A Conversation with an Older Man

Hi ttydnneita
Folks — To be filed under, “What we’ve lost.” Or maybe, “What Free-Range Kids is working  to bring back.” – L. 

Dear Free-Range Kids: I had an interesting experience in the Target parking lot today. While
I was unloading my cart, an older man passed and complimented me on my
four kids. I thanked him, and we struck up a conversation.

When my three-year-old shyly turned away from the man, he said,

“That’s right, I forgot you’re not supposed to talk to strangers these
days.” And he turned to leave.

I said, “No sir, I teach my children that it’s okay to talk to
strangers. They need to learn how to speak with adults. I just teach
them never to go anywhere with a stranger.”

The man said, “Yeah, when I was in my 40s and 50s, I always pictured
myself sitting on a park bench one day, giving dollar bills to little
children. But some wackos messed that up for the rest of us. Can’t do
that anymore.”

I told him the world was worse off for it, and I try to teach my
children that most people are good and it’s okay to interact with
people of all ages.

The man started to leave again, but then abruptly turned around,
pulled out his wallet, and gave each of my kids a $1 bill. I wanted to
decline, mainly because I like my kids to earn their money, but I
could see how delighted they were, and how pleased the man was that he
could do that for him. I realized this man probably genuinely enjoys
interacting with children, and we live in a world where he may not
have an opportunity to do so.

I wonder what our children could learn from old men sitting on park benches.

Lauren Richins

68 Responses to A Conversation with an Older Man

  1. Russell Phillips August 23, 2012 at 5:58 pm #

    Just before Christmas 2008, a complete stranger in a supermarket asked me “can I give your boy a cuddly toy?”. I was surprised but said yes, and she handed him a small cuddly dog, then walked off before I could say thank you. I wrote a letter to the local newspaper in an effort to let her know that we were grateful, and someone else wrote to say that “Today, we all have to consider that any act of kindness or gift we may make to a child or young person is appropriate and cannot be interpreted or suggested as possibly having a dark motive.”

    My son still has that cuddly toy, and I think fondly of that kind stranger whenever he plays with it or takes it to bed with him.

    Why are so many people unable to just accept kindness, without looking for a darker motive? I’m pleased Lauren did simply accept the old man’s kindness. I really think she made the world just a little more pleasant for the man, herself and her kids.

  2. Nicole August 23, 2012 at 6:48 pm #

    “I wonder what our children could learn from old men sitting on park benches.”

    – a lot, an awful lot, and they’re missing out.

    I never met either of my grandfathers when I was old enough to remember, but when I was about eight and my little brother around four, we moved next door to an older couple. The woman was a retired school teacher, and the man tended the biggest backyard garden I have ever seen. They treated all the neighbor kids as adopted grandchildren, but my brother especially took to the old gentleman. He spent hours helping him with the garden, hearing all the history and wisdom our own grandfather never got to tell him. It’s so important for children to be able to learn from older people!

  3. Sandra Parsons August 23, 2012 at 7:00 pm #

    “I wanted to decline, mainly because I like my kids to earn their money,…”

    I agree with the general statement but I am glad Lauren also reconsidered in this particular instance. After all, I still remember how delighted I was as a kid (and still am now) when an unexpected windfall enabled me to buy an extra little something or to afford the thing I was saving for a little sooner.

    What a lovely story of a lovely man!

  4. Peter Brülls (@retepslluerb) August 23, 2012 at 7:25 pm #

    @Russel You asked „Why are so many people unable to just accept kindness, without looking for a darker motive?“

    I’m pretty sure that the answer is televison. When I zap through shows, kindness seems to be the least important aspect of human interaction. And selfless kindness even more so. It’s always about mending something (drama) or often shown as having a hidden agenda.

    And kindness makes bad drama – something television thrives on. That and violence and fear.

  5. suzy August 23, 2012 at 7:32 pm #

    It reminds me of the show, Leave it to Beaver. Where would the Beav be if he didn’t Mr. Wilson as his best friend (which I even recall hearing the both of them saying about each other in various episodes).

    Today someone would call CPS on the strange old guy who let’s that kid come over his house. Wonder what awful things he does to that kid…


  6. suzy August 23, 2012 at 7:34 pm #

    Wait a minute… I can’t believe I just said it was “Leave it to Beaver.” I totally meant to say DENNIS THE MENACE!! That’s what I get for trying to comment without having had my morning coffee yet, LOL

  7. culdesachero August 23, 2012 at 8:15 pm #

    This is a great story. Our kids need this interaction with adults. We are robbing them of chances like these to talk to kind strangers and to try their social skills with adults. One day they may need the help of a stranger and they will need to know how to tell good from bad, helpful from creepy. This comes from experience.
    How can they get experience if they are not allowed to talk?

