Promoted from the Ricochet Member Feed by Editors Created with Sketch. Grandparents and Immortality

 

My friend’s grandmother just died. She was well into her nineties. My friend is in her fifties. I admit to a tinge of jealousy. I never really had grandparents. To me, it seems a great luxury to have a grandparent well into one’s middle age.

By the time I was born, only two of my grandparents were still alive. My mother’s parents were in their forties when she was born. Her father died when she was fourteen, ten years before I was born. I suspect I would have liked him very much.

Mother has many stories about him. For example, she told me, usually my grandmother took the family car to go shopping while my grandfather took the bus to work and back. The bus driver knew my grandfather fairly well. One day, though, my grandmother took the bus. When she got on, the us driver asked her, “Why do you let your husband go around with a snake in his pocket?”

“Don’t be ridiculous!” she said. “He does no such thing.”

When she got home, she mentioned the encounter. “George, you don’t go around with a snake in your pocket, do you?”

He pulled his pet garter snake out of his pocket and said, “Do you mean this one?”

He was said to have been a very funny man. I would have loved to have known him.

My father’s mother passed before I was born, too. Her daughter-in-law, my mother, certainly loved her. She considered her a saint for everything she had done for her and for her young family. In some ways, my grandmother might have done too much for my father. He was more than a bit on the spoiled side. But I can see why she would have spoiled him.

My grandfather was a difficult person, and his mother was much more difficult still. My grandmother was a schoolteacher during the Depression, when my grandfather wasn’t working. Knowing that her first birth might be difficult, owing to her family history, she put money aside to have her baby in the hospital in the nearest city.

But when the time came, her mother-in-law — my great-grandmother — declared it a waste of money to go to the hospital, and insisted my grandmother have the baby at home. The birth was problematic: The doctor had to use forceps, and wound up piercing the baby’s brain. The child died three days later. So in her second pregnancy, my grandmother got her way and had her baby in a hospital. She could have no more children after that. My father was her only child.

When he was eight, he had polio. He made it through thanks to an iron lung and her iron will to ensure he would walk again, despite what the doctors said. Dad went on to join the army, and later had a career as a police officer, both requiring considerable physical ability. So if she spoiled her only child, who lived to adulthood, who could blame her? She was a loving mother, mother-in-law, and grandmother. She died a little more than a year before I was born. That left me with only two living grandparents at birth.

My paternal grandfather, as I mentioned, could be difficult. When my mother had a medical emergency and my father asked his father to watch us while he took her to the hospital, my grandfather’s reply was, “I raised my children.”

But he could be charming and entertaining when he wanted to be. After he retired early, for health reasons, he grew a beard, and entertained us by parting his beard in the middle and putting it into amusing configurations. I remember visiting them when I was three. They had a picture of my grandfather at the same age, one of those big oval photographs, maybe a foot by a foot-and-a-half. They all thought I looked just like him, and hoped my nose would be smaller when I grew up. That may have been the day I tried hiding under the kitchen table so I could stay behind and keep having fun there, but he pulled me out and gave me a good spanking.

I also remember visiting and having to be quiet because he was resting. He had had his first heart attack at thirty-seven; by the time he was nearing sixty, he was under orders to get lots of rest and not stress himself. I remember walking with him down the driveway to his garage. His whole yard was covered in roses and other flowers. The vegetable garden was in back of the garage. He died when I was six. Those are all the memories I have of him. He was only sixty years old.

I grew up in Illinois. My mother grew up in Georgia. I never really knew my maternal grandmother. We visited a few times. All I remember is a wheezy old woman who spoke in a deep Southern dialect. She was already in her forties when my mother was born. She had never enjoyed robust health, and as she got older, it was worse. Emphysema was one of her biggest complaints. Yet she was the grandparent who lived the longest into my life.

She too was a difficult person. But whenever my family could afford it, my mother would pack us up and we would go down to Georgia for vacation. My mother wanted to keep in touch with her family no matter how difficult they were. Still, seeing someone for only a few days every few years isn’t enough time really to get to know that person. So I envy my cousins who lived in the same city in Georgia and were able to see her more often.

She died just before I turned fourteen.

