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.”