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91 is Just a Number

“Grandma” is what she’s always been known to me. Born in the year 1930, she’s lived through multiple wars, the moon landing, the civil rights movement, electric cars, the internet, and cell phones. Grandma says that "Mamma and Pa were good parents." Pa worked for the electric company and Mamma was always at home. Grandma was the second born of 2 girls and 4 boys. Her older sister loved to read and was "the smart one." Grandma enjoyed doing housework from a young age. It was almost like a calling. Being "a good little Catholic girl" she always expected to just get married, have a lot of kids, and take care of those kids.

Grandma and Grandpa met in high school when she was a cheer leader and he was a cheer leader admirer. She can still recite and do the moves to some of the cheers. Nancy and Don married in 1952 only a week (or a month, this is debated) after he returned from the Korean War where he was a radio operator. Grandma bore 7 rambunctious boys and no girls. They moved from Illinois to California to Montana to Oregon (with many other moves in between).

Grandpa worked in masonry (the step structure in front of my old elementary school was built by him) and also dabbled as a plant nursery owner and motel manager. Grandma took care of home life, which, with 7 boys, was no easy task.

At some point, Grandma explains that she was teaching her boys catechism class and really didn't like the way Jesus was portrayed in the images included in the teaching materials. It was a time of hippies, her sons had long hair, and Catholic Jesus had nice trimmed hair "cut in a bob style." She says it sounds dumb, but that was the last straw and she was no longer Catholic. Later she embraced Protestantism. And still today her faith is a key value in her life and identity. Her faith is what gives her hope and motivation in living today, that she can keep spreading the word about her "favorite person."

Many stories and years later, Grandpa passed away in 2013. Grandma continued on residing in their home in Grants Pass, Oregon, until driving a car was getting too scary and her short term memory was becoming a problem. An example of this: she would go to the store in the morning, buy the groceries she needed, go home, forget she had gone to the store, and then go back to the store and buy those same groceries again. Seeing someone you love begin showing signs of dementia is really difficult. It can also be very frustrating and scary for that person. Grandma is aware of her memory problems. She writes herself notes and leaves them all around. Reminders to wear hearing aids, call a friend, or "put on" her eyebrows.

Grandma eventually moved close to family in a senior living home. There she can continue living independently, have community support, but also get care if needed. Grandma is still quite sharp. She doesn't babble or struggle coming up with words. She speaks clearly and gently and laughs a lot. She can recall many stories from her past, it's just the most recent and short term that she has difficulty remembering.

Grandma has taught me that 91 is just a number. She functions better than many people who are 50 or 60. She exercises daily, visits with friends, takes part in her church's activities, and is a member of the garden club in her senior living home. Maybe the key to Grandma's longevity is that she doesn't stop; she isn't lazy. And maybe that's a lesson we can all embrace.

Hopefully Grandma has many more years on this earth. Thanks for letting me share a bit of her story.

[All images shot on a Mamiya C220 and home developed.

Two rolls of 120 were used: Lomo Color 400 and Ilford HP5+]

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