My grandmother lives in Southern California. We have always lived far apart, but we knew each other from family visits, holidays, and special occasions. We loved one another as part of the larger context of our family.
After she had cancer, chemo and radiation in her 90’s, my grandmother’s hands don’t work well. So, I went to California to “take care” of her, a job that involved pressing important buttons (coffee maker, dishwasher, microwave), discussing the routines on Dancing With The Stars, and and chatting about birds. We spent a lot of time together. There was time to sit and time to look at old photos and time to ask questions. There was time to really get to know each other.
I asked her about some things I always wondered about her life. What was it like to date when she was young? Answer: there were dances and date cards and sometimes you would kiss. What was it like to go deep-sea fishing? Answer: on the rare chance you caught something, you needed to be strong when the sailfish struggled. Why did she welcome 13 children, babies and foreign exchange students into her home? Answer: because she could.
I interviewed her by the window where she always sits with a romance novel. I recorded our interview and I’m grateful to have a recording of her voice and her laugh. Watching TV that evening, she turned to me and said that she wanted me to include something that she forgot to say in her interview. “I want everyone to know how special this week was together,” she said.
It was special. It really, really was.
WHAT IS IMPORTANT TO YOU?
To be able to be close to my family, my friends. And to just to be able to share happy thoughts and good things with them. There’s so many things.
TELL ME ABOUT A MOMENT IN YOUR LIFE THAT MADE YOU HAPPY?
There are so many moments. Probably my marriage- that I had someone I knew who loved me and I loved him. And, then when I had my children. I suppose the first child that you have is very, very special. And the three children after that were all just a gift to me! I was very lucky that I got to share so much time with my mother. We always lived close so we could be together. And I was able to enjoy her up to her very last days- she lived to be 104 and a half!
TELL ME ABOUT SOMETHING THAT MADE YOU SAD?
At 93, you just lose so many people that you so loved and that were important in your life, and as they slowly drift away, it’s just so sad that you can’t be with them anymore. It’s just what happens when you get to be old.
WHAT DID YOU WANT WHEN YOU WERE YOUNG?
Well, I wanted to be a nurse, but I was able to get a nursing assistance job in my father in law’s office, so that took the place of that. And then being married and having a family and just being a housewife, that was very important to me. And I enjoyed doing all the things that back in those days, a housewife was supposed to do.
WHAT DO YOU WANT NOW?
Well, I feel that God has blessed me- I feel so blessed- that I live where I live, and that I can still read- I love to read- and my children are so wonderful. My children call me almost every day, and they are scattered all over the world. And I have wonderful grandchildren that I am close to, that are good to me. It’s wonderful.
WHAT DO YOU REGRET?
Not asking my mother things before she passed. I would have asked her how long she went with my father before they got married. And where they went on their honeymoon. And she never saw a man naked in her life, and then here she was, on the train to California, across from Iowa or back there someplace, and then she was at the train station and then she went and got married! I never asked her about where they spent their first night together, or if she was scared. She was just out of high school.
WHERE DID YOU LEARN ABOUT THOSE THINGS?
Well, I had worked in a doctors office for 5 years, and I took anatomy. I knew about those things, I suppose I may have seen my dad naked, so I don’t know. But you know, that’s just something that comes natural.
WHY DO YOU THINK YOU ARE DOING SO WELL AT 94?
Well, my family is so good to me! And also, whenever feel like I can complain about the things that I have- my hip is not good and my knee is not good and I have sharp pains and all that. Then, I hear about how terrible some people are, and I feel so bad to think that I can complain about the few things that I have. Because, you know, I’m pretty good for…. Well, the birds, my mother liked birds and of course I was raised on a farm. It would be nice if every young person could live on a farm for a while, because you learn everything: the love the animals, how a garden grows and preserving all the things there are, it’s just great. And they say laughing is good for you, but I talk so much, too! That could be one of the things in my old age that keeps me in younger spirits- visiting with people, well and just speaking to people who are out and about.
WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR MY GENERATION? WHAT THINGS DO YOU WISH WERE DIFFERENT?
Write thank- you notes! Well, those that want to, and I hope many of them do- to achieve a good education, and to do something they really like to do. And of course, I would like them to all get married and have a family! I wish that people would be able to forgive more easily. And just be close with their families. Now, many people don’t regard that as a very important thing.