Open Letter To Western New Yorkers Who “Don’t Have Time” For Elders
Do you have a big to-do list today? Are you overwhelmed with the amount of things you have to do? Unsure if you will get all of your tasks done before the day is up?
Well, try not to worry and slow down your hurry. Every person you see, whether it be at Wegmans on your grocery run or someone taking a typical touristy photo by Niagara Falls — they are all busy and have things to do.
And of course, you are busy too.
But when you happen to run into someone that is willing to share their story with you from a timeline you can only read about, take the time to listen — even if it throws off your day or makes you late to work, because it will be worth it and you could learn something that you otherwise would have never known.
Talk to people that are older than you. Learn their stories so you can continue to share them, even if you only see that person once. Those extra five minutes standing at the Exit at Wegmans or, in my case, at the Eastern Hills Mall will be worth it.
I met Dave Olkowski on a Sunday afternoon when he was volunteering for a nonprofit organization called Smile Mail Inc. in the Eastern Hills Mall. He is a Vietnam War Veteran, someone who has already given back to the community and our country through his time in the service, yet he was out early on a Sunday morning to volunteer at Smile Mail Inc.
I had never spoken to Dave before, but when I saw him sitting down in the front of the nonprofit organization, surrounded by smiles and beaming one of his own and wearing the Vietnam War Veteran hat, I just had to talk to him and hear whatever part of his story that he would share with me.
He told me about how he served our country in the Vietnam War back in 1969-1970. Dave would call his then-girlfriend (now-wife) in Buffalo from Vietnam through AM radiowaves that would sometimes ping a California radio tower and travel to New York from there. He would have to talk to her like, “Hi honey, how are you? Over.” And she would respond with “I’m good, how are you? Over.”
Of course the people monitoring the radio station could hear the conversation, and you would only get about a few minutes to talk at a time. Dave Olkowski told me how the frequency would have a better connection in Vietnam at night, which would be morning here in Buffalo.
A three-minute conversation in 1969 in this type of international phone communication would cost about $12. According to the Inflation Calculator, that would be approximately $92.77 today.
It wasn’t cheap to stay in touch with your loved ones while serving your country. Olkwoski told me that he hasn’t been back to Vietnam since 1970 when he flew back to the Buffalo-Niagara airport after sustaining an injury. He said he didn’t receive treatment until he landed in Buffalo, which is about a 24 hour flight.
I think what touched me the most about my too-brief conversation with Dave Olkowski is that he wanted to go back to Vietnam. I asked him, “Really? You would go back now?” And he told me he would, even if it were for only two hours, because he wanted to go see if Vietnam was better than when he left it.
I wish I had a pen and paper when I ran into Dave Olkowski, who was so selflessly volunteering at a local non-profit on his Sunday. I wish there was more I could have learned from him in the half hour we stood talking.
But it made me think – how many people would have stayed an extra 30 minutes? Or even an extra five minutes?
Life goes by quick…way too quick. And you may feel like you’re constantly on the go that you forget to talk to your elders and hear their stories and just tell them “Thank you for everything,” but here is your reminder to reach out to them and take your time.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to call my grandma.