  8. robynheud August 23, 2012 at 8:40 pm #

    When I was in High School I wanted to visit someone in a nursing home, so my parents found a place nearby and I went through the necessary screening and was matched with an older gentleman named Mr. Byrd. I would usually go once a week and we would just sit and talk for a couple of hours. He had family, but not nearby; he loved the outdoors, especially snowmobiling, and he was one of the greatest listeners too. He was an amazing man and I was privileged to know him. May all of our children have that same privilege.

  9. Michelle August 23, 2012 at 9:06 pm #

    Suzy, I am pretty sure there was an older man who Beaver used to go to for advice. I think he might have been a retired fireman? I’m not sure. I remember one episode when Beaver was missing, and the dad went to ask if this older man had seen him. (And, of course the assumption was that Beaver had wandered off, which he had. No one ever suggested a kidnapping!)

  10. Michelle August 23, 2012 at 9:08 pm #

    Another thing I love about that episode – the dad didn’t even know where to look for Beaver. He had to ask Wally where he liked to hang out!

  11. gap.runner August 23, 2012 at 9:25 pm #

    Kids could learn a lot from old men sitting on park benches.

    What a wonderful story! Kids need to interact with adults of all ages, both male and female. They need to learn that 99% of adults are good people who would be wiling to help them if they got in a jam.

    One of my son’s favorite workers at the on-base Teen Center is an older man whose kids are grown. He loves working with kids and the kids all love him back. Every time that my son goes to the on-baseTeen Center on days when that man is working there, he comes home with the most interesting stories. He is truly blessed to know a man like that. I’m glad that paranoia about men hasn’t spread to the base where I work. I’m sure that this nice, grandfatherly man at the Teen Center would be considered a pervert if he had a similar job in the States (that is, if he could even get a job working with teenagers). What I like about the on-base Teen Center is that most of the staff is male. All of the men there are excellent role models for teenage boys.

  12. Layne August 23, 2012 at 9:30 pm #

    My mom has to tell my dad over and over, not to flirt with babies, which he loves. He’s got some dementia issues, and it is really sad, that he doesn’t remember the reason why he can’t.

  13. Becky August 23, 2012 at 9:39 pm #

    This nearly brought me to tears. Thank you to Lauren for responding the way she did. I would have done the same thing – thank you for bringing joy to an old man and to your children. 🙂

  14. Christina August 23, 2012 at 10:30 pm #

    Thank you, Lauren, for sharing your experience.

  15. Ben August 23, 2012 at 10:45 pm #

    gap.runner said: “What I like about the on-base Teen Center is that most of the staff is male. All of the men there are excellent role models for teenage boys.”

    While I agree with the general sentiment of this, I would prefer a middle ground. So the kids have both male and female role models. Having only men on that Center’s staff is almost as bad as having a school of only female teachers.

  16. MJP August 23, 2012 at 11:14 pm #

    In my 20s, I used to buy a Happy Meal (when I just wanted a small snack) and give the toy to the nearest little kid who looked unhappy. Now in my 40s, I’ve stopped trying to give the toys away, as I get glared at far more than smiled at. By the time I’m sitting on a bench in the park, I assume it’ll be just me, since none of the kids will be allowed in such a place.

  17. gap.runner August 23, 2012 at 11:24 pm #

    Ben, there are also female staff members at the Teen Center. But the majority (about 2/3) of the Teen Center staff is male. The kids do indeed have both male and female role models.

  18. Havva August 23, 2012 at 11:38 pm #

    Lauren, you did a wonderful thing for your kids, an old man, and society. I think, one by one, moments like these are what is takes to help to heal society.

    I never got experience with old men on park benches growing up. I was raised with “strange danger,” and there weren’t many men left on park benches even in the ’90s. Sadly the fear then was nothing compared to now. Once I got over ‘stranger danger’, I talked to lots of folks working in front yards. I didn’t know how much my parents were aware of the people I chatted with until I got married and they threw a party. Among the guys I chatted up that, just couldn’t miss the party were: a contractor and his lead foreman (who had to promise to report back to the rest of the crew), a young teacher with a perfectly manicured front yard, and my favorite old guy “squirrel man.”

    Good times, great people. It was fun to see that my parents knew about my adult *male* friends. They simply considered these folks part of the community. And what a community, even my highly social parents were surprised at how many people came. They can congratulate themselves for teaching me that it is good to talk to strangers, and letting me negotiate relationships on my own terms.

