One of the reasons we moved back to Seattle was to spend time with my grandfather. He’s a remarkable man, having lived through the entire 20th century. Amazing the changes he’s viewed during his lifetime. He has watched the local trolleys and trains be built, be torn down, and finally be built again. He has witnessed the advent of the radio, the car, the television, the computer….
Last night he was curious about my iPhone, “What do you call it? eye-phone??”
We spent about an hour looking at different apps, the internet, and all the information – and socializing – now available at your fingertips. He was awestruck, but surprisingly un-phased.
While he marveled, he also pondered. How has this changed society? What do kids do in school – do they use these during classes? Can they cheat this way? And what is it like now that you don’t have to spend so long researching and learning?
He was delighted to see the newspaper article about him (from the front page of the Seattle Times the other day) – he beamed as he showed Marion their picture. Almost like a child on Christmas, he smiled, “What else can it find out?”
We learned there are 455,000 centenarians in the world, 70,490 in the US. But we couldn’t find how many centenarian couples there are. We all guessed far fewer (maybe not even enough to measure?).
When we finally finished gawking at the iPhone and the internet, and he had the proper phraseology to slip it into conversation with his buddies tomorrow, we chatted about some other interesting things.
My grandfather’s wife – who he married when he was 87 years old – was a spitfire when they married. “Smart as a whip” he says. She had the most beautiful blue eyes – piercing. She was adventurous and spunky.
Over the years she has slowly endured macular degeneration, severe hearing loss, and Alzheimer’s. My grandfather told me something last night that I’ve never heard him utter before. I always felt bad for him. While his mind and eyesight are pretty near perfect still, his conversations with Marion are simple and I swear there is a bit of loneliness I sense from him at times. He longs for conversation when he sees me.
But he told me it has been an extremely interesting journey. He has learned a lot from being with her, watching the changes someone you know so well go through as she loses her sense of sight and hearing. It’s a pretty large amount of sensory deprivation.
It sounds morbid writing it, but that’s not what he was saying at all. He marveled. I got the sense that it actually kept his own brain active and learning, as he adapted and changed his interactions and lifestyle to help her.
She is doing much, much better than others in the retirement community who have similar diseases. She is more aware, smiles and laughs more, is much more active, and still enjoys life. I told him, “you know that’s largely because of you, right?” He stopped talking for a moment, let that sink in, and then beamed again.
What a fabulous man. This month he is being honored by the Kiwanis Club for being the oldest member, by the fire department for his service during the Depression, by the retirement community for being the oldest couple, and by the local paper for just living to be 100 years old.
Nothing stops him. I wonder sometimes how much that has to do with growing up during the Depression and having to survive no matter what. Two full-time jobs during the Depression, then job to job and career to career as he grew as a man and desired to learn more… He was a fireman, a banker, worked at a grocery store, owned a hardware store, and had several other careers… And that’s just for work. He also was very active in the Millionnaire’s Club, the Kiwanis Club, a camp for disabled children, and many other charities over the years.
He still does his own accounting. He has made 2 wives very happy in their old age. He brings light to the retirement community announcing baseball scores at breakfast and being an active member of different groups. He attends all the family gatherings he can (my extended family has a multitude of birthday parties, weddings, and other celebrations). He rides out illnesses and comes out almost better on the other side – bronchitis cracks a rib, and he complains less and recovers faster than I probably would!
What is his secret? Well, take your pick. In the past he’s told me it was that he was always happy with what he was doing. Last night, he said it was “because of her.”
Singing Happy Birthday to Each Other
Amazing isn’t it? Both my grandfather and his second wife turned 99 this February. It is just incredible to think about how much has changed in our world since 1911. The number of changes he has seen in his lifetime, the fads, the technology, the friendships and the family members! It puts life in a bit of perspective when you think about it spanning over 99 years.
We had a wonderful feast together, the 30 of us, from four generations. I just wanted to share a bit of it with you today. The little tyke in the back, toward the center (just above my grandfather) is my grandfather’s great great grandson. WOW, right?
You can do a great deal with your life. Little moments of despair really don’t often matter in the scheme of things. Life is bigger, longer, and more powerful. To think of how many people he has affected in big and small ways during his lifetime…it’s incredible.
