September 12, 2016

The Centenarian: Arthur Warner McNair

Old men ought to be explorers
Here or there does not matter
We must be still and still moving
Into another intensity
For a further union, a deeper communion
Through the dark cold and the empty desolation,
The wave cry, the wind cry, the vast waters
Of the petrel and the porpoise. In my end is my beginning.

-- Eliot

mcnair-warner-b.jpgHe's one hundred years old and his long hands, once strong, are growing translucent. He does not so much sit in his wheelchair as he is held upright and at a slight slant by straps. Even awake his eyes are shut against the glare and the blur of the florescent lights in the roof of the home.

His meals of pureed food are spoon fed to him by attendants who speak to him in the tones he once used, long ago, on his infant children. When the drapes in his room are partially opened they reveal a view of a gravel roof, exhaust fans, and the brick facade of the opposite wing of the home. It's not a view but he doesn't mind. His eyes are shut against the glare and the blur of the present, and he's gone off on a fishing trip in the summer of 1949 where he will say to no one in particular, "Jesus, the fish are thick on the ground."

Don't make the mistake of thinking he's not in the here and now, because he'll surprise you now and then. He'll come out for a bit if it is worth it, but it seldom is. And then only for a moment.

He's my mother's brother, my uncle, and his life has now spanned a full century.

In the year of his birth, 1909, the NAACP was founded as was Tel Aviv while the keel of what was to become the Titanic was laid in Belfast. Taft took over the Presidency from Roosevelt (Theodore) and "Alice Huyler Ramsey, a 22-year-old housewife and mother from Hackensack, New Jersey, became the first woman to drive across the United States." Airplanes were only six years old but the Germans were already working on the anti-aircraft gun. Wisely so since the United States Army Signal Corp Division purchased the world's first military airplane from the Wright brothers in that same year. Not to be outdone, the US Navy decided it needed a central base in the Pacific and thought Pearl Harbor made strategic sense.

In the year of his birth Geronimo died, Barry Goldwater was born, and Guglielmo Marconi received the Nobel Prize in Physics for the invention of radio. There's a radio in his room next to his bed but it's never turned on. Neither is the television that hangs from the ceiling and if his phone rings, it's a mistake. But in his mind, there are signals still coming in from elsewhere, from elsewhen, from out there, and if you sit with him quietly, without trying to engage him and without expectation; if you sit with him "where here and now cease to matter" you can sometimes sense where he really lives in this his hundredth year.

C. S. Lewis observed “You don't have a soul. You are a Soul. You have a body.” Live long enough and your body slowly betrays you and sometimes takes your mind and soul with it.

Many of my uncle's relatives seem to think that's what has happened to him. And perhaps they are correct. Alzheimer's, senile dementia, and other associated afflictions are the terror of the elderly and their families. Indeed, they are the things we fear most about growing old next to unremitting pain from a degenerating disease. As one of my cousins said, "It's about 'quality of life.'

Dementia might well be the overriding problem that afflicts my uncle as he waits in his room with his name on a card in a slotted holder next to the door. "Dementia" is what we all assume when the elderly become less and less present to us as we perform our dutiful visits. We reintroduce ourselves and then carefully monitor how long they can hold who we are (son, daughter, sister, brother, friend) in their minds, and measure that against how long they held that knowledge the year before. It is almost always for a shorter time and that calculation distresses us.

So we call for more care, for more or different drugs. After all, their care is expensive and we need to get the value for money spent on our aged relatives knowing. We want them to know at least, who we are for more than five minutes. Their forgetfulness distresses us because it cuts us off from them just when our need to remind them of our love is greatest. It also upsets us because it is a portent of what waits for us when it is our name on the card in the slotted holder next to the door. Dementia.

Maybe. Maybe not.

I'd escorted my 94-year-old mother from her home in California to her childhood home in Fargo for my uncle's 100th birthday. My mother is still active and present and, all those who know her agree, inspiring. But her knees have betrayed her recently and long flights that change planes in Denver are something that can no longer be done without a dutiful son whose firm motto is: "There will be no falls on my watch."