  19. Cynthia August 23, 2012 at 11:50 pm #

    Havva, great story. My four young kids are all red-heads, so they get a lot of attention wherever we go. I’m always glad when people are not worried about talking to them. And lots of people flirt with my babies. I love looking down and seeing that they are making eyes at someone behind me.

  20. Jen Connelly August 24, 2012 at 12:04 am #

    All these stories remind me of the two old guys (brothers) that lived down the street from me when I was little. They were hoarders/junk collectors and their house and yard was filled with stuff. The kids in the neighborhood would go to their house and ring the bell every day (we always hopped off the porch and hid on the side of the house, giggling). Ed, the one that was home most of the time, would sit on the porch with the kids and just chat and tell us stories of the neighborhood when he was a kid. Or when our parents were kids because he’d always been there (my dad remembered them from when he was a kid, they were middle aged then).

    And then they’d give us stuff. Crayons, little toys, random things they found. I once got a small portable record player and a full set of 45s (all classic 50s music). My dad might still have them in the attic. They were great guys and really loved the neighborhood and the kids that lived there.

    I’d like to think my kids would chat up an old guy they met at the park. Their nice kids and love to talk to older people about their lives. My son finally hounded my dad into talking about his time in the Marines. My dad rarely ever mentioned anything about that time. At first it was only about training, being on air craft carriers and planes and stuff. But eventually he started talking about some of the stuff he did in Vietnam. My son (then 7) would sit for hours and hours enthralled. He’s always had an interest in the military and especially loves military history. He’s almost 11 now and I still think he’s either going to end up in the military or study history.

  21. Captain America August 24, 2012 at 12:12 am #

    Wow. What a story. It makes me remember my old piano lessons (I’d endure a half hour lesson with a pretty cranky old lady, and then get to spend a half hour upstairs with her husband going over pages of pages of his coin books looking at silver dollars, buffalo nickels, etc., cool stuff, good old guy).

  22. mama2aidan August 24, 2012 at 12:14 am #

    Before I started reading “Free Range Kids” and was still all freaked out about “Stranger Danger”, I used to tell my extroverted, super outgoing daughter, who was about 3 or 4 at the time, “Don’t talk to strangers.” She looked back at me, completely serious and said “They won’t be strangers anymore if I meet them, Mama.” Pretty profound for a little kid…but she was right. And she still will talk to anyone she meets. Now we just tell her don’t go anywhere with someone Mama or Daddy doesn’t know because we definitely can’t tell her not to talk to anyone. That’d be like telling the wind not to blow! This kid is a TALKER!!

  23. Cynthia August 24, 2012 at 1:02 am #

    This story reminds me of the time I had my 2yo in the grocery cart and an older gentleman noticed him and exclaimed, “Oh, my. What a beautiful boy you are!” But then he quickly added, “Oh, I guess I’m not allowed to say that.” I smiled at him and told him that I thought he was beautiful, too, but was a little biased being his mom. And we both laughed. What a strange, demented world we live in that an older man feels self-conscious complimenting or talking to children even in the presence of a parent.

  24. Adrienne August 24, 2012 at 1:37 am #

    What an awesome story! Growing up in the “Stranger Danger” era, my mom was pretty overprotective. Now that I have two kids of my own, I try to blind them of that ridiculous theory. Except for the don’t leave with strangers part, of course. Anyway, about a year ago, my mom came to visit. One day we went to pick up some food at a local place. When we were going out the door, a man (about 50’s) came up to me and told me how beautiful my kids eyes (they have big, weird color eyes) and hair (they have awesome curly hair) were. I chatted with him for a minute saying thank you and so forth. When I got back to the truck, his wife came up and asked if she could touch my daughter’s face. Although I thought it was a bit weird, I said okay. They lady gave her a slight rub on her face a pat on the head and told her she was so beautiful. The lady thanked me and the man told me to “take care of them because they were very precious.” (His exact words!) They were soooo nice and actually made my day that much better….until I got into my truck. My dear mom (who I love so much!) proceeded to tell me that I shouldn’t have let the lady do that and how I should be careful because people steal kids and take them across the border to sell them (we live in Texas) and so on and so forth. While I was laughing in my head, I tried to explain to her that stuff like that doesn’t really happen. As always, I’ll be that shy naive little girl in her eyes that doesn’t know anything. As much as I really do love my mom, let’s just say that I am so glad I live 900 miles away.

    Oh, and later on, I found out that a lot of the Mexican-heritage people down here (which this couple was) find it to be good luck if they are able to touch beautiful kids! If they believe my kids can bring them luck, then I am happy to oblige!!!