Live long, be healthy, do what you want to do, and do it well. Live life to its fullest.
I wrote this a couple of years ago, when my grandfather was in the hospital for the very first time, and he and I spent quite a bit of time together.
My grandfather running a grocery store, a few years before he opened his own hardware store.
My grandfather owned a hardware store for several years. He built it literally from the ground up, building and all, and took it to great success. His brilliant idea was to make a self-serve hardware store, where people could peruse the aisles and pick out what they wanted. It’s standard now, but that was unheard of at the time.
His hardware store was very successful for about six years, until the idea caught on and bigger national stores moved in near his store. Quickly recognizing that he couldn’t keep up with “price gouging” of the big chains, my grandfather moved his store to a small nearby town that didn’t yet have a hardware store. That town still had gravel streets and only a few businesses. If any of you are familiar with the Seattle area, that small town was Bellevue.
So my grandfather sold his hardware store within a year of moving it, and stayed on for a year to help the new owner learn how to run the business. And then, as my grandfather says, “there’s always something new, always someone willing to give me money to feed my family.” He moved on to build a Savings and Loan literally from the ground up, and eventually expanded it to several regional franchises. Several years later he recognized that he had ridden that train as far as it could go, and moved on again. I mentioned earlier that that was in the late 70s, which was just a few years before the S & L scandals of the 80s that brought that industry to its knees. But now I’m just bragging about my grandfather’s good business instincts!
Today he and I lamented at how few mom and pop stores remain in our consumerist world. When he ran that hardware store, my grandfather loved helping people build their houses, and he worked hard to cater his store to his customers’ needs. Sure it was a business, but he also considered it a personal, community service.
I believe the disconnect between the past system of personal service and the current system of corporate greed is a part of why seniors have such difficulty navigating the world today. Just opening the mail is difficult, as so much junk mail looks like an official document (sometimes “official document” is even stamped on the front). When seniors learned to navigate through the world sixty or eighty years ago, “official document” meant something. Service truly had the individual’s best interest at heart.
I currently live in a town with a couple of mom and pop stores left. And some of those stores do still have an individual’s best interest at heart. But those stores are still slipping away into nothingness due to “price gouging”, as my grandfather calls it. By supporting the large international chains to save a bit of cash, we are paying the price in other ways: we’re losing those individual interactions between community members, that special service, the unique items you don’t find in large stores, and the support of our local economies.
So, if you’re going to purchase a Christmas gift or two this season, I encourage you not to fall into a trap of price gouging, and really pay up front what an item is worth. Support a local mom and pop or boutique store to ensure that they stick around and continue to bring uniqueness, income, and service to our communities.
I know several of you are anxious to hear answers to your questions. I apologize – our schedules haven’t synced up easily over the last week, and I haven’t made it to see my grandfather. Totally a bummer, as I miss him and I can’t wait to ask him your questions. But until I can get together with him, I thought you might be interested in some things I have learned from him.
When he was young, my grandfather would go down to the corner of the road with his brother, and they’d wait. Sooner or later they’d hear it: chuck, chuck, clunk, clunk, getting closer…. Ah, there it was – a car!! They’d cheer and whoop about, it was such a novelty. There were several trains that passed by during that time, but the car was the thing.
A couple of months ago a friend of mine took his son down to the corner and they waited, and waited. Sooner or later they heard it: chugga, chugga, clank, clank, getting closer…. Ah, there it was – a train!! They cheered and smiled, it was such a novelty. There were hundreds of cars that passed by during that time, but the train was the thing.
“It’s about time they put the trains back in,” my grandfather said. “I can’t believe they tore out all that track in the first place! What a shame. You know the technology isn’t really any different than it was? It’s just more expensive now.”
Our great grandfathers often had the right answers. Sometimes it seems like we should have spent more time fixing things that needed to be fixed, rather than things that didn’t need fixing.
Today I’m going to be spending the day with my father and grandfather. One of my grandfather’s wishes before he dies is to visit all of the places he has lived and worked over his 98 years. Today we’re going to visit his old Seattle homes together.
