Let's Reminisce: Passing on basic skills between generations
By Jerry Lincecum
Nov 10, 2017
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In more than 25 years of encouraging senior citizens to write their memoirs, the argument I have used most often is this: “The world has changed so much in my lifetime and yours that our grandchildren will have great difficulty understanding the world we grew up in.”  From time to time I read something in the newspaper that gives new meaning to that argument.  Let me illustrate.

I have three grandchildren, all of whom were born in the decade of the 1990s, which means they are considered “millennials,” as opposed to my being a member of the “baby boom” generation and my children belonging to “generation x.”  My point is that the conditions and patterns of everyday life have changed so radically that basic skills which my generation took for granted are unknown to my grandchildren.


My latest discovery about this came in a news article in The Wall Street Journal, with the headline reading “America’s Retailers Have a New Target Customer: The 26-Year-Old Millennial.”  The lead sentence states: “The Scotts Miracle-Gro Co. has started offering gardening lessons for young homeowners that cover basic tips—really, really basic—like making sure sunlight can reach plants.”  It goes on to say that 15 or 20 years ago these basic ideas would not have needed to be mentioned, but the millennials have grown up without ever putting their hands in the dirt growing a vegetable garden in mom and dad’s backyard.  That’s when I began thinking in detail about some of the contrasts between my growing up experience and that of my children and grandchildren.


The article goes on to develop the idea that in order to lure the 26-year-old millennial customer, businesses must offer educational programs.  These young people didn’t spend much time helping mom and dad out with the yardwork or doing household chores, so they need to learn some very basic skills, such as how to mow the lawn, pick a paint color, or even mop the floor.


On the farm where I grew up we had a small barn and a cowlot for the milkcow.  There were a few fruit tree plus a number of pecan trees and a large vegetable garden of about two acres.  As a child I helped raise vegetables in that garden and harvest fruit from those trees.  In the spring my brother and I picked blackberries from the ditches of the public road near our house.  I learned to milk the cow and drive the farm tractor to aid my father in raising cash crops of cotton, corn, and melons.  Raising hogs and taking care of beef cattle were everyday jobs on our farm.  My parents taught me a lot of basic skills.


My children grew up in town, but they learned the basic skills needed to take care of a lawn and keep a household running.  Although they were more involved in after-school activities than I had been, they also worked part-time as soon as they were old enough and that taught them additional skills.  But their repertoire of basic skills was far less than mine had been at their age.


I know less about the daily schedules of my grandchildren, but I am aware that they are involved in more activities and have less time to engage in learning or practicing the kind of basic skills that were routine in my generation.  I can see the possibility that my grandchildren might need some of the training sessions for millennials mentioned in the WSJ article.


Early indications are that my great-grandchildren will grow up in a world  defined by artificial intelligence and self-driving cars.


Jerry Lincecum is a retired Austin College professor who now teaches older adults to write their autobiographies and family histories.  Email him at