Stop and listen to ;br; the older generation, ;br; before it’s too late

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 1, 1999

As a child, we would come to Minnesota for a couple weeks in the summer and a week or so at Christmas.

Wednesday, September 01, 1999

As a child, we would come to Minnesota for a couple weeks in the summer and a week or so at Christmas. While I always looked forward to spending time with my grandparents – their house was right by Turtle Creek and Gramma Margaret made great sugar cookies – I didn’t much care who else came and went.

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There was a constant stream of relatives in and out. Sitting around the dining room table, talking and laughing about what, I didn’t know, pinching my cheek and telling me I looked like Margaret who was old and wrinkled with gray hair … what child would want to remain indoors with such people?

It was only with age that my appreciation of the older generation grew, and now I find it fascinating to meet and talk to those who were grown and had families before I was even an unfertilized egg, let alone a thought. They lived in the Great Depression, rode street cars in St. Paul, fought in the World Wars, saw the car gain in popularity and waved goodbye to the horse and buggy and grew up without TV.

Some weeks, reading the obits, it seems they’re dropping like flies – those older people who were born in an entirely different world of an entirely different group of immigrants.

Sadly, Austin lost yet another member of that generation Monday – he’ll be missed. Richard Baudler was unarguably a presence. And, speaking of arguing, the retired lawyer sure gave as good as he got at the Austin Utilities Board meetings – maybe 34 years on the board plus a career in the legal profession gave him an edge.

Whatever the reason, the meetings will be minus many a dissenting vote without Mr. Baudler. I’ll miss his outspoken presence at the board meetings and miss seeing him behind the wheel of that red sporty car.

He was a believer – it seemed – in the power of the people. He was there at the July Austin Planning Commission meeting – in the front row – along with 30-some other residents. The planning commission was considering a rezoning on the property they call the old Baudler estate, at 1400 4th St. NW. He told the commission he remembered hearing how his grandfather brought some of the seedlings from Germany for the many majestic old trees that still stand on the property.

Although he didn’t speak for or against the rezoning, how could anyone vote to rezone that property commercial after such a precious tidbit of Austin history?

Now he’s gone, and that special spark with him.

His death makes a person sit up and take notice of the few that remain from the generation that fought in WWII.

When they’re gone, there will be no one to tell us stories of the old Bohemian school in Myrtle, or how it was the first time they saw an airplane go overhead in the 1920s, or what it was like during Prohibition and how they used to drink near beer with grain alcohol.

In Austin, a town with a larger than average older population, we have it better than many younger communities.

While their traffic may flow a little faster and smoother, those deprived people in their youthful suburban cities don’t get to meet WWII vets at city council meetings or talk to a retired doctor who assisted at the first ever successful open heart surgery nearly 50 years ago. They don’t know people who were contemporaries of Robert Frost, T.S. Elliot, Tennessee Williams and Ezra Pound. They don’t get to hear stories of teaching – and learning – in a one-room country school.

It’s hard, in a busy world, to stop and take the time to listen to the stories of the old and the older yet. To make them sugar cookies in return for all the batches your gramma once made. To learn some of the old language from them. To exchange Ole and Sven jokes. To look at old pictures and try to figure out faces and names.

It’s even harder once they’re gone.

Jana Peterson’s column appears Wednesdays