In the same home, just down the hall from my 100 year old uncle, is my mother's other brother who is 96. He sleeps a lot but still reads, or seems to read, the daily paper. She'd spend time with him too. During those moments I'd sit with my uncle aslant in his wheel chair with his eyes shut against the glare of the lights and the blur of the common room. It was mostly a quiet time but, now and then, he'd speak to the air. He'd say things like, "Well, Barbara, what are we going to do about the tree this year?" and, after a minute or so, "Biggest damn Walleye I ever saw." Fragments and scraps of thoughts. As the poet says, "These fragments I have shored against my ruins."

It came to me that perhaps we sometimes mistake senile dementia for sanity in the elderly; that we are so impressed with our slivers and crumbs of knowledge about the workings of the human mind we mistake them for insights into the terra incognita of the human soul. It seemed to me, as I sat with my uncle, that maybe what I was hearing from him was a sane man's sane reaction to his circumstances.

If you knew to a certainty that every single day for the rest of your life, you'd be dressed in diapers and confined to a wheelchair with blurred eyesight in a small brick walled room what would you do?

If you knew to a certainty that at every meal for the rest of your life a woman who talked to you as if you were a baby would spoon three flavors of baby food into your mouth, what would you do?

If, opening your eyes, you knew that all you would see would be a bright fluorescent glare and the blurred shapes of dozens of others, mostly women, lolling about in wheelchairs, what would you do?

If you knew to a dead, solid certainty that you were never going to be released from your room until you were released, at long last, from your body, what would you do?

If you were a sane man, just what would you, at long last, do?

I don't know about you, but I would figure a way out of that prison. And if that way out was only deeper in, that's where I'd go. I'd go deep into my Palace of Memory and I'd use all my energy to construct a world inside that was made of the most vivid moments of all the years I'd lived.

In my Palace of Memory I'd be building the world's worst sandcastle on the beach in Balboa as my father and uncle tossed a football back and forth on the hot sand. I'd be waking up in the back seat of our 1951 Chevy and seeing my grandparents' faces pressed against the glass as the first snowflakes I'd ever seen fell softly behind them in the twilight. I'd be with my first wife on my wedding night at the Pierre. I'd be at my job on the better days. I'd be in a taxi in New York going downtown to Studio 54 at three in the morning making all the lights. I'd go back to a warm field in a California twilight and listen to the breath and laughter of a young girl heard once and never again. I'd sit in the sun in front of a rose-covered cottage in Big Sur. I'd be laughing on the Spanish Stairs or weaving drunk along a cliff road on the Greek island of Hydra under a bronze moon and above a wine-dark sea. I'd be high up in a hotel in Paris looking down at the Seine in the rain. I'd hold my one-year-old daughter over my head while lying on the grass in the Boston Public gardens in the spring and see her face framed with cherry blossoms.

All those and a thousand other rooms in my Palace of Memory I'd visit over and over again until they all ran together in a blur as the train of my life, accelerating, finally left the station and leapt towards the stars and beyond and, finally forgetting all of that, I saw for a fleeting moment the mystery complete.

More than anything else, I would not be in that brick walled room in the old folks' home any more than I absolutely had to.

I like to think that is what is going on in the soul of my uncle. It's not only "pretty to think so," but it has the added advantage of possibly being true. Because he is not always "away." He will come out into the present if the moment is right.

When my mother came in to see him the first time and said, "Mac, it's your sister, Lois," he said, without a pause, "Oh, my irritating little sister. How are you doing?" What followed was a pretty lively back and forth until he tired and left again before being wheeled downstairs for his lunch purees.

Then, a few days later, at the hundredth birthday party his family had arranged, the special presentation involved about thirty Barbershop Quartet singers. Both he and my uncle had been half of a barbershop quartet for decades and every Barbershopper for miles around showed up to honor both of them who sat in the front and listened to a cascade of songs.

At the end, of course, the singers launched into "Happy Birthday" which was taken up by the 150 other friends and family at the party. The last extended "Youuuuu..." faded and in the moment of silence that came after, my uncle opened his eyes and in a clear strong voice sang, on key, "Thank you all from the bottom of my heart."

Then he closed his eyes and left again taking with him, I hope, one last room to add to his Palace of Memory.

[First published June 24, 2009. Arthur Warner McNair, passed away peacefully in his sleep in his 100th year on October 8, 2009]

Posted by Vanderleun at September 12, 2016 12:14 PM
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"It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood." -- Karl Popper N.B.: Comments are moderated and may not appear immediately. Comments that exceed the obscenity or stupidity limits will be either edited or expunged.