My brother is over fifty. He recently married a woman in her thirties, and they had a daughter last February. I suspect that she will know her grandmother on her father’s side. My mother is in good health and may be around for decades to come. But she probably won’t get to know her paternal grandfather. He’s over eighty and ailing; he has post-polio syndrome, and he’s smoked for more than sixty years. He may yet live longer than his grandfather, who made it to the age of 88, but barring some wild scientific breakthrough, I don’t expect him to see that child graduate from high school.

Still, medical knowledge is increasing and technology marches on. Some believe that the first person who will live to a thousand years has already been born. What will it be like for that person’s grandchildren, and their great-great-great-grandchildren, to have such a remote ancestor still living and in good health? I would have loved to have known some of my great-grandparents and great-great-grandparents. What will it be like for those we would consider to be nearly immortal? How many generations might they know?

So, for my friend whose grandmother died, yes, condolences on your loss. But look at what you had. You had a grandparent you loved and who loved you in return, and you had her for more than fifty years. Keep those memories. Hold them close to you always. They are something that many of us, maybe most of us, will never have. Even with your loss, you are wealthier in memories than some of us can ever be.

There are 61 comments.

  1. E. Kent Golding Member

    Great Post

    • #1
    • October 24, 2015, at 1:21 AM PST
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  2. Arahant Member
    Arahant Post author

    E. Kent Golding:Great Post

    Thank you.

    • #2
    • October 24, 2015, at 1:31 AM PST
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  3. CB Toder aka Mama Toad Member

    My oldest was born with five greatgrandparents still living: my husband’s four grandparents, and one of mine.

    I took my baby to see Papa Toad’s maternal grandfather a couple of months before he died. We lived in Oregon; he in Florida. I have great memories and pictures of the old man, born in Berlin and fled from Germany in a locked train bound for Portugal, holding my son and whispering loving endearments to his fat little buddha babyness: “Liebchen! Puppchen!”

    Papa Toad’s paternal grandmother is still with us at 102. Her secret to long life, she says, is never worry. She had a tough life, but is loving and good, and a talented artist.

    And my parents and Papa Toad’s parents are all four still relatively healthy and live near us most of the time (his folks winter in Fla.).

    We moved from Oregon specifically to be near them all, and boy oh boy are we glad. Beautiful memories, helping each other, parties and dinners and sleepovers… so much blessing.

    Thanks Arahant. Even though you’re making me fog up my specs with emotional tears now… thanks.

    • #3
    • October 24, 2015, at 2:04 AM PST
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  4. Arahant Member
    Arahant Post author

    CB Toder aka Mama Toad: My oldest was born with five greatgrandparents still living: my husband’s four grandparents, and one of mine.

    When my eldest brother was born, my father still had two of his grandparents alive, his mother’s father, who was his idol, and his father’s mother. I came along after his grandfather died and was named for him. As for his grandmother, she died when I was five. I remember visiting her once. She lived in rural Illinois and had an outhouse. And I remember her funeral, but that is about it.

    On my mother’s side, with her parents being so much older, I believe all of her grandparents had passed before I was born. This, even though they lived long, full lives into their eighties.

    Like my friend, your tadpoles should have memories of their grandparents long into their lives.

    • #4
    • October 24, 2015, at 2:23 AM PST
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  5. The Dowager Jojo Member

    My sister had an interesting (to me) perspective on the human scale of time. She knew our great grandmother who was born in 1861, and she hoped to know her own great grandchildren who could reasonably be expected to see 2111. So she would have personally met people who spanned 250 years of history.

    • #5
    • October 24, 2015, at 5:20 AM PST
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  6. The Dowager Jojo Member

    Perhaps increased life spans will give more people a chance to know their grandparents, but the trend to later childbearing is working in the other direction. My mother, who raised five children, died at 88 with no great grandchildren.

    • #6
    • October 24, 2015, at 5:25 AM PST
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  7. CB Toder aka Mama Toad Member

    I read a beautiful book yesterday called Pink and Say, by Patricia Polacco.

    In the story, a Union soldier boy, Sheldon, calle Say, is left for dead but found by a freed slave boy, Pinkus, called Pink also fighting for the Union.

