Senior to senior

Halle Newman

The BHS Register caught up with a few senior citizens in the Burlington community to collect wisdom that comes with years of life experience. Senior citizens were asked what advice they would give to high school students, especially those planning to graduate next year and enter the adult world.

Lloyd Sumner, a 99 year-old resident of Ethan Allen Residence, a local assisted living facility for senior citizens, advised that high schoolers get a broad perspective on life.

Lloyd Sumner, age 99, waits for dinner at Ethan Allen Residence

“You’ve got to know a little bit of everything,” Sumner said.

Sumner spent his life working many different jobs all over the country. He worked in hospitals, and in the South Pacific, which was his favorite place of all. Sumner grew up in Bristol, Vermont, but has not been back to his hometown since the 1930s.

“Never get a job,” Peter Carney, a 66 year-old churchgoer,  said through a thick Irish accent. This prompted a laugh from Barbara Grant, 81, who sat next to him in the lobby area of the First Congregational Church of Burlington.

Mary Western, a resident at Ethan Allen Residence, says that high schoolers should focus on the present.

“Get educated,” Western said. “It’s a hard job.”

Western attended nursing school at the Presbyterian Hospital in New York City, and worked as a nurse in Middlebury, Vermont. When living in Middlebury, Western and her husband struggled financially. To combat their predicament, the couple sold sandwiches to college students, and made money doing so.

“Get your education,” Sumner said with a grin. “It’s about the only thing you can do.”

Unlike Western, Sumner did not receive an extended formal education.

Ellen Eberhardt, another resident and a lover of cat commercials, says that high schoolers should educate themselves using the people around them.

“Listen to everyone before you form your own mind,” Eberhard said. “Have a good average.”

“Don’t believe everything you think,” Carney said, receiving a knowing smile from Grant. This piece of advice is very dear to him, given by a close friend.

Dotty, resident at Ethan Allen Residence, didn’t bring up any wisdom to impart unto high schoolers, but her spunky attitude demonstrated an eternal sense of humor that could brighten up any room.

When asked if she wanted anything to drink, Dotty was quickly told that she couldn’t have a gin and tonic.

“It sucks!” Dotty said, sitting down in her chair, looking frustrated.

Dotty and her friend, Jeanette, enjoy watching the happenings of North Avenue through a window in the Residence’s living room that looks out onto the street. Sometimes, the simplest of joys can be found watching the different colors of cars zoom by, or commenting on people who walked past with children in their strollers.

“Everything is electronic now,” Sumner said. “Your memory things are all electronic. I figure they’d erase themselves!”

Dotty and Jeanette both seemed very interested in technology, and both picked up my phone and told stories about their encounters with modern technology.

Aside from her love for cats, Eberhardt loves to be around people. She has gained a lot of insight on how to interact with others through years of experience.

“It may be a little too different for you, but I always took pride in [being] an extrovert. I always wanted to come across as kind, thinking of [others’] feelings. But as I got older, I think I’d rather get right to the point. I don’t play games anymore.”

Eberhardt recommends kind bluntness.

“I’d rather say, and have them say, what they feel,” Eberhard said. “You’ve got to do it nicely.”

“Love people,” Western said as her last piece of advice, a skill she found most useful when nursing.

Western sees this virtue being applied to any life situation.

“Sing and dance!” Grant said with a smile.

Sumner encourages students to broaden their options, and live the fullest life they can.

“Why waste time?” Eberhardt said, as she leaned back in her armchair, smiling.