  25. dmd August 24, 2012 at 2:01 am #

    I fondly recall getting spare change from older folks when I was a kid. It’s something we’ve obviously lost. We have an older couple in our neighborhood and our son was developing a relationship with them until one of them said some things (in front of my son) that made me realize how racist they were and I didn’t want my son around that.

  26. backroadsem August 24, 2012 at 2:45 am #

    What really irks me is that we advise old men (heck, men in general) to avoid children for their own safety. That isn’t doing a darn thing to help the situation!

    But I want to be positive. This was a beautiful and touching story. I used to teach with a male 1st grade teacher (the horror). Yet all sorts of single moms would request him as their children’s teacher because they wanted their kids to have a positive male role model.

  27. backroadsem August 24, 2012 at 2:47 am #

    So I ask, where are all these positive male role models supposed to be found if we fear all men?

  28. Katie B August 24, 2012 at 3:25 am #

    This brought tears to my eyes. I’ve had older men give my son money, as well. I always assume the older people like that have grandkids who live far away and are just using their grandparent energy on my kids. Fine with me.

  29. Triangle August 24, 2012 at 4:15 am #

    I came across an article about a man who was ‘babysitting a child’, but stole a car and was involved in a car chase. What caught my attention was the headline screamed ‘Male Babysitter’, like somehow the gender had ANYTHING to do with the story.

    Just for a kicker, the kid he was ‘babysitting’ was supposedly his son.


    My father was the type to talk to small children and give them spare change. It’s so sad that such an innocent thing would be taken as something predatory now. I was such a literal child and all I can think is that if my parents had told me to avoid men because they MIGHT hurt me, the message I would have taken away would have been that all men are scary, bad people. Why do we want children to live in fear?

  30. Jim Collins August 24, 2012 at 5:29 am #

    When I was about 14 (1979) I would cut grass and do other things to earn money during the Summer. One of the places that I cut grass for was the local VFW post. When I’d finish I was invited inside for a cold drink while I was waiting to get paid. One time I was there the movie “The Longest Day” was just coming on. I said that it was one of my favorite movies and was invited to stay and watch it. About the time they started showing the invasion on the beach, one guy asked the guy beside me if it was like that where he was at and the guy answered “No”. The first guy said that it wasn’t like that where he was at either. Both men had been on Utah Beach that day, one with the Army and the other driving a landing craft for the Navy. You can learn quite a bit of History by talking to “old men” who have lived through it. Be a shame to deprive kids of that kind of education because of the current paranoia.

  31. Library Diva August 24, 2012 at 5:43 am #

    It’s funny to see this because I just had a similar awesome experience yesterday, as an adult. I’m off from work this week and read in the paper about some open archaeology going on downtown, so I decided to go check it out. I wound up spending about an hour talking to an older man who was down there watching, too. He had the most fascinating stories of how the city used to be in the 40s and 50s. I was really glad I was able to talk to him. I think as a society, we just don’t talk to each other much, and that’s too bad.

  32. J.Royal August 24, 2012 at 6:02 am #

    Wow. Ok, this one nearly made me cry. Great story, thanks for sharing.

  33. Captain America August 24, 2012 at 6:40 am #

    For Jim Collins:
    I would have liked to have heard what those guys had to say about Utah Beach! That would be an amazing history lesson!

  34. Lollipoplover August 24, 2012 at 7:52 am #

    If older men are so dangerous, why do we keep electing them to be President of our Country??

  35. Andrea August 24, 2012 at 8:27 am #

    When I was growing up I had a neighbor, Mr. Greene, who let my sister and me wander into his garage and tinker at his workbench with him. We sanded and painted blocks of wood and other long-forgotten but very interesting at the time workbench activities. I have no bits of wisdom or life-lessons that he imparted. Just an older man sharing his workspace with two little girls who liked to tinker as much as he did. Thank goodness my parents trusted their instincts, trusted my sister and me and trusted him. I’ll probably never have the opportunity to trust my own girls in that same way. Sadly, what man today would feel comfortable alone in a garage with two girls? RIP Mr. Greene.

  36. Donna August 24, 2012 at 8:30 am #

    Took my four kids bowling (along with hubby) and a bowler came up to us after a while (we were not very good) and asked if he could give each kid $1. We said, um… okay and he did, telling them that he wanted them to LOVE bowling and keep at it, because it’s something that he’s enjoyed doing every stage of his life. And then he wandered off (and my kids bought candy). He had no horrible motive, he just wanted them to love the place as much as he did. I am so tired of people trying to immerse us in fear when there’s a lot of joy out there!