    The two boys forge a friendship, but Pink is hung after they are captured by Confederate forces.

    While they were alive, Pink told say that he shook Abraham Lincoln’s hand, which he sees as a sign of great hope, and shakes Say’s hand, telling him, “You shook the hand that shook the hand of the great Abraham Lincoln!”

    After Pink’s death, Say remembers him, and tells the story to his children and their children, keeping the memory of Pink alive. Say is the ancestor of the author.

    She’s also written The Keeping Quilt about a quilt in her family made from fabrics from her ancestors. Here is the author holding the quilt, some pieces of which are more than 150 years old. She says, “As I run my hands over this horse, I can hear my grandmother’s voice. I haven’t heard her voice for 62 years. But she’d sit on the edge of my bed and say, ‘Tricia, whose dress make this?'”

    • #7
    • October 24, 2015, at 5:37 AM PST
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  8. The Dowager Jojo Member

    Thanks for the nice post and topic. The snake in the pocket story is fantastic. Makes me think, my father was quite a character and I hope I have told my kids all the stories. They never knew him, either.

    My father did not carry a snake in his pocket, I am 99.7% sure. He did often carry peanuts in their shell in his shirt pocket, though, to offer to our local bluejays or chipmunks. One time he dozed off in his lounge chair on our little patio and was awakened by a chipmunk extracting a peanut from his pocket.

    • #8
    • October 24, 2015, at 7:21 AM PST
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  9. donald todd Inactive

    My paternal grandfather died when my dad was nine. Bleeding ulcer in the depression leaving a wife and nine kids.

    My paternal grandmother died when I was six.

    My maternal grandfather I met once. A very thin man whose thinness made him tall. He was driven out of his family because he was a womanizer and his wife, my maternal grandmother, wasn’t putting up with that. He did not get to watch his six kids grow up.

    My maternal grandmother came over from England and took care of us when my mother was in the hospital, dying. She did the housekeeping, the slightly remote mothering and made sure we were taken care of.

    She left after my mother’s funeral.

    Our household lacked a feminine and beneficial presence after that. She did not replace our mother, but maintained something that children need so we did not lack a great deal of the right kind of attention.

    My paternal grandmother’s second husband was Alfred. But to me he was grampa. When we’d get to his house, I’d run in and climb up on his lap and kiss his whiskery cheek and hug him. He is the only grandfather I ever knew and he was good and warm and open with me, which is how I think grandfathers are intended to be. I model some of my presence with my own grandchildren based on him.

    None of them ever saw my kids. I wish they had.

    • #9
    • October 24, 2015, at 8:10 AM PST
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  10. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor

    Arahant: As mentioned, my paternal grandfather could be difficult. When my mother had a medical emergency and my father asked if his father would watch us while he took his wife to the hospital, his reply was, “I raised my children.”

    Oh, this reminds me of characters in my own family in so many ways.

    We are all difficult people in my family. Every last one of us. The only saving grace is when any of us recognizes how difficult we are.

    Maybe there’s no such thing as any easy person, just difficult people who see themselves for what they are and try to make amends for it.

    • #10
    • October 24, 2015, at 8:24 AM PST
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  11. PsychLynne Inactive

    My maternal great-grandmother and grandparents all died before I was two. I have no memory of them, but apparently my grandfather was a bit of a fast talker and the guy who could always get rationed goods during WW2. He also did a short stint in the Atlanta federal pen for running moonshine. He was late to my parents wedding because he got lost on the way. I think I would have liked him a lot. Probably less enjoyable as a father…not one to promote much stability. Unfortunately, my maternal mother was binge drinker, months dry, months drunk. But, interestingly, she was a bit of an outlier for women of her day, in that she could fix any small appliance anybody had. My dad tells me even after she had the massive stroke that eventually killed her, she would still tinker with things with her good hand.

    My paternal grandfather never married my paternal grandmother and died when my daddy was bout 9. Despite living in the same town, he only remembered meeting him once. However, my Grandma Ida, was alive until I was almost 12. We often spent part of summers with her in the mountains of NC. There are many funny stories about her and she loved to sing. Church singing school is where she met my grandfather. I think both my dad and I inherited a love of mournful songs and songs in minor keys from her.

