Wednesday, March 01, 2006

A Century

In 30 days my grandmother will be 100 years old.

I've written about my grandmother before, but I have to admit that, in the face of such a landmark, I feel a little in awe. Still, it seems appropriate to insert something, however brief, at this point in the midst of my Maritime Canada travels. (And for those of you who have been baffled by the titles, they merely reflect which entry out of how many you are reading. I've written six so far, so yesterday's was the sixth out of six.)

My grandmother, you see, is the reason all of her grandchildren hit the road periodically. For decades, she loyally accompanied my grandfather to Vero Beach, Florida, for increasingly lengthy stays. My grandfather died in Vero just as he was turning 80 -- he had insisted on leaving in October for the winter, and then promptly fell desperately ill. He was overjoyed when my family, twin babies in tow, arrived for a visit in December, but most of his observation and commentary came from his hospital bed or living room couch.

My grandmother never went back to Vero after he died. What she had wanted to do was see the world. Her husband wouldn't get on a plane or boat, a problematic attitude for a world traveler. In her late fifties she had turned to her grandchildren for companionship, starting with me and a weeklong visit to Colonial Williamsburg. Her last trip, made shortly after my grandfather had died and she had acceded to my advice to obtain a new hip and get out of the house, was to Trinidad and Tobago to see the birds. In between, she covered most of the western United States, Europe, Africa, Australia, New Zealand, and the South Pacific. She would be wild with delight if she could see my photographs and hear about Prince Edward Island.

For the last several years, she's been encased in a prison of almost total deafness and blindness. My father is the only person whose voice she understands; she recognized me the last time I visited, but that was after a couple of devastating attempts on my part when she apparently thought I was an assisted living employee and glared at me for invading her afternoon. I hope that her still brilliant mind is full of memories of roads long since travelled; I know that she is delighted whenever my father can make her understand that some one of her great-grandchildren is off exploring the world.

Here is some of what I have learned from what my grandmother did NOT do:

Get rid of your stuff and sell your house when you're eighty. If your hearing and sight start to go, learn to sign into the palm of a hand and make sure your family does, too. Tell your story.

Here is some of what I have learned from what my grandmother HAS done:

Get on a train or a boat or a plane whenever the opportunity presents itself. Read. Your most important relationships may well come after 60, with people 50 years or more younger than you are. Give everything away that you can. Don't waste time on home decorating; people come to dinner for the conversation. Learn to identify birds. Don't die without having seen the fjords of Norway. You can stand it, whatever awful thing it is. Watch a monarch emerge from a chrysalis whenever you can.

Happy birthday month, my darling and lovely grandmother. I didn't call the plumber today, but I did see a pair of red-tailed hawks in a mating flight. You have only yourself to blame.


bean said...

happy birthday grandma. what a cool lady.

Judith HeartSong said...

Happy Birthday to your Grandma..... I know how much she means to you.

Lisa :-] said...

A very sweet tribute, Robin. It's sad that she's now trapped in an uncooperative body; but I believe that even that stage of life has its purpose, if only for the way it affects those around us. I hope her birthday is one of her GOOD days...

Virginia said...

Beautifully said!

Peace, Virginia

V said...

Robin, your heart is there for all to see.

beths front porch said...

Happy Birthday to your grandmother. And thank you for sharing what you have learned from what she has done. I think those are things I would like to learn, too. I like the thought that the most important relationships may be after 60, with people 50 years or more younger than me....~Beth

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful tribute to a terrific lady. May we all learn her lessons well.

kathjensen said...

Happy Birthday to your grandmother! She taught you well.

My grandmother taught me to not resist using crutches or a wheelchair if they allow me to go places. Being out and about living life is more important than what one looks like. My mil has locked herself in a very small space due to her unwillingness to accept assistance.

The hawks must have been beautiful.

Carol said...

Happy Birthday to your wonderful grandmother. You learned well from her and I thank you for sharing those lessons here. Many good things to think about.

Celeste said...

Happy Birthday to your Grandmaother.
My Aunt lived to be 108. She lived alone until she was 103. Anyway she said live everyday and live it well.

tess said...

Happy Birthday Centenial to Grandmother and her family!
Thank you for sharing the wisdoms.

DEREK said...

beautiful entry love it, Happy Birthday to you grandma.

emmapeelDallas said...

Oh, this is BEAUTIFUL. What great advice, and what a terrific tribute to your Grandmother. Happy Birthday to her.