can stand another greasing.” Meaning – You aren’t fooling me. I know what you are up to.
“You don’t believe that fat meat is greasy.” Meaning – Experience can be your best teacher.
“Come straight home as a ‘b’ martin to its nest.” Meaning – Get to your destination with no stops period.
“You won’t last longer than a snowball in torment.” Meaning – You are not as bad/ tough as you think you are.
Ms. Sallie believes that these sayings and others along with the Bible and a few elm switches helped steer her family in the right direction.
Widowed since the death of her husband Leroy in 2002, Ms. Sallie still keeps a firm hand on her household.
While she doesn’t readily quote these idioms, as in her younger days, her family still remembers them and tells their own children.
Longtime Chester County resident, Mr. Frank Johnson is an exemplary model of hard work, patience and dedication.
Johnson started and successfully maintained a plumbing and electrical business until recent years.
His honesty and integrity benefited scores of satisfied area citizens.
When asked: What advice do you have for young people today in order to be successful, Johnson responded, “Treat yourself right first, be honest, do right and treat your neighbor as yourself.”
Johnson, the husband of Cassie Johnson and father of two children, further remarked.
“I tried to raise my family to be honest and respectful, because you never know who is watching you and may be wanting to be just like you.”
Johnson has experienced much from his beginnings on the McCallum Farm to his life in Chester County. He made these insightful comments on the importance of Black History Month.
“It means a whole lot. I appreciate people who are trying to stand for something. I never have liked it when some people didn’t want to treat us like equals, but I never hated anyone for that,” and he concluded.
“And we can’t ever forget the old people who came before us to make a difference for us.”
Today, Ms. Sallie and Johnson are blessed to see the fruits of their own labor and strong wisdom. They now live in a much different environment from the ones in which they were born.
They are worthy recipients of tributes and accolades because they have been granted the coveted Elder status.
An African proverb states “Those who respect the elderly pave their own road toward success.”
True to this proverb, the respect and recognition of our elders has guided past generations to success and embodies the power to do likewise for generations to come.