A Folk Tale With an Important Message

This is a folk tale from the Lettish people who lived near the Gulf of Riga perhaps in present day Latvia.  Similar folk tales exist in several other eastern European cultures.

When the world was young, people thought everything should be new. When a man got old and could not do his share of the work the younger people had no use for him.

There was a man with an old father and a young son.  The day came when the old father could no longer work.

The man thought “the old man is useless and I will have to get rid of him.” So he got his son’s sleigh and piled the old man onto it.

“What are you doing with grandfather?” said the little boy.

“I am taking him to the forest.”


“Never mind,” said the father.  Although it was the sensible thing to do he didn’t really like doing it.

“Let me come along too,” begged the little boy.

“Come if you must.”

So the little boy hopped along through the snow trying to keep up with the long strides of his father.

Eventually they came to the forest.  The man dropped the rope to the sleigh and turned to go home.  It seemed a hard thing to do, but it was the custom – and who was brave enough to go against the custom.

The little boy tugged on his father’s coat.  “You mustn’t leave grandfather in the forest – he will surely die.”

“He is too old to work and it’s the sensible thing to do,” said the man, and he began marching home.  The little boy ran after him and again pulled on his coat.

“What’s the matter now?” said the father

“Father you can’t leave my sleigh there.”

“Why not?” asked the father.

“Because when you are old and worn out I will need the sleigh to carry you into the forest to die.”

The father thought “perhaps this isn’t such a sensible idea after all. When I get old my son will do to me what I have done to his grandfather.”  And this thought displeased him!

He turned to his son and said “you’re right and I am wrong.  Let’s fetch grandfather and take him home.”

And so they did.  They didn’t let any of the neighbours know – it was going against the custom.  They hid him and secretly took him food and drink.

Not long after there was a famine in the land, and for 7 years the crops failed.  The old and frail were taken off to the forest and the food being taken to grandfather got smaller and smaller, but he said nothing.  The famine was terrible.  People ate all their food supplies down to the grain so that there would be no seed to plant the next season.  If there had been any old people alive they could have ask them what to do, but the wisdom of the old had died with them.

Finally the father took grandfather one small piece of bread and told him that there was no more grain to make flour or grain to plant.

Grandfather said, “ you have roofs of wheat thatch.  Take off half of the roof and re-thresh it.  You will get enough grain to feed yourselves.  Take off the other half of the roof thatch and re-thresh it and you will get enough grain to plant for next season’s crops.”

The father did this and got flour and seed for the next season.

“How did you know what to do?” asked his neighbours.

“I got good advice from my old father.”

“How can that be?  You have no father.”

“O yes I have,” and he brought the old man out of hiding.

After that no one thought of getting rid of the old.  They were respected for their wisdom which the old kept just as the thatch kept the seeds.

We have to be careful never to bury the wisdom of our ancestors with them.  We need to gather, preserve, and tell their stories.

Source:  notes from a talk by Bradley Foster at RootsTech 2013

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