This weekend we drove to Indiana to celebrate my great-grandma’s 100th birthday! My sons are her only great-great grandsons and, thankfully, my husband is wholly on board the nostalgia train (and willing to drive ridiculous distances at a time).
I tracked down a childhood friend of mine to take photos of family at the party. She laughed that we all were introducing ourselves to each other. There were cousins I haven’t seen in 30 years, others I haven’t seen since my wedding (nearly 10 years ago!). Babies that turned into grown-ups and then had their own babies. There were, of course, several instances of mistaken identities (as will happen among a multi-generational group of family-strangers with similar features). To have such a joyous occasion to bring us all together is such a blessing (and I really don’t talk like that).
[After reviewing everyone’s (terrible) phone photos after the event, I’m so glad to have had a professional on hand. I can’t wait to see the shots!]
I’ve struggled with what to say in this post. It’s important to me to acknowledge the occasion – my great grandmother has lived 100 years, for crying out loud! My sister and I spent many hours at her house, eating Nilla Wafers, playing with a plastic ball in the yard of her post-war home. Funny the things that stand out in memory; she remembered the wooden cutout of a bent-over lady’s bloomers in the flower bed and I remembered the “I said ‘SIT’!” print featuring and elephant, a man and a pile of shit hanging in her bathroom. Also, something about strawberry lip balm in a strawberry-shaped case.
The truth is, I’m ashamed that I don’t know her better. That my memories feel so trivial. I’ve never asked her about her dreams. I haven’t asked about her favorite moment of the past century, or what is the best part of living for 100 years. I don’t know her love stories or heartbreaks. Where was she when she learned that JFK was shot?
As we drove back through Indianapolis, I spotted an ad agency where I nearly landed a job just out of college. I flashed back to the phone call: the woman who had interviewed me seemed to fight back tears to tell me that after a lengthy discussion, the agency decided to hire someone else. So then I found something in my home town, met my husband, applied to grad school… it was a moment that sealed the course of my future.
Did she have a moment like that?
I was so delighted to see her wearing a sparkling Happy Birthday tiara, a purple sweatshirt with “100” in rhinestones and the same purple-with-silver-glitter nail polish combo that broke the ice with one of my best friends in high school. Perhaps my memories of the silly things are how I remember her sense of humor.
And isn’t it truly wonderful that I can now go write her a letter and ask her myself? What would you ask someone who has lived for a century?