    I often missed knowing my grandparents.

    • #11
    • October 24, 2015, at 8:25 AM PST
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  12. Doctor Bass Monkey Inactive

    There is a Proustian feel to this that I like.

    • #12
    • October 24, 2015, at 8:44 AM PST
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  13. Annefy Member

    My husband likes to say my parents created the very situation that they both travelled 6000 miles to get away from. My mom was the youngest of 11, dozens and dozens of relatives still in Scotland. My dad was one of four, his mother had been a widow since he was two.

    They raised their five here in Cali with no uncles or aunts, grandparents or cousins. Which my mom spoke of as a very, very good thing.

    None of us five have strayed far though, so all of our children have over a dozen cousins, and aunts and uncles to spare. We vacation together every year, spend all of our holidays together and will celebrate together something as inconsequential as getting a tri tip on sale at Costco. While I am not sure all the kids would describe it as a very, very good thing – especially when they’re teenagers, they appreciate it more as they get older.

    Until five years ago they had their grandad who was larger than life, and my mom is still with us at 88. My mom no longer knows any of us but is always happy to see us. My daughter and I recently took her baby girl to see my mom – her first great grandchild. You know what’s weird? When the baby was crying my mom was completely unaware – never even looked to see where the noise was coming from. But when I laid the baby on the floor to change her diaper she looked up at my mom and started cooing and smiling and that’s when my mom noticed a baby in the room and was happy at the sight.

    • #13
    • October 24, 2015, at 9:09 AM PST
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  14. Annefy Member

    Regarding long life spans, I believe it was Dave Barry who joked that kids today would live til 150, the first 80 of which would be healthy.

    For me? If God spares me to 80 I plan on starting to smoke again, drinking (more), trying all the drugs I avoided in the 70s and 80s and taking up dangerous hobbies.

    • #14
    • October 24, 2015, at 9:15 AM PST
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  15. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor

    Annefy:Regarding long life spans, I believe it was Dave Barry who joked that kids today would live til 150, the first 80 of which would be healthy.

    For me? If God spares me to 80 I plan on starting to smoke again, drinking (more), trying all the drugs I avoided in the 70s and 80s and taking up dangerous hobbies.

    I likewise have no desire to outlive my health. A pessimist might point out it’s likely I’ve already done so, but as someone who can always out-pessim another pessimist, I’d then point out that there’s a huge difference between the ill-health of youth and the ill-health of old age:

    It’s no fun to be sick while young, and you do feel like you’re missing out on a lot, but if you’re still walking, talking, and can still (kinda) work and contribute to the world (even if the contribution is disappointingly small), that’s still way better than the depths of senile dementia and no longer being able to toilet yourself.

    • #15
    • October 24, 2015, at 9:24 AM PST
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  16. Profile Photo Member

    My parents married older, and all four of my grandparents had died before I was born, so I never knew any of them, but I treasure the stories I have been told about them. I am 45 and consider myself very blessed that both of my parents are still alive and in good health. Because my parents were always so much older than everybody else’s, I always kind of assumed, without really letting myself think about it, that I would lose them sooner, but I haven’t. My Dad just turned 91. When I see my friends and cousins who have lost parents who were much younger than mine, I know how lucky I am.

    • #16
    • October 24, 2015, at 10:29 AM PST
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  17. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor

    Judithann Campbell:My parents married older, and all four of my grandparents had died before I was born, so I never knew any of them, but I treasure the stories I have been told about them. I am 45 and consider myself very blessed that both of my parents are still alive and in good health. Because my parents were always so much older than everybody else’s, I always kind of assumed, without really letting myself think about it, that I would lose them sooner, but I haven’t. My Dad just turned 91.

    My parents likewise married older, and with a significant age gap, too. So I had two grandmothers, though only one I really knew, since the other one died while I was quite young.

    But in having older parents – and especially a dad even older than my mom – I feel like I’ve gotten some of the “grandparent experience” from my parents, too. Especially my dad, who was old enough to be Grandpa.