  37. CS August 24, 2012 at 8:35 am #

    My grandfather was the neighborhood steampunk guy. After he retired he was a gunsmith who worked out of his basement and sometimes garage. He owned metal lathes and wood lathes and all sorts of oddball tools. All the kids in the neighborhood would hang out at my grandpa’s house to see what he was doing. After I grew up and moved away, the neighborhood slowly filled with Hispanics. Grandpa learned Spanish (after Grandma died he was on his own, now) and learned to be friends with the new kids in the neighborhood. Eventually he earned the title papi from most of the kids, and their parents. He’s now 94, and still somewhat kicking along, even in a wheelchair. An old white Welsh guy in a multiblock neighborhood of non-whites and he gets along great. They teach him stuff, he teaches them stuff. Its great.

  38. kelly August 24, 2012 at 8:38 am #

    My husband (white male) has over ten years talking with kids and helping their moms or carers. He says he’s never had a negative incident. He’s had a lot of thank yous and smiles.

    I think men are best learning to read nonverbal communication and if a woman or child isn’t comfortable with them, they should honor that. My husband reports he’s very glad to participate in the larger community, helping and talking with many many moms and kids.

  39. Lynn August 24, 2012 at 8:45 am #

    My wonderful FIL is a retired teacher. He loves his grandchildren and is always at their sport and school events. Whale at these things, he also talks to people and yes, many children that are around. He gets such joy making them smile and teaching them simple songs and asking things that make children proud (I’ll bet you are good in math, do you now how to count to 10 yet… sort of thing) I’m so happy that most people are wonderful with him and allow their children to talk to him. I also allow my 5yo to talk to people we see on our walks or when out and about. He’s outgoing and loves to talk. He even goes out to help our nieghbours put out their trash if he catches them doing it. Oh, without me even. I hope that he is able to keep talking to “old men”, and women and everyone else he meets and learns how to listen to them also.

  40. hineata August 24, 2012 at 9:46 am #

    My brother used to spend hours up the road with an old man who had a Clydesdale horse in his backyard. My sister and I, both a little older, were too shy for a good year to go along with him. One day he practically dragged us along, and we spent the first of many happy afternoons just sitting on Arthur (the horse!)’s back while he munched his way around the yard, talking to our neighbour when the horse and he crossed paths. This was only a quarter acre yard, too, so we crossed paths frequently. So much fun! We quite often brought our friends after that, so there’d be four or five kids just chatting on the back of a very patient horse!

    Don’t remember there being any concerns – certainly not from my parents, anyway – about the ‘appropriateness’ of spending the afternoon with an older single man. And that old fella is still alive and kicking, and living on the same block, probably because he is so willing to interact with the neighbourhood. Presume the horse is long gone, but even he must have been a good old age.

    Let’s consider starting a ‘Talk to an Old Man’ Day…..It could go right up there with the ‘Leave Them at The Park’ Day. Bet it would improve the mental health of the elderly.

  41. Jean Oram August 24, 2012 at 11:02 am #

    I was given a five dollar bill once by an older gentleman while walking with my grandma. It was a bit awkward for me. But then again, I think he was trying to impress my grandma! But you know what? I looked to her and she said it was okay. I knew then (country girl) to defer to the adult (in the city).

    A few years ago an airport worker game my daughter a candy in the airport. He didn’t ask, just presented it to her. I was mostly okay with that. But I did wonder about what message I was sending her by me being ‘cool’ with the whole ‘taking candy from strangers thing.’ In the end we teach her to listen to her gut and I talked to her about when to accept gifts from strangers and when not to. But listening to your gut–that’s important. And the candy was just fine. And so was she and so was he. And we lived happily ever after.

    As for my son, well he hugs everyone. Old, young, female, male. He seems to pick the nice folks, so I think there’s that gut thing again. 😉

    Thanks for sharing this story. It was a nice way to end my day.

  42. diane August 24, 2012 at 11:05 am #

    I vagualy remember (as I was 3 or younger) an old man who would come out and give me a piece of candy whenever my mom took me on a walk around the block. It’s an old but fond memory………:)

  43. MyBloodyOpinion (@MyBloodyOpinion) August 24, 2012 at 11:20 am #

    What a beautiful story. The only time strangers speak to my children is when women ask my children if they were alright and did they need the Police…was I really their father thing.

  44. Jim Collins August 24, 2012 at 9:33 pm #

    They didn’t say too much about the fighting on Utah Beach. They did talk about riding over to England on the troopships, standing lookout watch for U-boats and the camps that they lived in. I didn’t expect them to talk about it. My Father was with the Marines during the Korean War and he never talked about it. A few years ago I was the Historian for my American Legion post and watched “Saving Private Ryan” with some D-day veterans. Several of them remarked about Hollywood finally getting close to what it was like.