Incredibly well put, sir.
Tears welled up a bit, as I recalled the visits to Great Uncles and Aunts, my Grandmother, and of the regular visits with those still with us after 80 and 90+ years...juxtaposed by the hugs and kisses with my 3 year old son and 1 1/2 year old daughter this very morning.
I would prefer your version of events, rather than thinking that, just as the rest of the systems are starting to fail, the synapses too begin to have random firings and sputterings, that result in flashes of memory...

Posted by: Uncle Jefe at June 24, 2009 10:46 AM

God Damn, that's strong. How I envy your family for having each other. Of course you're right, or what have any of us to hope for?

Do not go gentle into that good night...
Rage, rage against the dying of the light

Posted by: Rob De Witt at June 24, 2009 11:48 AM

I suspect that was what was going on with my father too in his last year. His stooped body was just an aching echo of the burly construction dude of his younger years, and he had brought a sudden end to his driving career by rear-ending a Town Car with his Volkswagen. He couldn't play his beloved accordion anymore. Why wouldn't he spend his time remembering better days?

Posted by: Pete Madsen at June 24, 2009 11:59 AM

Thank you.

Posted by: Lance de Boyle at June 24, 2009 12:26 PM

Damn you I am crying.

Posted by: AC at June 24, 2009 12:42 PM

Ditto, AC...

beautiful, G

Posted by: doug at June 24, 2009 1:17 PM

Fabulous. Glad I stopped by today.

Posted by: Kerry at June 24, 2009 3:40 PM

Your scribbling this evening is a heart grabber -- and you truly grabbed mine tonight.

You have a gift that keeps on giving.

Posted by: ChiefTestPilot at June 24, 2009 4:37 PM

Reading the article as I sat in my wheel chair, strapped in by my wonderful caregivers, who feed me now only by spoon as forks are more difficult, it dawned on me that Vanderleun is more correct than not. As I wait for Karen, my night girl, to come in to unstrap me from my chair and fit a sling to me so that she can wheel the electric lift over to hook up the sling to and hoist me to wheel me over and lay me on my bed. But while waiting for Karen I sit in front of my computer feverishly moving my head up and down and side to side moving the curser around the screen as I write this response. Karen will be in soon to get me on the bed, remove and drain the urine collection bag strapped to my leg and the external catheter from my Willy, bath me and put on a new external and run it to a collection bag on the floor. I suppose that many would find my life to be of a low quality. But having just turned 72 and in good health except for my ALS (Lou Gerghigs disease) I am enjoying living more than a little. Four granddaughters less than a mile, a friend of fifty years who comes over nearly every day for lunch my life is rich. I wake up each day excited. Dementia, now that is something else.

Posted by: Howard McCarthy at June 24, 2009 5:34 PM

My mother-in-law used to go 'away' during the last year of her life, but sometimes she'd talk about where she was. One of the bitterweet memories is listening to her describe a dress her husband bought for her to attend a special occasion. She responded to my questions about the style and color of the dress and what the occasion was all about. He'd surprised her with the dress after they'd talked it over and decided they couldn't afford it. It happened, you see, in 1936, the depths of the Great Depression. She re-visited the event with me in 1995.

Thanks for prompting the memory. I think I'll take flowers to her tomorrow.

Posted by: Retread at June 24, 2009 5:38 PM

Holy moly, I just made visits to a nursing home yesterday. I've made hundreds by now. This took my breath away.

Posted by: Donald Sensing at June 24, 2009 6:08 PM

I can empathize with your uncle. I built a model railroad layout in my mind while I was in a hospital bed for three months.

Posted by: Pappy at June 24, 2009 7:13 PM

You have been granted the extremely rare ability to utilize your God given talent for the enrichment or others lives. I am continually amazed at the places you take my mind. To be able to view life from a perspective such as yours is a gift. To be able to put your thoughts on paper as you do is a blessing to us all. You have my most sincere thanks.

Posted by: Roger Drew Williams at June 24, 2009 7:55 PM

Many thanks to all my readers for you kind thoughts.

Posted by: vanderleun at June 24, 2009 8:16 PM

Aw geez, Gerard. I just spent two weeks with my 87 year old mother and was going to write about watching her diminish. You've taken the wind out of my sails with this one. Truly - what more need be said?

If I had half your gift, I'd still be Solieri to your Mozart.