    • #17
    • October 24, 2015, at 10:46 AM PST
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  18. Profile Photo Member

    Midge: yes, older parents, especially older fathers can be more like grandparents than parents. My own parents have always been painfully aware of this. Once, in a moment of frustration, my rock ribbed pro-life father told me that after his experiences as an older father, he had come to the conclusion that everyone over the age of 30 should be sterilized. He was joking, kind of :) But there is no question: I was spoiled :)

    • #18
    • October 24, 2015, at 10:53 AM PST
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  19. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor

    Judithann Campbell:Midge: yes, older parents, especially older fathers can be more like grandparents than parents. My own parents have always been painfully aware of this. Once, in a moment of frustration, my rock ribbed pro-life father told me that after his experiences as an older father, he had come to the conclusion that everyone over the age of 30 should be sterilized. He was joking, kind of :) But there is no question: I was spoiled :)

    My parents managed to successfully “go out of their way” to not be doting parents: for them not raising “spoiled” children was a very high priority! Even so, my dad was a bit more indulgent with me than my mom, at least about certain things… it’s hard to describe, actually. Dad could be so very rigid, and then every once in a while…

    • #19
    • October 24, 2015, at 10:59 AM PST
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  20. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor

    My father’s parents lived to very ripe old ages — my grandfather to the age of 92, and my grandmother to 100. I was close to them all my life; they were huge figures in my childhood and adulthood; and I only lost my grandmother recently, in my early 40s. I miss them both deeply and often think how much I wish I could still talk to them. I have a very detailed sense of who they were, their personalities, the story and the history of their lives, their tastes and their habits of thought; they are full people in my mind, with the details of every aspect of their character filled in; I remember their sense of humor; I know what they thought about books, literature, politics, music; I know what advice they would give me were they still alive. They are complete and real to me.

    My mother’s parents died when I was much younger. My maternal grandmother died when I was eight, my maternal grandfather, when I was 11. They moved to Florida when I was about four years old, and so I saw them only on vacations. My memories of them are fragmentary — I remember the warmth of cuddling with my grandmother, and I remember that I loved her. I remember my grandfather letting me play in the sprinkler outside their house in Florida. I remember that he collected stamps as a hobby. But beyond that, they’re shadows in my mind.

    I think so often of the ways I’m like my paternal grandparents, or unlike them; I can see so clearly what was passed on to me. And I know that the other half of me, genetically speaking, comes from these two people I never had the chance to know well. What would my life have been like had they lived longer? What influence would they have had on me if I’d known them well into my adulthood, as I did my paternal grandparents?

    I fully understand the melancholy you’re expressing. I was so lucky to have known my father’s parents so well. What extraordinary people the two of them were, and what a huge influence they had on me. But I so regret that the other two people who gave me half of what I am are so vague in my mind, just shadows from my childhood, mysterious as a faded photograph in an ancient photo album.

    It makes me terribly sad to know that my nephew Leo won’t remember my mother. She loved him so much, and had so much to teach and offer him. Nor will he know his aunt Rosella, who adored him consummately but who just passed away, tragically young, of cancer. It seems so unfair that he’s been deprived of knowing them both.

    • #20
    • October 24, 2015, at 11:24 AM PST
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  21. CB Toder aka Mama Toad Member

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.: It makes me terribly sad to know that my nephew Leo won’t remember my mother. She loved him so much, and had so much to teach and offer him. Nor will he know his aunt Rosella, who adored him consummately but who just passed away, tragically young, of cancer. It seems so unfair that he’s been deprived of knowing them both.

    I hear you. It is your job to make them live for him, no?

    • #21
    • October 24, 2015, at 11:54 AM PST
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  22. Arahant Member
    Arahant Post author

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.: But I so regret that the other two people who gave me half of what I am are so vague in my mind, just shadows from my childhood, mysterious as a faded photograph in an ancient photo album.

    This expresses it so well for me. I have more stories about my grandparents from my parents than I have direct memories.

    • #22
    • October 24, 2015, at 12:12 PM PST
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  23. Arahant Member
    Arahant Post author

    Jojo:My sister had an interesting (to me) perspective on the human scale of time. She knew our great grandmother who was born in 1861, and she hoped to know her own great grandchildren who could reasonably be expected to see 2111. So she would have personally met people who spanned 250 years of history.

