Thursday, August 10, 2006

93 Years of America

John Graves died last night. It was not unexpected; he was 93 and has been on “any day” status for quite some time. Quite some time. He passed away quietly in his sleep. He was a tough old bird, and has lived a long and full life. He was my maternal grandfather and my last surviving grandparent. A lot died with him.

He and those few left of his generation are living history… of WWI, the great depression, WWII, the beginning of the cold war, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Cold War at it’s height and the collapse of the Iron Curtain. He was present for the boom period of the Industrial Revolution, the shift from an agricultural to an industrial economy – the population shift from the farms to the cities. The automobile replaced the horse. The digital revolution was the last epoch for him. He witnessed the cultural revolutions of almost 100 years – a significant portion of this nations history was shared with Granddad.

Much of that died with him. I regret not absorbing more than I did from him. Often are the times that the magnitude of the opportunities missed are only realized in retrospect – and tragically, all too often it is too late. I don’t know if he is “in a better place,” no one who went there ever came back and told me. However, based on the quality of his life toward the end, it would be difficult to imagine a worse place.

There is a silver lining to this story – a tale of fate that would be difficult to predict, never mind orchestrate. It came in on the heals of this country’s worst natural disaster and in a name – Katrina.

Granddad was living in New Orleans at an extended care facility. My Aunt and Uncle live nearby and were able to care for his needs in his twilight years. All escaped Katrina safely and compared to many others, relatively unscathed. However, Granddad had to be evacuated for an extended period of time. It was during the immediate aftermath of Katrina and my Aunt and Uncle were not well positioned to care for him. My mother and father stepped in to care for his needs at a similar establishment to what he had in New Orleans, not two hours from me in California.

Even a year ago, he was very frail and, honestly, at an age where anything could happen. Although he could not see, hear or walk very well at all, he still had a sharp wit. It was, however, all hearsay combined with memories from two or three years prior. I had no regular, first-hand interaction – until Katrina.

He was able to visit on Labor Day weekend last year. It was an occasion in which my whole family (sister/hubby/three kids – brother/s.o. – parents and Granddad) got together for the day at my house for my middle son’s 18th birthday. It was a rare occurrence and one I’ll always remember. Granddad was alert, but tired. Not tired sleepy, but tired of the aging process. He offered some advice to his great-grandchildren (six were there!)… “Don’t ever get old like me.”

It spoke volumes. I remember him better when I was a child and the family get-togethers were more frequent. He was a giant. He had an airplane and flew it! He had power windows in his car (don’t laugh – most cars didn’t have them back then). He had a car phone before cellular was even invented – real James Bond stuff! He let me drive a forklift. That was cool. From what I understand, he took chances that sometimes paid off and sometimes didn’t. He was a maverick.

At 93, I guess it’s a job for a younger man.

Rest in Peace, Granddad.


Lady Prism said...

93 is a grand age to fly on high....

made me remember my granny'...she was bedridden for about 5 years with me and my aunt caring for her....kinda' like exhausting and irritating....she would tell stories...about the Japanese occupation and everything that went on after that...I just laughed it all off being the kid that I was...i wish i took her seriously...or at least listened..

awareness said...

My family and I are heading "home" this week to be with our extended family. Like you, my kids live far away from their grandparents. It's tough to ensure the continuity and that the stories, both historical, personal and family ones get passed on when the distance is so great.

Oftentimes those stories get told during unplanned time sitting together on a porch or around a dinner table. When the "visits" are always an event if you know what I mean, the conversations don't seem to lean that way.............. but we try.

This week, my Dad is taking my 8 year old son to Cooperstown with two other grandsons. I wish I could sneak into the car invisibly and watch them all carrying on spending time together. I do know that it already is as meaningful for my son as it is for my Dad, and they havent even gotten into the car yet.

My grandmother was an integral part of my growing up years..... more than I realized until late in her life when she became too infirmed to be able to do all the things that she did with such flair and pizazz......... We had many "tea times" together when I was young. Her stories are tucked away with me..........and I share them with my kids every now and then when I capture a moment that seems right to tell them.

I'm sorry for your loss, Mike. Enjoy the memories you will be reliving over the next couple of days and tuck them away for sharing when the time is right to pass them on..........

X said...

This is a very good post...I send you hugs. Living until 93 is quite an accomplishment :)

Lee Ann said...

Wow, an amazing man
I am sorry for your loss.
We can all learn so much from our grandparents. I wish that I would have had more time with mine!

Hope you have a good weekend Mike.

Ellen said...

My Grandparents made it into their 90's before both passed on. I often thought about all the amazing things they saw during that time..... all the way from horse and buggy to automobiles; things we just take for granted now.

So sorry to hear of your loss to the family. As a writer, you will be the person to immortalize him from the days when he was a maverick, to the future Althouse family. What an interesting man, indeed!

mckay said...

sorry to hear about your loss, mike.

i remember sitting for hours on afternoons playing gin rummy with my grandma. she'd tell stories about the prohibition, being a flapper & tons of other memories. i sure wish i had been smart enough to tape record her.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for introducing us to your grandfather - he sounds like he was an amazing man (hmmm runs in the family). I'm sorry for your loss, Mike.

OldLady Of The Hills said...

Your Grandad sounds like such an interesting and terrific man...
It really is a terrible thing this getting old...your dignoty, your independence, your "personal space" is all given up....UGH!!!
I am glad you remember the times in his life when you were young and he was a vital man...I am so sorry for yur loss, Mike...but like you, I hope he is in a better place...more like the one he was in when you were a boy!

Thanks for the visit, my dear Mike.

Anonymous said...

sounds like an interesting guy and how great that you did get to reconnect with him in the end! I bet that meant the world to him...

Sorry for your loss.

Anonymous said...

i don't see your thong post but I read it....where did it go?

Belizegial said...

Mike, condolences on the loss of your grandfather.

By reliving your history of him every so often with the younger members of your family, he will stay close in your heart and mind.


Snaggle Tooth said...

It can be tough to lose a living legend to the beyond. Sounds like he was wonderful to you when he was more spry and able.
It's amazing to get to that age, and live through all that change in the world!
Bless him, may he ever rest in peace and his example never be forgotten!