  45. BJW August 24, 2012 at 9:47 pm #

    I had a similar experience in a restaurant. The man said he enjoyed seeing a family politely enjoying themselves in a restaurant. I gave the kids the impression that it was a reward for behaving well. You never know when you will receive a reward for doing the “right” thing.

  46. Scott August 24, 2012 at 9:53 pm #

    I was delivered by the same doctor that delivered my mother. One thing I remember when we went for a visit when I was older is that he gave me a dollar out of his pocket.

  47. Denise August 24, 2012 at 10:34 pm #

    I get some flack because at the farmer’s market, several of the merchants talk to my 11 month old daughter- and I don’t stop it. I ask how else is she supposed to learn to want to help people if she doesn’t learn to like strangers?

  48. Suze August 24, 2012 at 10:50 pm #

    I think people forget that these older gentlemen may just be a bit lonely and enjoy someone young to speak with. We had one such man in our neighbourhood; Mr. Sickle. His four children were grown and lived out of town and he had been a widower for over 20 years. He loved to chat with the neighbour kids (and the rest of us) and as mentioned here in other posts, was a decorated WWII veteran. Every so often the kids would run up to him as he was getting out of his car and they would say hello. He would always give my son a “Loony” (I’m in Canada and that is the slang name for our one dollar coin; we don’t have dollar bills, or two dollar bills anymore) They would always say thanks and he wanted them to buy a treat with it. He had a neat garage also with lots of things in it and when he was in there, he let the kids go in too and explore and ask him about all the things he had collected in there. This was a man who just wanted some company and the little ones just reminded him of being younger and gave back to him a bit of child like exuberance !!!!!

  49. Kelly Petersen August 24, 2012 at 11:10 pm #

    The other day, I took my 2 boys, ages 5 and 1, to Costco. The older man in front of us in the checkout line complimented me on my kiddos and just before leaving, he asked me if he could make my older boy a balloon dog! I said yes, and he proceeded to pull a long blue balloon and balloon-pump out of his pocket and made my son his first balloon animal as well as his day 🙂 The ladies checking and boxing our stuff and I just beamed the whole time

  50. Havva August 24, 2012 at 11:53 pm #

    If I could draw, I think one day I would make a T-shirt for my daughter to advertise that it is okay to talk to her. I’m thinking:

    Old fashioned kid
    [Sketch of kid in tree waving to an old man on a bench]
    We can talk

  51. EricS August 25, 2012 at 2:20 am #

    That actually made me well up. Thanks for the article. A world that could have been (should be) vs the world it is today. Sad.

  52. EricS August 25, 2012 at 2:24 am #

    I picture a lonely old man, no more family, most friends are gone, and the only thing that would put joy into his remaining short life, are the smiles of children and his contribution to it. But in the world today, he would be shunned and isolated. Remaining alone till the end of his days. It’s sad that many parents are teaching their children that this is how we treat strangers, especially the elder.

  53. Montanafreedom August 25, 2012 at 2:29 am #

    I was one of the lucky ones, who had a very special grandparents. But I would always latch onto other kids fathers all the time. When I was about 26 years old, my wife and I had just moved into our newly built home. I was putting in the sprinkler system and a young boy started coming to the house and helping me. He seemed to need a male figure in his life so I would let him help me. My wife and I talked one night and decided it was probably a good idea to notify his parents who we were, so one day my wife went to their house. My wife spoke to his mother who thought that I was a 10 year old boy, because her son would just say that he was going over to his best friends house and see Jay. The mother was ok with him seeing me and appreciative since his father was not in the picture. I saw this young man for 2 years until they moved away. I don’t here from him anymore. It has been over 20 years. Times have changed.

  54. Captain America August 25, 2012 at 3:57 am #

    Suze (above) has a good point. A good friend of mine is now an “old man”: his girls married and moved out of town, out of the area. That’s demographics nowadays: more and more families are separated by the miles, and you get, when you think about it, a better chance of old folks loneliness because of this. . . they probably miss like hell their grandchildren. I know I would.

  55. Lisa August 25, 2012 at 4:11 am #

    I have 3 sons and they never had a grand father and only one grandmother. I actually teared up a few weeks ago watching a grandpa and a little boy at the petting zoo. I feel so bad my kids didn’t have that. My grandfather was german and lived with us in Queens, NY. All the kids on the block called him Opa because my brother and I did. He was one of 3 “old men” on the block and all the kids had neighborly relationships with them. I will always remember Mr. Rooney and Mr. Somers fondly.