    Note the last paragraph. John Tyler, born in 1790, still had two living grandsons as of a few months ago. That is a span of 225 years with three living generations. This fascinates me.

    • #23
    • October 24, 2015, at 12:17 PM PST
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  24. Arahant Member
    Arahant Post author

    Thank you all for your stories.

    • #24
    • October 24, 2015, at 12:18 PM PST
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  25. Annefy Member

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake:

    Annefy: —

    For me? If God spares me to 80 I plan on starting to smoke again, drinking (more), trying all the drugs I avoided in the 70s and 80s and taking up dangerous hobbies.

    I likewise have no desire to outlive my health. A pessimist might point out it’s likely I’ve already done so, but as someone who can always out-pessim another pessimist, I’d then point out that there’s a huge difference between the ill-health of youth and the ill-health of old age:

    It’s no fun to be sick while young, and you do feel like you’re missing out on a lot, but if you’re still walking, talking, and can still (kinda) work and contribute to the world (even if the contribution is disappointingly small), that’s still way better than the depths of senile dementia and no longer being able to toilet yourself.

    With my mom’s diminished capacity this is a hot topic in my family.

    My sister and I were recently at a memorial service for a favorite neighbor. A woman came shuffling up on her walker and began to question me about where my mom lives.

    I figured she was considering a move for herself.

    No … she explained that she was too old to take care of her mother and was considering moving her.

    My sister was standing behind me and muttered “shoot me now”.

    Then we poured ourselves a stiff one.

    • #25
    • October 24, 2015, at 12:25 PM PST
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  26. BastiatJunior Member

    I had my maternal grandparents until middle age. My grandfather was the last to die at age 92, 14 years ago.

    They were a big part of my life and I still think about them everyday.

    • #26
    • October 24, 2015, at 1:08 PM PST
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  27. Sheila S. Member

    CB Toder aka Mama Toad:I read a beautiful book yesterday called Pink and Say, by Patricia Polacco.

    In the story, a Union soldier boy, Sheldon, calle Say, is left for dead but found by a freed slave boy, Pinkus, called Pink also fighting for the Union.

    The two boys forge a friendship, but Pink is hung after they are captured by Confederate forces.

    While they were alive, Pink told say that he shook Abraham Lincoln’s hand, which he sees as a sign of great hope, and shakes Say’s hand, telling him, “You shook the hand that shook the hand of the great Abraham Lincoln!”

    After Pink’s death, Say remembers him, and tells the story to his children and their children, keeping the memory of Pink alive. Say is the ancestor of the author.

    She’s also written The Keeping Quilt about a quilt in her family made from fabrics from her ancestors. Here is the author holding the quilt, some pieces of which are more than 150 years old. She says, “As I run my hands over this horse, I can hear my grandmother’s voice. I haven’t heard her voice for 62 years. But she’d sit on the edge of my bed and say, ‘Tricia, whose dress make this?’”

    I love this book.

    • #27
    • October 24, 2015, at 1:10 PM PST
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  28. BastiatJunior Member

    Arahant:

    Jojo:My sister had an interesting (to me) perspective on the human scale of time. She knew our great grandmother who was born in 1861, and she hoped to know her own great grandchildren who could reasonably be expected to see 2111. So she would have personally met people who spanned 250 years of history.

    Note the last paragraph. John Tyler, born in 1790, still had two living grandsons as of a few months ago. That is a span of 225 years with three living generations. This fascinates me.

    My Grandfather, born in 1909, had a relative (an aunt or something) who met President Lincoln one time.

    • #28
    • October 24, 2015, at 1:13 PM PST
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  29. BastiatJunior Member

    Arahant: Some believe that the first person who will live to a thousand years has already been born.

    I hope that person was born in 1959.

    • #29
    • October 24, 2015, at 1:14 PM PST
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  30. Arahant Member
    Arahant Post author

    BastiatJunior: I hope that person was born in 1959.

    I guess we know what year you were born. ;^D

    • #30
    • October 24, 2015, at 1:17 PM PST
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