That is what a number of people have been calling them: the generation of parents who ushered in the thirties and the forties in our hills. Their number has depleted alarmingly and in the last two years, many of us have felt the shared grief of losing them one after the other, some to long sicknesses, others to death and permanent farewells. It is no exaggeration to call them the golden generation. They valued life and knew how to live well. They loved well too, and part of their legacy was to set aside self and give of themselves, and their time and energy to the upbringing of their grandchildren. Mum did that for all our children, down to the youngest grandchild. The kids always found a warm meal in their grandmother’s house, and my brother’s best mate promptly dubbed it ‘Mother Teresa’s kitchen’ because food was always available, no matter what time of day you happened to drop by. That was the thing about the way Mum and her generation showed love: they were not big on displays of affection; they were not used to proclaiming love verbally. But their way of giving love was by offering food to anyone who came home. ‘Don’t let them leave without eating,’ Mum would instruct even from her sickbed. We learned early on that to grudge somebody a plate of food (khutiekhupuo) was an ungracious thing. In that context, offering food has always been seen by them as equivalent to an act of love. When someone is sick, people still show their concern by asking if the sick one will eat, or actually bringing him food and trying to force him to eat.
The golden generation lived life gracefully. They lived in an age when afternoon tea was served out of a teapot left to brew and covered with a tea-cozy, and then poured into porcelain cups and saucers. Nobody served tea in mugs. Teaspoons and lace-edged tea napkins lay in the tea trolley, within reach. Tea napkins were never the same size as the regular napkins. I never find napkins in the tea-napkin size in our shops anymore. It is a sad reminder that afternoon tea is a thing of the past and people no longer have time today to indulge in it.
However, this was not the only thing that marked out the golden generation from ours. I remember a letter that my grandfather wrote to my aunt in the 60s. He described how life had become more cruel and people had grown harsh in recent times. He wrote of how this saddened him beyond anything he had known before and he struggled to find reasons to go on. Fortunately, he died before seeing more of the painful events of our people’s history.
This is what the golden generation was all about: they were gracious to each other and to others around them. Life was lived with a certain courtesy that reflected the worth of each person. Polite words were exchanged between both strangers and acquaintances; this was not done just as a cultural practice, but the atmosphere of graciousness that fostered fellow feeling was very genuine indeed. And children were taught how to behave. They learned by example. They were taught the right way to speak, to say please and thank you; to greet their elders, to greet friends’ parents when visiting, to place their needs as requests rather than demands, and many more besides.
There are some actions that typified the graciousness of the age. Something as simple yet as touching as following a visitor out to his car and waiting until he had started his car and driven off was a practice my father always performed. I believe it is an action that showed honour to the visitor. It does imbue a sense of self-worth in the departing visitor.
I’m not suggesting everything was always hunky dory. If conflicts ensued between people, and such things did ensue from time to time, there was also a very good reason for it. There were also civil ways of settling differences instead of carrying grudges to the grave.
There are still some members of the golden generation remaining with us. How shall we honour them for their roles in our lives? Love them, love them graciously, love them long, we are what we are today because of what they taught us yesterday.