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Grandma Ellen


A Letter by Grandma Ellen to Hella, Germany

Dear Hella,

During our frequent Germany-U.S., U.S.-Germany ‘phone conversations’, you and I frequently discuss the roles we and our friends play in our children’s lives.  Well, just imagine!    Now we have an opportunity to write about this for our German and English readers for the January 2009 issue of International Family Magazine, an ezine at

The official theme of this month’s issue is “The Aging As A Natural Resource”.  My dictionary defines “natural resources” as  “the wealth of the country”.  And given the roles we play, perhaps you and I, and other seniors around the world do in fact qualify as part of our countries’ wealth.  

When I got married at age 19, my relationship to my parents as a child virtually stopped.  I didn’t call my mother up and complain because I never saw my husband during our first year of marriage, which was also his junior year in medical school.  My mother was not a role model for me because she didn’t work after she got married.  And I ALWAYS worked, both before and after my children were born.  She couldn’t act as an advisor to me on how to manage MY life because hers was so much more circumscribed than mine.  She was born and died in St, Louis, MO and lived her whole life there.  Within the first six years of my married life, I lived in four different cities in two different countries.  And my parents certainly did not help support my family.

But these days, the aging parents of children in the developed world CAN truly be described as a natural resource.  We give sage advice (when asked) to our offspring; act as sounding boards for our children’s complaints ad nauseum – about spouses; about life in general; about the unfriendly people in the cities in which they live; about difficulties with their children.  And the only reason they don’t complain to us about money is that we are very generous with it.  Piano lessons; dancing lessons; riding lessons; summer camp;  private school tuition – we pay for all or part of these.  Those of us who are lucky enough to live near children volunteer at their schools.  And those of us who live farther away travel to fill in for parents when the parents travel. 

When our children don’t need us, we aging seniors, those of us who are retired, offer our services to the communities in which we live.  We serve on decision-making boards and do hands-on volunteering, as well, putting to good use all of our skills and smarts learned over a lifetime.  Retired executives in the USA volunteer with SCORE, an organization that pairs corporate retirees with young folks needing business acumen.  I serve on panels hearing cases against lawyers; co-chair a lecture series on the nation’s “hot” topics; chair a subcommittee for a women’s grant-making organization; and, in my spare time, wrap books at Borders for a favorite charity.

And, now, in addition, I see to all the legal, financial and health affairs of an older sister.  Once, years ago, we took our son, Marc, to see Charlie Chaplin in “Modern Times”.  One scene in the movie showed him accidentally sending a clock through an industrial-strength ironing device.  The clock came out flat as a pancake, and Marc said, “Now that’s what I call real permanent press”.  Well, with my sister’s stuff, I now have “permanent stress”.  

But I know that my mother would have done the same if called upon.  Because, in the end, her gift to me was to lead her life with utter integrity and to instill in me, her youngest child, a sense that helping others and contributing to the good of the world is what makes life worthwhile.  

And becoming a “natural resource” as she aged is what she did.  And now as I grow older, it is what I do.

Grandma Ellen and Granddaughter Madelaine Ellen Baron is a wife, mother and grandmother who has had three distinctive careers:
1) as an editor at an educational laboratory;
2) as a businesswoman who ran a private-label group at Black & Decker, and then served as Director of Marketing for a consumer electronics start-up company; and
3) as an academic administrator who was director of a post-baccalaureate business program.

Her 'Just Jobs' (as opposed to "Careers") included piano teacher and French tutor (her undergraduate degree from Washington University in St. Louis having been in French).

Now retired from both careers and jobs, Ellen serves on the Maryland State Attorney Grievance Commission, as well as the Boards of several non-profits. She has lived in England, Switzerland and Germany, as well as St. Louis, Boston, a suburb of Washington, D.C., and, now, Baltimore, MD.

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