One of the best-kept secrets that someone should tell us when we’re still young is that we only get old on the outside. Sometimes it’s a shock when we pass a mirror.

And the old societal norms, like those of the Chinese and Native Americans, where they honored their elders, might not harm society that much if brought back.

Years ago, when I was editor of the Home & Family Page, I wrote a series of profiles on local elders. I didn’t particularly choose people whose names were familiar to most. The criteria were “elderly.” I had observed over the years of my travels that many people who never became household names, weren’t celebrated as leaders of society, etc, nevertheless could surprise you with the stories of their adventures, knowledge, talents and activities over their long years. And often, those whose names were recognized but who were not known except as an old eccentric or other dismissive personality trait that appeared in their last years.

But often, beneath the white hair, or none at all, and a face like an apple-doll (some of you will remember what that is) may hide a repository of experience, wisdom, talent and knowledge that could be handed down to the new generations. Indeed, they might even be able to tell younger generations how to avoid certain pitfalls instead of having to learn them through learning the hard way.

In the ’60s, when I lived in the Berkshires in western Massachusetts, there was a wonderful old hermit who lived out in the woods off Lake Onota. With his long, white hair tied at the back of his neck, his scraggly beard hanging down his chest and ragged clothes, including his World War II-era knee-length wool swimming trunks riddled with moth holes, he was recognized by sight, but seldom given so much as a nod, just derisive glances.

He was called “O Be Joyful” for his demeanor in his few interactions with people. He often strolled out of the woods and down across the road to the lake for a swim — and a bath. Tall and straight, though frail — and in his famous wool trunks — he was accompanied by his two German shepherds. They made quite a sight. The shepherds went into the water with him when he swam. They circled him the entire time. He couldn’t have drowned had he wanted to.

In his last years, when the cold weather started, he would come into town and stay winters at the YMCA. He still walked barefoot. One time, when I was downtown with my first son, about a year and a half at the time, in his stroller and barefoot, O. B. Joyful stopped, looked at my son, and, smiling, said to me: “It’s wonderful you let him be barefoot when he can. Shoes are not good for the feet.”

Thereafter, whenever I encountered him downtown or at the lake, I got a big smile and we exchanged a few words. He was a delightful person.

In his last years, people started buying and building close to him, encroaching ever further on his privacy. They took great offense when they would occasionally see him walk around his house in the sun stark naked. They complained and got up an order that resulted in his being put into a nursing home.

No one had bothered to get to know him. Had they, they might have wondered about the visitors who often made their way to his little cabin. There were scientists from around the country who would make their way to his little forest home, come to consult with him, and pluck his knowledge from when he had been a highly respected scientist at General Electric, then one of the biggest outfits in the country.

He had retreated to the woods after losing his wife and child decades before and preferred that life thereafter. “Society” would do well to follow the admonition in Matthew 7:1-5 “Do not judge lest you be judged…”

And so he was sent off to a nursing home. He died two weeks later. And his name was O. B. Tyler, engineer.

Marion Tucker-Honeycutt, an award-winning columnist, a Maine native and graduate of Belfast schools, now lives in Morrill. Her columns appear in this paper every other week.

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