Happy Birthday, grandpa . . .

Today, I interrupt my usual progression in the Life Story series to pay tribute to my maternal grandpa. That is because today is his 98th birthday (actually, more technically correct would be to say that today is the 98th anniversary of the day he was born).

Yes, grandpa is still alive. At 98. But, it seems (based on a conversation I had with my cousin last night) that he might not be much longer.

The nursing home where he lives keeps him on morphine. He sleeps up to 22 hours a day. This is a man who used to almost never stop moving.

Before he retired (1972, I’m told) grandpa was a rail-line repairman for the railroad. That is a tough job all by itself – and he did it for 36 years. Back in the days when it was ALL done by hand, too. None of the modern machinery to pick up sections of track for you at a time. While he was working for the railroad, he also bought a farm, and raised a family with 9 children (the oldest is enough older than my mother that he was in the Navy when mom was born – and there are 2 younger than mom).

I’ve never known grandpa to loose his temper. Not once in 44 years. He’s a very kind, gentle person – and very huge into helping others, too. For as long as I can remember, he’s repaired lawn mowers, for neighbors, relatives, friends – just about anyone, and usually only charged them for the parts – if that. If a church needed a new roof, he would show up with the materials and start doing the work – even if he wasn’t a member of the congregation. The local Salvation Army has benefited from his generosity more times than I can count. Perhaps that is why one of his kids became a Captain in the SA – and that Captain’s ex-wife is now a Captain there herself.

But, his generous nature extended far beyond that. I don’t think he knew how to say “No” to anyone. I have a few cousins who have almost completely lived off of him. Well, in honesty, that could be an exaggeration, but it is true that grandpa has bought several cars for one of them, and paid utility bills on more than one occasion for a few others.

Do I begrudge these relatives this? No. Not a bit. I’m glad Grandpa was able to help them when they were in need. However, now that one of his daughter-in-laws is the administrator of his estate (I hesitate to call her an executor, since grandpa is still living) I do imagine that tap has been shut off. Aunt Joyce is far more frugal than grandpa was – although she did buy the family home from grandpa. At last report, it’s been fully remodeled, and another cousin is living in it (I haven’t heard if he’s being charged rent, either).

Now, at 98, he sleeps 22 hours a day. He has to be watched to prevent bed sores. Just about the only time he’s awake is when he is eating or has a visitor. About 8 years ago, just after my split with the “cute chick” in St. Louis, I visited grandpa for a week. During my time there, he told me that his last goal in life was to hear Willard Scott say “Happy Birthday” to him. Of course, you have to be celebrating a birthday in triple digits for that to happen.

I’m sorry, Grandpa, but Willard Scott retired. He isn’t doing the weather on CBS’s “Good Morning America” show anymore.

But, it doesn’t look like grandpa is going to make it to his 99th birthday. I’ve heard from a couple of relatives who have been to see him in the last couple of months, and they all have reported that, basically, he’s saying his “goodbye”s. The shock waves of this realization are bouncing throughout the family in a palpable way, too. Seriously, I don’t think some of us ever seriously considered the day when grandpa would die. It just wasn’t real. He’s been here FOREVER. Nearly 100 years, always with a smile.

Think about it. 98 years. How much has changed in 98 years?

In 1909 – the automobile did exist, but each one was hand made from start to finish. The assembly line concept had not been invented yet.

In 1909 – neither WW1 nor WW2 had happened yet.

In 1909 – Russia was an ally, and Russian nobles frequently came to the US on hunting trips.

In 1909 – Alaska was a possession of Russia, and Hawaii was in independent, sovereign nation.

In 1909 – the US Government had never gotten us mixed up in an unpopular war.

In 1909 – 40th President of the United States Ronald Reagan had not been born yet.

In 1909 – mankind had never been in space, let alone set foot on the moon.

In 1909 – Germany had never been divided by a physical wall, and Korea & Vietnam were possessions of European nations.

In 1909 – London was still in shock from the killing spree attributed to “Jack The Ripper” – which had only happened 21 years earlier.

In 1909 – The United States did not have a trans-continental highway.

Yes, my grandpa has lived to see a lot of changes. Some good, others – not so much. Some changes Grandpa probably didn’t even pay attention to. I wonder if any of his relatives – nieces, nephews, etc. from around Waynesville, MO, where he was born, even know he’s still alive.


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