I learned about a fascinating and notoriously lethal form of military service from a true authority, Roland "Bobo" Richardson, who had served as a pilot in World War I.
I heard him tell about safely landing a crippled biplane "with all the gliding capacity of a brick." He told this story modestly and only because he'd been asked. So I also got a lesson in grace.
As a bonus, he was a master handyman, the patient, generous kind who didn't mind sharing his expertise and time. I saw him fire up a chain saw when he was well into his 70s and drop a towering, dead pine tree in a neighbor's narrow back yard.
Despite his dangerous pursuits, Richardson reached a very old age, old enough to deliver a quote about outlasting friends and family that still breaks my heart.
"Sandy," he said, after my father had asked him how he was doing. "I've lived too damn long, and I don't know what to do about it."
I witnessed 19th century imperialism through the eyes of Julia Clarke, the widow of an Episcopal priest, who actually had been born into 19th century imperialism.
Well into the Reagan administration, she was still furious about former President Woodrow Wilson's pro-autonomy stance on the Philippines — and that it had cost her diplomat father a plum job in Manila.
I also learned from my mother's friendship with Mrs. Clarke — my mom's appreciation of her spirit and intelligence — that you can care for people whose politics you despise.
Every time I line up for a long putt, I recall the advice of an older fellow with whom I happened to be paired when I was a kid learning how to play golf. Just picture the hole as a washtub, he told me.
When I rake leaves, I think about my first job, working as a lawn boy for an elderly man, another WWI veteran. And I think about the pride of getting my first check along with a note that said, "You're a good rake!"
How did I get access to all this enrichment, all these life lessons?
These people were my neighbors. It just happened.
If the young benefit from mixing with the old, the reverse is true, too. That's one theme of the Oscar-nominated 2012 documentary Kings Point, about an age-restricted community in South Florida.
Its residents initially are happy to enjoy sun and leisure with people their age and from similar backgrounds. As they age, they are too worried about their own survival to care much about their neighbors'. It seems cutthroat. Residents miss their families and roots.
"When you moved to Florida you made acquaintances, but not friend friends," one resident said. "They're just not here anymore."
I bring this up because homeowners in Brookridge voted last month to become a 55-and-older community.
They are hardly unusual, either in the state or in Hernando County, where there are 11 other age-restricted communities.
I understand the urge, after a lifetime of raising kids, to want a break from them. Plenty of people in Brookridge work or volunteer in the larger community and care about it. And even if they don't, that's their right.
But I agree with the Brookridge resident who said that he considers the new policy segregation, period.
It might seem harmless, but it isn't. Segregation never is.