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Friday, February 26, 2021

Tapping into the wisdom of elders who have been there, done that

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From the pessimist’s point of view, elders are a burden. They require more care, become forgetful and move slower than a fast-paced world is willing to accommodate. This is a very narrowed focus on aging.

Elders have so many life experiences. Getting to practice virtues such as patience, taking first and second and third cracks at love, even learning how to deal with loss and grief — these are the things that make elders wise. They have a lot to share, and many are just waiting on someone to ask. With National Senior Citizens Day coming Aug. 21, this is the perfect time to do it.

Dennis Ross has been in Indianapolis his whole life. He grew up in a poor family with a single mother and four sisters. He was the only boy. Ross, now 64, was in his early teens and lived on the near northwest side when Interstate 65 was being built in the late 1960s and early ‘70s.

Ross’ family moved around a lot, as poor families are often forced to do. He lived on the east side, downtown and in Haughville. His mother took the family to centers where they could get bags of clothes to wear. It was a test, but not his greatest.

When he was 19, Ross’ mother was shot and killed with her youngest child in her lap. Five years earlier, Ross was in a car accident that killed his older sister. The car caught on fire, and she was badly burned. She was also pregnant, and the unborn baby died.

When it comes to dealing with tragedy, Ross said it’s important for young people to remember “that they’re important, that they’re somebody, that things will pass.”

“Don’t give up,” he said. “When you do make it, try to give back. Try to go back and help the unfortunate.”

Ross, a retired city worker, said he’s happy with his life now. He lives on the east side and keeps busy by driving a school bus part time for Metropolitan School District of Lawrence Township Schools. He also still works out by walking, biking, lifting weights and playing basketball in his driveway.

One of his happiest memories, he said, is when Barack Obama was elected president. He has three Obama autographs on two pictures and Obama’s book, “Dreams from My Father.”

Ross was married twice and has 10 children, 28 grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren. He said if he could go back in time and teach himself a lesson, it would be about the importance of education. Ross graduated from Crispus Attucks High School but didn’t go to college. Asked what his advice would be for younger people today, he said it’s important to “be yourself.”

“Use your morals that your parents gave you, and stay away from crowds and partying at a young age,” he said.

Pearl Carter is a lucky one. She’s 76 years old, and her mother is still alive at 102. Carter is an only child, as was her mother, so their relationship hasn’t had any restrictions from other aging family members over the years.

“My life is based on trying to take care of my mother,” she said, which basically means taking her wherever she wants to go.

Carter has lived her whole life in Martindale-Brightwood, but the area is slowly changing into something she doesn’t recognize.

“All of the people that were here when I was growing up, they’ve either moved out or they’re just old and sitting here,” she said. “… We’re all just old and waiting.”

Waiting on what? That’s too morbid of a thought to say out loud, Carter said.

Carter married in her 20s and stayed married for about 10 years. She has two sons and four grandchildren. Asked what young people need to know about love, she said it’s important to be sure it’s what you want.

“A lot of kids, I’ve noticed, they fall in love with love,” she said, “and they don’t have any honesty. They’re not honest with each other.”

Carter worked in nursing out of high school and wishes she would have stuck with it. Instead she took a job at now-closed Western Electric for more money. Like Ross, Carter said she regrets not going further with her education.

In both dealing with grief and making love last, Carter said God needs to be at the center.

“I personally pray a lot, and I believe in God, and I know God can do anything,” she said. “It’s a matter of just putting my faith and trust in him.”

Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.

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