There are mistakes to avoid, history to learn, joy to share and memories to be made. And we can only benefit from joining hands with those who have already braved the journey before us.
When I heard it, I was stunned and mortified. I was in church and walking near an older woman as she methodically pushed her walker. Painful sighs escaped her lips with each stiff movement. Two siblings passed as I heard a 14-year-old teenager spit, “I hate old people! Get me outta here!”
In that moment, I ignored the little girl’s rudeness, hoping the older woman hadn’t heard her remarks. Later, I grieved over that moment. Partially, for the precious woman who received such disrespect. But also for the girl who was too naive to see she was robbing herself of a priceless gift. It reminded me of Ted Kuntz and his Najavo blanket that made ripples in the history of U.S. antiques.
Sitting on a National Treasure
In June of 2001, Ted Kuntz retrieved an old blanket that hung over a chair in his home and headed out to the Antiques Road Show in Tucson, Arizona. The appraiser, Donald Willis, looked at the blanket and said to Kuntz, “Did you notice, when you showed this to me, that I kind of stopped breathing a little bit?” Kuntz let out a nervous laugh as the appraiser revealed that the blanket was a Navajo-made Indian chief’s blanket. The appraiser added, “On a really bad day, this textile would be worth $350,000. On a good day, it’s about half a million dollars.” The blanket collecting dust, hanging on a chair, was a national treasure!
But there’s more to the story of the blanket, something tragic. Years before Kuntz owned the blanket, it belonged to his grandmother who was desperately poor. She had no idea that the heirloom that kept her warm at night was the remedy for her poverty.
What one person saw as an old blanket, another recognized as a national treasure. After the masterpiece sold, it was displayed in a place of honor at the Detroit Institute of Arts. Today, that same blanket is worth about $2 million!
PBS: Ted Kuntz having his blanket appraised at the Antiques Road Show
I know nothing about tribal arts, but I can say that before I watched that show, I would not have paid $10 for that old blanket at a yard sale. After the blanket’s reveal, I would have sold my house to buy it!
Looking back on the nasty comments of the fourteen-year-old, her naivety toward who she only knew as “old people” kept her from cashing in on the expertise of that generation. The foolish little girl saw a dusty blanket, not a national treasure worthy of honor.
But how many people view all life with the same naivety as that 14-year-old? How many of us assign a price tag to people based only on what we think they have to offer us?
Meanwhile, the appraiser says they’re priceless and worthy of honor.
The Treasure of Role Models in Character & Virtues
While writing this article, I texted my friend, Mary Ellen, and asked for her age. I smiled at her return text, “I’m 86, my body tells me that I’m that old kid, but inside I feel like I could run and jump. WootWoot!”
An 86-year-old would probably be what the 14-year-old considered an “old person.” But It would be an error to judge my friend by the condition of her body. She may use a walker, but she’s scaled mountains physically and spiritually in her lifetime.
Mary Ellen retired from Ford Motors after 31 years of loyal service. She then lived as a missionary in the mountains of Honduras. During that time, she helped build churches, teach life skills and help with feeding programs. The people of the mountain she served came to know her as their Abuela (grandmother).
When she finally returned to the United States, she continued her mission as Abuela to anyone who needs her. When a young woman needed a temporary home, Mary Ellen took her in. Later, I asked the girl about the move. She said, “I had no idea Mary Ellen is so consistent and faithful. No matter how she feels, she gets up, makes her bed, sits at her kitchen table, and begins each day with prayer and Bible reading. I’ve never had that modeled for me before!”
A Google search can teach a learner about consistency and faithfulness, but watching such virtues modeled may be the missing link between the commitment issues we now see in our culture and a previous generation whose commitment was sealed with only a handshake.
What is the value of a role model or a treasure trove of wisdom? Solomon had it right in Proverbs 8:10-11 when He wrote, “Take my instruction instead of silver, and knowledge rather than choice gold, for wisdom is better than jewels, and all that you may desire cannot compare with her.”
The Treasure of Wisdom & Common Sense
Mary Ellen’s life is no exception to the idea that previous generations are priceless to those who follow.
My mother-in-law, Lou, was a woman cut from the generation who worked hard for little pay. She was widowed in her early 40s and left to fend for her two children. Deep wrinkles had already set into her beautiful face when she became my family.
I remember crying because a co-worker I thought was a friend kept listening to an old gossip lie about me. Lou thought for a moment and then said quietly, “Birds of a feather flock together. Innocent people don’t sit around and listen to others’ gossip. Gossips listen to gossip. Neither of those women is your friend.”
Ultimately, her wisdom was a truth that challenged me to walk in wisdom. She encouraged me to do the right thing when the wrong thing would bring temporary pleasure. How does one put a price on counsel that keeps a person from making thousands of heartbreaking mistakes?
The Treasure of Lived History & Experience
A telling quote from Douglas Adams reads:
“Human beings, who are almost unique in having the ability to learn from the experience of others, are also remarkable for their apparent disinclination to do so.”
Dudley Riley, World War II Veteran and POW, was 94 when we met. Hearing Dudley’s account of the war was life-changing. He had seen the aftermath of the concentration camps first-hand. Here was a man who had seen the rise and fall of Hitler’s reign, who stood amid the devastation of genocide.
Perhaps, at 94, he could no longer serve as a footsoldier, but his stories were sage reminders and warnings of how wars begin and how we can end or, better yet, prevent them.
“Old People” or Priceless Treasures?
What are we to do with a new culture that dismisses the wealth of knowledge, wisdom, and know-how of former generations? How do we create an environment of showing honor and recognizing real value?
A key may be revealed in what happened to a man from California who sat watching the Navajo blanket episode. As he watched the unfolding of the appraisal, he remembered a similar rug tucked away in his closet. He, too, had a Navajo rug which he sold for $2 million!
The reason the California man found value in the old rug was because of the appraiser. When the man of wisdom and understanding identified the treasure, the revelation caused others also to see the value.
As each of us recognizes the creator and how He made every human a masterpiece, perhaps others will also open their eyes and see why we need “old people.” We need their wisdom, insight and understanding. There are mistakes to avoid, history to learn, joy to share and memories to be made. And we can only benefit from joining hands with those who have already braved the journey before us.
© 2022 Lisa Piper. All rights reserved. Used with permission.