Advice From A 90 Year Old Woman

As you may know, my second job (after being a parent) is an event planner. I met a lovely woman, Dorothy today. She is planning her 90th birthday. What an accomplishment! We discussed her menu and details; most of her guests would be family or friends from the assisted living home she lives in.

As we went through her details, Dorothy mentioned to her daughter that she specifically wanted it written on the invitation “No Gifts”. I chuckled and said “You only turn 90 once, I have a feeling some of your guests may disobey your request.” Her response was shocking to me and quite profound.

“What I’d like more than cards or presents is for people to visit me more or call me. A gift is trivial. At this point, I want to maintain connections with those who I love.”

It made me instantly remember a phone call I received, almost a year to this date. It was a cold winter evening when my husband’s 85yr old Great Aunt called me. I didn’t recognize her phone number so I didn’t answer. She left a message and I called her back immediately, thinking something was wrong. I mean, why else would someone you don’t speak to often call you at 8pm at night? The thing was, she just wanted to talk- she wanted to see how things were and to say hello. She mentioned that she asked a few family members for my phone # and they all said “oh, you can just find her on Facebook.” She replied “I don’t know how the hell to use Facebook and I wanted to TALK to you, so I called you!”

It was sweet. We caught up, and it made me realize it was the first time I used my phone to actually SPEAK with someone and “catch up” with them in longer than I can remember.
What was wrong with this picture? I should have been the one to call HER.

It made me think of my own grandparents.

My Fraternal Great Grandmother made her way through Ellis Island from Ireland and raised five children , all first generation Americans with 100% Irish blood running through their veins. I recently found out through my uncle that her father was a sailor on a merchant ship out of Belfast Ireland. When the ship docked in NYC he jumped ship and was an illegal alien for 7 years before he gained his citizenship. He never returned to Ireland and always carried his citizenship papers on him until he died for fear of being deported back to Ireland. My uncle once asked his grandmother why she never returned to Ireland she replied in her wonderful Irish brogue ” Who’d want to go? There’s nothing there”

So much for the Irish Ministry of Tourism.

My Grammy had a thick New York/ Long Island accent and NO FILTER. At 5′ 10″, she could not only hold her own, she was a fire cracker. My grandfather died in the early 60s, a WWII vet. He left behind a wife and three young children under the age of 13. With no formal college education she became a teacher to support her family.
They never had much but they made it work. She never remarried and was an independent, strong willed woman. She once told my mother after asking why she never re-married that she “was a widow- not stupid!” She was old school- she lived alone for 50+ years and stayed in her house until her death in 2008, hosting card games and befriending the local Catholic priests.

As the neighborhood changed around her, she watched her Irish/Italian bubble evolve and had no qualms mentioning out dated terminology for the new, mostly ethnic people moving in around her (and out of respect I won’t quote her).

She answered the phone not with a simple “hello” but a loud, thick accented “Hi there!” Her favorite line when we would complain about something was “tough toenails- deal with it.”

Her house was always packed with Entenemmans coffee cake, cool whip and fresh NY bagels. She drank mini half cans of Budweiser. She requested no eulogy to be read at her funeral, as she felt that was too self indulgent. She was a strong woman, a pain in the ass at times and I loved her dearly.

My maternal grandparents were what I can only describe as living examples of the American Dream. It was the American Dream! They were happily married for over 50 years and produced four children, 3 boys and 1 girl (my mother).

My grandfather owned a lucrative dentistry practice and my grandmother was happily the quintessential 1950’s housewife, despite the fact that she graduated from a prestigious women’s college herself.  They lived down the street from Martha Stewart (if that gives you any indication of the ideal life they were living) and they truly gave all they had to their children. I have never met two sweeter or kind hearted people in my life.

My grandmother was the type to coordinate and host breakfasts for my uncle’s sports teams prior to games (which could be for upwards of 25 hungry teenage boys!) I recently heard a story where she arranged it so that for one breakfast she had special mugs to be made with each boy’s name and sports number on it, as a keepsake. She loved her children and later on, her grandchildren more than words can say.

My gramma saw the good in people, and sometimes her naïveté worked against her. The funniest story I’ve heard about her was that my teenage uncle was able to convince her to take his 13 year old brother to Woodstock and when the 11 year old complained, she said, “you can go next year!” I’d love to know what happened during that trip!

My grandfather worked hard and played hard. An avid golfer, he was out golfing in the middle of February just a month before he passed. He lived in plaid golfing pants and was quite the chef as well. He “retired” after living in New Jersey to Cape Cod, only to start up a new Dentistry practice once he got bored. If you couldn’t find him at home watching golf, he was out on the course playing it.

My memories of all of my grandparents are fond ones. Sadly, they all have passed. I think often how much my mother’s parents would have loved her new husband: a business man and avid golfer himself… they would have been over the moon to see her with someone who treats her so well.

So, what’s the moral of the story? I’m not sure I have one- if you’ve gotten this far reading, you deserve an A+. If you have elderly loved ones who are still around, consider yourself lucky. Pick up the phone and call them just to say hi. I’m positive you won’t regret it, and you’ll make their day too.

4 thoughts on “Advice From A 90 Year Old Woman

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