  56. Jenna August 25, 2012 at 4:19 am #

    When my oldest son was four, we were leaving a store and an elderly gentleman came over to me and asked if my son and I could help him. He had locked himself out of his car and the only way to get in was through the back hatch window, which was open slightly. My son was able to squeeze through and unlock the car. I was standing right there, as was the old man. The old man was so tickled that we were able to help him that he paid my little boy four dollars, which of course, was a thrill for my little boy. My boy is now 10 years old and still remembers that incident. I’m glad we weren’t afraid to help someone who needed help.

  57. hineata August 25, 2012 at 4:57 am #

    Eric S, your take on it almost made me cry. Awful picture, but probably true. So very sad! I think we need to fight it, wherever we happen to be.

    We have a lovely old fellow down the road who helps himself out a little in this area of finding children and others to talk to, or just watch if he’s feeling tired. His front garden is full of these cool little concrete and wire animals he’s made himself. Right at the moment he has a sea scene, complete with lighthouse and a tuatara climbing said lighthouse (pretty surreal!). There’s even a concrete boat in the waves. He changes the scenes every few months. My kids are all teens or near enough now, and they still like checking on his garden whenever they go past. A great low strass way to stay involved with the community, methinks!

  58. Elizabeth Menes August 26, 2012 at 7:48 am #

    In 1972, when I was in the first grade, my family took a train trip across the country to visit Arizona. On one of our trips to the club car, I struck up a conversation with a middle-aged gentleman, almost certainly a traveling salesman. Though I don’t remember what we talked about, I remember the experience as one of the high points of the trip. I must have shown an appreciation for the teeny-tiny Johnnie Walker bottle that I assume my friend was drinking from because he had the bartender carefully clean it out and presented it to me as a gift. That bottle went on to become the start of years of bottle collecting, including visits to 19th century garbage pits around Staten Island where you could dig historic bottles out of the sand. Some weeks after the trip, I got a package in the mail containing one of the man’s company samples — a stuffed Ronald McDonald doll with hand-stitched patch pockets over the logos. As the only male doll in the family collection, that Ronald when on to become an important character in the games my sister and I played for years.

    But looking back at the basic details — a middle aged salesman strikes up a conversation with a six year old in a bar, gives her a liquor bottle, wheedles her address out of her parents and sends her gifts weeks later — I can only imagine how this wonderful and entirely innocent event would be construed today. And the world is worse for that.

  59. Celeste August 26, 2012 at 8:00 am #

    My grandmother used to tell me a story about a boy named Johnny who was sent to the grocery store by his mother one day to buy some bread and cheese. At the grocer’s, Johnny noticed an old woman who was walking out with two full bags of groceries. Johnny approached the old woman and offered to help her carry her groceries home. She said, “Why yes, what a nice young man!” And he walked her to her house, carrying the grocery bags for her. She gave him a quarter and she asked if he would help her again the next time she needed to go to the market. He said he would if it was ok with his mother. When Johnny came home, his mother was annoyed that he took so long to get the bread and cheese. But when he explained why he was late, Johnny’s mother was proud of him for being such a good boy and helping out the old woman, who lived all alone. She gave her son a great big hug and told him he had permission to help the old woman again. From then on, Johnny helped the old woman with all her shopping and her errands, and the two became good friends. She told Johnny all about her life growing up on a farm in Ireland, and Johnny made her laugh with funny stories from school. She was a very kind and generous person. Johnny saved up all the quarters and dollars she gave him, and after awhile he bought himself a shiny new bicycle! That story made such an impression on me. What good character Johnny had! And what a nice old woman, and what an understanding mom! I had a great relationship with my grandmother; as a child I loved being around her and her friends, and as I grew up I always went out of my way to be friendly and helpful to elderly people. I teach my kids to be the same, and I tell them the Johnny story the same way my grandmother told it to me.

