Asking and listening…

Dana Telford
Dana Telford

I visited my mother in law last Tuesday. Before I left to drive home, she insisted that I take a sack full of “windfall apples” back to my wife and kids. “Windfall apples?” I thought to myself as we began picking red apples off the lawn. “I’ve never seen Windfall apples in the grocery store. Fuji and Gala and Macintosh and Granny I recognize, but Windfall apples? Are they grown in Chicago or on a windswept tropical island somewhere? She must be confused.”

Had I stopped there, and gone on assuming that I knew more about apples than this mother of 7, grandmother of 18, I would have missed a valuable lesson. She was describing the way the apples had been harvested, not the brand.

I asked her, “What are they called? Windfall apples?” She said, “Yes, they are the ones knocked out of the trees by the wind. My dad used to call them that, so I do as well.”

A light bulb went off in my head – windfall. Like in Monopoly. A windfall is defined as a “sudden unexpected gain or piece of fortune.” I’ve played Monopoly for decades with my siblings, friends and now children, and have never understood the meaning of that word.

Too often in life we forget to ask family members what they know and how they know it and what they believe and why. By listening to their reasons for doing certain things in a certain ways, we can discover, not only more about them, but also more about ourselves. Why does mom put the paper towels on the roll one way versus the other? Why does granddad add water to the pancake batter? Why does Uncle Steve say “a quick nickel is better than a fast dime”?

There are usually very good reasons why people believe what they believe and behave the way they behave. But if we never ask, we’ll never learn. We can gain so much from each other, regardless of age or gender or role in the family. And learning will ultimately help us avoid some of the pitfalls that others have experienced and shape our views of the world and how we want to experience life. It is not uncommon for adult children to take their experiences from younger years and find ways to improve on them. Watching parents struggle with financial challenges, for instance, and living paycheck to paycheck can cause a young adult to focus on discovering ways to ease those challenges in her own future.

Improving our ability to ask “why do you do this or believe that” and listening carefully to the answer will provide greater benefit than simply observing and either dismissing or mimicking behaviors. This is a habit we can begin to instill into future generations. And when one of our children or grandchildren ask us why we ask so many questions and listen so intently to the answer, we’ll know we’ve reached our goal.

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