She's still sharp as a tack. She'll talk about what politicians are idiots, which crime novels are worth reading. Her hearing has weakened, but if you call her up and she can't quite make out your name (Debbie? Peggy?), she'll figure it through logic: "Wait, tell me who your mother is, dear. If her name's easier to hear, I'll have you figured out."
I love my grandma. She's the only grandparent I've ever had and the only one I've ever needed. She's smart as hell and loves to read, which had a big effect on me as a kid. These days, she relies on books on tape because her eyesight isn't great, but when she was a little girl, her parents would catch her staying up past her bedtime, reading books in her window by streetlight.
|My grandma, looking adorable as a child throughout the 1910s. Is she feeding that horse spaghetti?|
But being born in 1913 means the Depression hit by the time she was 16. My grandma was born into a working class family, so when things got bad, she started working to help support her parents and younger siblings. She wouldn't stop working for the next several decades.
|(left) My grandma, hanging out around 1930 (right) Standing with her mom and little sister around 1925.|
|(left) In the center with her sister and sis-in-law during the 1940's (right) Wearing her husband's Willow Run B-24 Bomber Plant Fire Brigade Cap during the 1940's|
|During the early 1940's shortly after the births of my dad (left) and uncle (right)|
During World War II, my grandma worked at the Willow Run B-24 bomber plant (workplace of Rosie the Riveter) here in the city I live in, Ypsilanti. She drove all over the plant delivering parts in a little truck with six trailers attached to it in a train. She was awesome at maneuvering that crazy thing, parking and snaking it.
She would go on to work nights on the line at the Argus camera factory, and as a shelver for Sanders' confections. She often joked that she made more in her elderly years, collecting pensions from all her past employers, than she ever made working for one of them. It was hard work, all of it. That had a big effect on me too, as a person and as a woman in particular. Generationally speaking, the folks in my family have had kids later than average -- my grandma was 28 when she gave birth to her eldest, my dad; pretty old by 1941 standards. My dad was 40 when I was born (he does curls with 100 lb. dumbbells and has no interest in retirement, but he's a whole other story). But I always noticed, even as a little girl, that my grandma was older than most of my friends' grandparents, and yet she was by far the least old fashioned.
|My grandma, seen throughout the 50's with my dad (far left) and my grandfather (far right)|
|My grandparents in the mid-1960's|
Consequently, the idea that a woman's place is somehow behind her man -- presumably because he's the breadwinner -- was pretty obsolete in her world. She brought in half the income (my grandpa worked in the Ford plant but paid alimony to a gal he married briefly in his youth, which was standard practice back then), she used her own strong arms and agile hands to support her family, and in light of what she did to provide for them, the idea of a woman satisfying herself with housework and elaborate dinner planning seemed pretty ridiculous by comparison.
Additionally, I love fashion, but I also love that my grandma didn't give a hoot about clothes. She'd always been a straight shooting, straight talking kind of lady, and she'd always cared more about a good novel than a pretty dress. And I happen to know, despite her being an endless source of hugs and 'I love you's', that she spent most of her life being tough as nails whenever she had to be. She consequently never had time or money for fancy clothes when she was younger, or patience for any of that crap when she was older. She'd rather go to Atlantic City in a pair of knit pants than get dolled up for some man (especially since my grandfather died in the late 60's), so that's exactly what she did.
It weirds me out hearing about how many elderly folks resist moving out of their old houses, because my grandma was pleased as punch to retire at age 60, sell her house and all the junk she didn't need, and settle delightedly into a modest little one bedroom apartment where she would happily devour crime fiction and plan vacations with her girlfriends for the next 40 years.
|My grandma, adoring old-womanhood during the 70's and 80's|
|Being a doting grandmother during the 1980's|
|My grandma, still rocking it with her utilitarian purse and wash-and-go perm throughout the 90's|
|Going on cruises, vacations to Hawaii, and to various casinos with her best friend Mildred throughout the 90's and 2000's|
My grandma finally moved into an assisted living center about a mile from my parents' house this year. My dad and uncle hang out with her almost every day -- because the woman's not batty or senile, she just needs help getting around. About 10 years ago, she spent time in a senior rehabilitation center for a broken leg, and she complained to me that the place was full of "old ladies."
"I'm 10 years older than these women!" she said, "But they're going around in skirts and cardigans like it's the 1950's. Didn't anyone ever tell them 'You don't have to do that crap anymore?!'"
That broken leg fully healed, by the way. She's also fully recovered from a broken arm and fractured hip, and though she developed symptoms of Type II diabetes and emphysema during her 80's, by her 90's, her doctor couldn't find any trace of them. They were gone. I suspect that the secret behind how she fully healed from these maladies, even at her age, is the same secret as to how she's lived this long: she doesn't take anything bad personally, including pain.
I love this about her, and I love how she imbues my whole family with the strength of this perspective, more today than ever. ♥