  60. Jen August 26, 2012 at 10:08 am #

    In the neighborhood I grew up in, there weren’t a lot of other kids to play with, so my sister and I spent a lot of time pestering the older gentleman who lived in the other half of our duplex. Sylvester (so called because I could NEVER pronounce his last name, Jarworski, until I was much older) was about the same age as my grandparents, and had the most amazing thing I had ever thought of up to that point: whip-or-wills in a roost on the side of his workshop. He’d let us feed the birds, and tried to teach us how to whistle their call. He also let us play in his workshop, and his wife, Joyce, usually had treats for us. As I got older, he would tell us all about working for the coal mines and coke ovens in town, or having been in the military (I think he was a WWII vet) and what the town was like when he grew up there. On the other side was also an older couple. If we weren’t pestering Sylvester, we were bothering Mr. Whoric. He was (looking back) pretty eccentric, but it was awesome at the time. He had a big garden he let us help with, and a crabapple tree in his yard, and he had “funerals” for the dead birds and rodents he found. Mrs. Whoric invariably offered us popsicles or cookies. I was in and out of both houses as often as my own or my grandparents’, who lived on the same street. I was very sad when Mr Whoric passed away when I was in high school, and again when Sylvester died about 6 years ago. Both older couples had a lot of influence on me growing up, and I really miss that opportunity for my kids.

  61. J Steinberg (@DEHausfrau) August 27, 2012 at 4:41 am #

    We were away this past week and got to take advantage of the club lounge at the hotel, while I went to make myself a cup of tea, my two daughters (6 and 16 months) sat in the comfy chairs enjoying a snack. Unbeknownst to me, one of the ladies struck up a conversation with them and when she got up to leave, gave the older girl a dollar bill and said “you must have dropped this” which I thought was hysterical because the older girl was both confused and excited that she had dropped money she didn’t know she had… it was a great interaction and I’m delighted it happened!

  62. Buffy September 2, 2012 at 9:43 pm #


    A little off-topic, but talks about a police “dragnet” and arrest after a man in a vehicle asked a 14-year-old some questions, and apparently set off her creep factor. I know we are all to believe in that, but it would sure be interesting to know what the questions were. And maybe he resisted arrest because the cops were calling him a child molester and potential kidnapper?

  63. Cub October 1, 2012 at 10:10 am #

    I just discovered this site and I LOVE it. All these stories bring back great childhood memories. I was a free-range kid in the 80s. XD I am also transgendered…I am now male on the outside, not just the inside, but then I was a girl “tomboy.”

    One thing I remember was when I was thirteen in 1990 and starting my freshman year in high school. We were living in a motel for a while because we were having some money issues. There was this old dude named Al (which amuses me because that’s one of my nicknames now lol) who had an old school bus that he had painted blue and tricked out like an RV. It was freaking awesome! He kept it parked in the gravel lot next to the motel intended for semis. (A lot of truckers used the motel.)

    Anyway, he had a gorgeous rottweiler dog, and he looked like an old biker. He had a CB and had even been in prison for drug dealing. He even kept wallet sized versions of his prison pics in his wallet. LOL I just went up and started talking to him. Visited him almost every day. He had the coolest story. And I wasn’t afraid of him, either, even when he tried to be intimidating. My mom told me that tickled the heck out of him. XD Al is one of my favorite childhood memories. And not many mom’s would let a 13 year old girl spend all that time with an old ex-con lol. It would be a shame if I had been deprived of that awesome experience.

    To this day, I would recognize his laugh, if I were to hear it. But I imagine he’s passed on by now…somewhere in Vegas with his blue bus.

  64. Jesse October 6, 2012 at 10:36 pm #

    When I was about 10 years old I took a ferry across the Bay of Fundy to New Brunswick. On that ferry ride I met a wonderful couple, and we talked. I shared some poems I had written and we talked about books. A few weeks later, after we returned home. I recieved a package from the wonderful couple. They had sent me some new books. I guess I had given them my address.
    Even now, with my own son, I never tell him not to talk to strangers. And he gets into amazing conversation with people. Though we can’t all understand his words.

  65. JP November 11, 2012 at 5:54 pm #

    mama2aidan –

    Your story made me laugh out loud. Your daughter’s answer was perfect.
    When kids become talkers like that, they’re opening up to the social world around them. That kind of engagement breeds no end of confidence.

    I was a shy kid – never really got the hang of positive interaction and conversation with an adult. That was nothing to do with stranger danger – just my own personal take.

    Older people often have a particular perspective on life, and the way they remember and value childhood is often a wholesome thing for children to experience.

    Great story, “Al”.
    Life’s most meaningful memories don’t always come packaged in Disneyfied vidclips and soundbytes. You never know just what turns up inside dubious packages….could just be something precious.
    There’s another blue bus out there, somewhere…

  66. JP November 11, 2012 at 5:58 pm #

    and on the same note:
    As an “older” gent myself now (and eternally waiting for #1 son to do his duty and provide some grandchildren) in the meantime – I practise on kids every chance I get (which isn’t near enough) a little trick I used to use on my own: (requires humor.)
    – giggle fits.
    It’s a lovely sound, it is.
    And when I hear it – well then, I know they’re all right.


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