The Last Windrow: Consider the wisdom and life lessons our elders teach us

Columnist John Wetrosky muses about an upper age limit for leaders

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He sat in our one-stall farm garage at 84 years old. He was cracking black walnuts and picking the meat out of them with his pocket knife.

He taught me a life lesson from his seat on that 5-gallon bucket.

There has been much discussion lately on the political front as to how old a person should be in taking on responsibilities. There is an age limit as to how young one might be to run for president of this country or hold political office, but no upper limit has been imposed.

Some wonder if that should change.

History tells us that in many civilizations the elders of the tribe tended to be the ultimate leaders. There were the young in those tribes composed of the warriors and the maintainers of the group, but when wisdom was sought it more than likely came from the older members of the tribe to weigh in.


Experience counted for something.

My opening sentence refers to my grandfather, who I'm named after. He lived with my family after his wife had passed on and he died on the farm on which he was born.

As the oldest of my siblings, I was able to spend a lot of time with him as he traversed the farmyard during his latter years. It was there in that garage that I found him sitting one spring afternoon. He was cracking walnuts. My mother had a great chocolate cake recipe the included the nuts.

He invited me to help him with this task.

"You can crack them in the vice and I'll pick out the nuts," he suggested.

I thought this was about the most boring thing any kid could do. I had other plans until I accidentally stumbled into his sitting place. My bicycle was waiting, my dog wanted a run and the furthest thing from my mind was to sit there and crack walnuts.

He could see that I was not thrilled with the mundane task he had asked me to do.

I asked him: "Don't you get bored doing this?"


He responded: "It will teach you patience. One of the most important things for you to learn is to be patient in any job you will ever do."

We sat there on that spring day with me cracking the walnuts and him prying the nuts from the broken shells until the pail was empty. We finished the job.

Gramps had a third grade education. In his growing up years he was needed on the farm, and in those days education was not always given the priority it is today.

Experience counted for something, and those who were raised during those years learned many of life's lessons by hard knocks. If by chance or luck folks reached old age, they had accumulated life lessons that books could hardly teach.

This walnut cracking experience was one of my lessons.

Patience is a word that followed me through my years. I learned to be patient while sitting in a boat waiting for a walleye to tug on my line. I learned patience in business when timelines were short.

Patience was an important part of doing my job as a organizational director when the committee couldn't come up with a decision and deadlines were on the horizon. So many times when some folks threw up their hands and walked out of a meeting, the art of patience kept me in my seat.

I thought about cracking those walnuts the other day as I read a newspaper article that wondered if age was a negative when it came to leadership. And I thought about the wisdom and life lesson my granddad taught me that day.


Cracking those walnuts was just one of those lessons.

Do I seem a bit touchy about being in that "elder" class? Well, yes, I guess I am. Please pass me another walnut.

See you next time. Okay?

John Wetrosky
John Wetrosky (2022)

Opinion by John Wetrosky
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