Celebrating Grandma at 96

This Sunday my grandmother will be 96. She’s outlived her parents, all of her brothers and sisters, her husband, and many of her childhood friends. She’s seen decades of wars and watched California change over the past century. She’s lived in tiny apartments in cities and farms, traveled to nearly every state in the US, and lived to see several of her great grandchildren grow into their teenage years. She beat breast cancer and lived decades more after the fact. She taught school in a one room school house and at a primary school for many years of her life while my grandfather worked as a carpenter building around the town I still call home.

San Fransisco, Mid 1930sWith all of those years behind her, she has plenty of stories to tell. She can still rattle off tales of getting in trouble with her sisters growing up, how she had to stand behind the wood shed when she was bad, or how her favorite cat miraculously found his way to their new home after they moved even though it was several miles away. She’ll talk about going to a neighbors house to borrow books from the public library that was kept in his living room, and of how she would walk down to the store and buy candy for a penny. She loves to tell of the day she and her two best friends in college walked across the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco the day it opened in 1937. She recalls the one black man in town back in the 1920s whom she only remembers as a very friendly gardener – this coming from the northern tip of California’s Coast for those of you who are curious.

One summer somewhere between the end of high school and the end of college I sat down with her and asked her to tell me these stories while I could take notes. Those notes turned into a 58 page biography in her own voice, for which my grandmother insisted on paying me. My mother and I made several copies and distributed them to our respective generations of relatives. I included pictures from her life, her high school graduation program, marriage license from 1941, and the deed to our family ranch when she and my grandfather bought it from her aunt in 1954 (which was unfortunately sold after my grandfather died and before I was old enough to have the fond memories of The Ranch that my cousins all hold).

From this woman, who has my entire life just been known as Grandma, I have learned that it’s okay to be on my own, that reading is a great way to pass the time, and that a day gets better just by going for a walk around the block. I’ve gained an aspiration for travel, and a stubborn streak that my parents will tell you I’ve had since the day I was born. A love of candy and all things sweet, as well as the peculiar notion that it’s impossible to both be good and have fun.

This Sunday, the aunts, uncles, cousins and kin will all gather round for our once annual family gathering. We’ll bring Grandma cards and flowers and she’ll marvel at how big everyone has gotten. She’ll tell a few stories about growing up and repeat a simple question or statement several times without realizing she just said that exact thing two minutes ago to someone else. Grandma has been at peace with the thought of death for many years now, and at this point she’s just watching the days pass on by. She’s fairly independent with her own apartment in a senior living community, and has no major health problems of which to speak. Aside from the part where she’s slowly losing her memory, she’s doing great. At 96, I don’t know that she could do much better.

Looks like I’ve got good genes in my family. Long life and the expanse of many experiences lay before me. I don’t know how I would find enough living to fill 96 years, but at whatever point where I need to figure it out, I’ll know whose example I can follow. 

Happy Birthday Grandma. Thanks for hanging around another year.