Last time I wrote about my grandfather, several people were interested in asking him questions and wanting to know more from someone who has lived a century. So…
Ask Grandpa Joe!
What would you like to know? If you had someone who was 98 in your life, what would you want to ask him? Let me know now!
To give you some context, he is incredibly smart, has traveled the world, he still has a great head for business (he had several careers, including starting up a regional banking system), and he has an incredible green thumb. I’ve written about him quite a bit here – you can learn more about him by perusing those articles.
I will check my emails today (I have to monitor my work emails), so I’ll receive your questions and ask them. Don’t worry about bothering us on our special day. Believe me, he will be touched and happily overwhelmed with your kindness and curiosity.
UPDATE: Since there weren’t many questions until late in the day, I decided to hold off until there were more to ask. So keep asking! I will be seeing my grandfather soon for lunch, and will ask them all at once.
Many of you have been following along as I learn from my grandfather. When I was a young child, he taught me a lot about gardening. During the Depression, he grew food for the family. When he moved to a multi-unit building (in the 60s I think), he petitioned the city to let him garden on a bare patch of land at the end of the street. It was enormous, and he was known as the guy who feeds the whole block. He continued to tend that patch until he moved to a retirement home about 10 years ago.
About a year and a half ago I was talking so much about our garden, and bringing him goodies on occasion, that he got excited and signed up for a garden patch at his community. This spring his name came up on the waiting list, and we planted the garden together.
We planted three tomato plants, which he and Marion have been eating straight from the vine. The tomatoes look beautiful, of course – he has not lost his touch!
Everything we planted is finger-food type veggies: tomatoes, peppers, carrots, radishes, kohlrabi, and broccoli. They eat in the cafeteria almost every meal, so these are nice and healthy snacks to eat between meals.
My grandfather was a bit apprehensive as we began planting in the late Spring. He was afraid he’d forgotten how to garden, and looked to me for much guidance. But as I’ve been sick and moving for the last month, he has been tending the garden on his own. It’s clear he’s really enjoying it – the excuse to get out of the house, the feeling of nurturing with his hands in the soil, the freshness and sweetness of the fruit, and the joy of sharing his harvests with friends.
And we’re already talking about what to plant next year – they’ve extended his patch, so he has more room to garden next year. The possibilities!
There is a lot to do. There is a lot to do in our lives. There is a lot to do at home or at work. There is a lot to do to make the world a better place, and to help make it whole again.
Do you ever feel overwhelmed? I do. The world is a big place. Climate change is a big problem. Rethinking our culture and the way that we do things is… huge.
I came across a wonderful quote yesterday. It was an amazing reminder. A person that changed millions of people’s lives also felt overwhelmed:
“If I look at all the mass, I will never act. If I look at the one, I will.” – Mother Teresa.
One step at a time, one change at a time, one person at a time. We change our lifestyles one action at a time. We improve our communities one meeting at a time. We change the world one person at a time.
When you are changing your lifestyle at home, do you think about a specific reason why? I do. I actually envision a child in India who loses her home to climate change, as the waters rise. I picture a polar bear, alone and adrift on a tiny bit of ice in Antarctica. I think of my best friend’s daughter Simona when she’s my age, rationing the precious little oil we left her generation.
Yesterday my grandfather – who is just 6 months younger than Mother Teresa – said to me: “I hope I live to see the end of this Depression.” He lived through the Great Depression. And it was tough for him, it colored the way he sees the world. Not only did it teach him to survive and become resourceful, but it also allowed him to feel beauty in a way our generation has never felt. He sees beauty in being free from suffering.
But now he feels the suffering of people. He suffers economically himself. And you better believe I think of my grandfather as I work to change our world.
We have two years. In two years my grandfather will live to be 100 years. And he is working hard to stick around until then. So that gives us 2 years to fix the economy, bit by bit. I’m motivated!!
I encourage you to think specifically when you feel overwhelmed. Just do one thing, just start one thing even. You can’t change yourself overnight and you certainly can’t change the world overnight. But you can do something. So do it.
And if it help to motivate you, visualize a specific reason. Your children, a cute animal, a precious piece of land, whatever helps you imagine the affects of your change.
Mother Teresa said so many wise words. But here is another of my favorites:
“Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin.”