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On My Grandfather's 100th Birthday

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

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21 comments to On My Grandfather’s 100th Birthday

  • Leslie

    What a heartwarming and hope-filled story! Slightly more than half way to your grandfather’s age, I grow more curious daily about why some people can weather all the challenges of aging and others can’t. I believe that every time we read or hear a positive story about aging well and staying active the paradigm shifts a just a bit.


  • So much of what you wrote struck a cord. Granny turns 100 this summer. This year, her 99th, she has broken both legs….three months apart, and yet gets around with a walker and is adamant she will only use a cane by the time she’s through with PT. It’s amazing their determination. She’s living with both hearing loss and macular degeneration but keeps going, keeps following the sports games on TV, and keeps telling us to enunciate better. ;) Such a blessing to still have her, but fully aware that she’s also been willing to “go” for several years…..she just keeps going! ;) Enjoy your grandpa—what a honor and blessing to know such a remarkable man!

    • Simply Authentic, Wow – your granny sounds equally full of life and will to live on! That’s great. The first time my grandfather was ever admitted to the hospital was about 3 years ago. It’s just amazing. You are equally blessed it seems – sending love to your grandmother.

  • What an encouraging article! My grandparents died young, except for my paternal grandmother who died at 94, in full possession of her wits and as kind and cheerful as she had always been. My fondest memory of her was going to the library with her as a child every Saturday afternoon after sports. Your grandfather’s story is an inspiration for all of us to aspire to. He seems to be a wonderful man. I am now at that age where, in a few years, grandchildren could appear. And I would like to be viewed by them over time the way you view him.

    PS: thank you for the household cleaning and personal grooming recipes. We had been cleaning with vinegar, but you’ve expanded our range of safe, green cleaning products; we’re trying them all!

    Sustainable Living Blog
    http://www.gerritbotha .com

    • Gerrit, You’re so welcome for the recipes – I will continue to post more. I’m glad they have helped you!!

      My grandfather is truly wonderful. I think of him as a dear friend – who accepts me for who I am, and enjoys learning about me as much as I enjoy learning about him. I think that is the key to any good relationship, eh? :) I’m sure you’ll be an absolutely wonderful grandparent when the time comes!

  • What a wonderful story, thank you for sharing. I’m reading a book called “Life Is So Good” by: George Dawson, a 101 grandson of a freed slave who at 98 enrolled in a literacy program and learned to read. I’ve been very interested in learning about the secret to a long and vibrant life (I read you post in anticipation of your grandfather’s answer) and it seems to be happiness and not letting things get to you, low stress.

    Happy birthday to your grandfather.

  • Sarah

    What a beautiful tribute! He is an inspiration.

  • Oooh – sorry about all the typos everyone. Fixed now. :)

  • Wow! I have been following your blog for sometime now and I really enjoy it! It remains one of the few blogs I follow regularly for inspiration and information! I am especially touched by your sincerity and honestly in what you write. I had a grandfather who I absolutely adored who was very much like your grandfather. Reading your entry today really tugged at my heart as my grandfather has been gone now for nearly 30 years and I still miss his kind, gentle giving heart. As I grow older (I am 54 now), I am observing more closely the aging process and see the vast difference in how some people age versus others. My parents who are 87 and 88 have aged about as poorly as two people can possibly age. They are physically and emotionally restricted. I have been their out-patient caregiver for more than twenty years defining the new “sandwich generation” where we are raising our own children and taking care of our parents who are now becoming “child-like”. It has been a very long hard journey, however, I am grateful that I can look at it from a learning experience standpoint. They are truly innocent victims of the current prescription addiction mentality that our current mainstream medical system advocates where it becomes an out-patient life support system rather than an empowering life enriching program. Managing two decades of numerous downswings of not one, but two poorly aging adults has taken its toll in so many areas of mine and my siblings lives. In retrospect I really should have been blogging about it because I have many many stories (none of them good) to share about the aging process. I have seen more than any one person ever should. The reason I am telling you all this is to reinforce your appreciation for how lucky you are to be around someone who is aging so beautifully, who is still engaged mentally and who still has so much to give! This is very rare! There are a lot of people like myself who would give anything to have a parent, let alone a grandparent like that in their lives!!!! I was very lucky to have had the grandparent (like yours) that I did have. I am who I am because of his example of how he lived his life! I want to come to your grandfather’s 101st birthday! Keep blogging….. you have such a gift for writing!!

    • Carol, thank you so much for your kind words about my writing – it’s really wonderful to have such positive reinforcement!

      I’ve never heard the term “sandwich generation” but it makes complete sense to me – what a difficult journey. Thank you for sharing it.

      I, too, have been caught up in the prescription drug mentality and am slowly starting to come out of it. Prescription drugs certainly have their place and can be life-saving, but I’m just starting to understand the importance of a more holistic viewpoint to health. It has already made such a difference form me!

      Keep commenting when you can – it’s lovely to hear from you. :)

  • Pam

    How blessed you are to have such a wonderful man to learn from!

  • Hi, what a wonderful story. As a septuagenerian (I am dragged unwillingly into that category, but it’s true, I am 75, going to be 76 in three months and it is so encouraging to read about your grandparents. It is all in attitude, I swear, and faith. Because of this great story and more to look forward to, I am going to sub to your blog. Been looking through a lot of them and starting one of my own — God bless you for your kindly appreciation of them and both 100 years old – My Goodness, that IS an achievement!

    • Sharon, welcome – I’m so glad (and honored) to hear you’ve subscribed! Congratulations for starting your own blog and telling your story. I’m wishing you many many years of writing and thriving!!

  • What a wonderfully touching post. It certainly makes me think about my own life and appreciation for my (relative) youth, but it also makes me think about spending more time with my grandparents who are still alive.

  • I really enjoyed this post, thanks! I think that the current generation of the elderly are pretty incredible – the world changed faster in the 20th century then ever before (and maybe again), so the changes they lived through are pretty mind blowing to consider.

  • Wow! What a beautiful story! Note to self: Whine less and love more.

  • Annette Eastham

    Just found you page when googling for some ideas to help my Mom with a book of some kind for my Grandparents 100 birthday. They will turn 100 on May 31 and June 1. So we are putting together a “little: party for them. Fun to read your blog, they sound like a wonderful, loving couple.

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