Posted by: Western Chauvinist at June 24, 2009 9:09 PM

I read you for the political and cultural stuff.

I wasn't interested in this; so I scanned it using that "F" shaped scan pattern we use on the internet. Then I got to the end; scrolled back to the top and read Every. Single. Word.

Nearly all of my family had the good graces to drop dead fairly young, or at least very quickly of drink or overwork or grief or any and all combinations. Come to think of it, the only one left is my Mom, and I'm a young guy. She's a mean Okie without vice and a penchant for folk-medicine and anatomy so she'll probably outlast me

However, I did work installing computer systems in a chain of God's-Waiting-Room type of old-folk's homes. One old boy was doing the usual repetitive call: "Nurse...." "Nurse...." "Nurse...." "Nurse...." "Nurse...." &tc.....

Finally the nurse spoke to him (not unkindly, these were expensive homes, they could afford me networking their stations and offices): "Just a moment Mr. _____, I've got to finish what I'm doing."

He replied: "Fuck you, I'm wet."

God Bless you, Mr. _____, this was 13 years ago, and I know you are gone, but you never broke and you never quit.

Thank you for writing this and provoking this memory for me, Gerard.

Posted by: Gray at June 24, 2009 10:16 PM

Howard McCarthy: "But while waiting for Karen I sit in front of my computer feverishly moving my head up and down and side to side moving the curser around the screen as I write this response."

I can't compose and type that well with fingers and a keyboard!

Life has intrinsic value: God grant that I have the courage to live as long as I possibly can in any condition life may find me.

We need good examples and role models for getting old and infirm or we will just stampede in terror and follow each other off the "quality-of-life" cliff.

Keep it up Howard: the value of my life is held more dear by myself and others 'cuz of you.

Posted by: Gray at June 24, 2009 10:32 PM

Tears in my eyes and a smile on my face, that was exquisite Gerard.

My last visit to a nursing home was at Christmas, when I escorted 25 boy scouts in to carol for the residents. This was the same home where my granny spent her last years in the grips of creeping dementia and translucent frailty.

Most of dozen or so residents, lined up in their chairs around the day room, were quite aware and excited to see these little boys sing, but a few only came to life at certain songs. I remember one gentlemen, who appeared to be completely absent throughout most of the program, lift his head and begin to sing along in a strong tenor when O Holy Night began. It was a beautiful moment.

Posted by: Daphne at June 25, 2009 5:15 AM

My visits here are always rewarded...never more so than today...thanks very much.

Posted by: thud at June 25, 2009 5:25 AM

Damn, you're good!!

Posted by: Larry Knudson at June 25, 2009 7:51 AM


You shared these thoughts with me while in Fargo and I can't tell you how many times I've related them to friends in these short two weeks. Quite insightful for a one time hippie. This expanded version is masterful and right on. It gives me comfort and relieves some guilt from not traveling the 140 miles to see dad more often.

Thank you for escorting "Auntie Lolass" home to celebrate with us. I'm looking forward to her 100th.

Posted by: David at June 25, 2009 9:57 AM

For the past several years now I have experienced a strange sensation. I am only 65 and in good health, but lately, lately when I take my afternoon nap in the warm sunlight I can feel the soft air and smell the gentle smells of a summer when I was only 4 or 5. The air is soft and warm, the smells are of summer grass and flowers. Mom is so happy and full of hope, we are picking little black raspberries. It is a wonderful place to re-visit and so easy to go there now--the sunlight coming in through the window needs to be just right--the quiet needs to be just so--the room temperature neither too hot, nor to cool--and then I am there.

Posted by: Metoo at June 25, 2009 10:02 AM

Wow Gerard...thank you so much for writing this. It perfectly describes grandpa. Next time you're in charge of the scrapbook.

Posted by: Erica at June 25, 2009 10:53 AM

See what you do, Gerard?

Tears, smiles, memories conjured in your readers?

A lump in this throat.

And Metoo's comment which made me hopeful.

Posted by: Cathy at June 25, 2009 10:53 AM

I've read somewhere that the brain is a secondary organ which aids the soul.

It's failure, before the time that a person departs, is a sad occurence.

Nice story, Girard.

Posted by: cond0010 at June 25, 2009 11:34 AM

The ancient Greeks considered dementia to be a gift from the Gods. Watching my Mother-in-Law leave us and rejoin her husband who preceded her by 33 years (she was a one man woman) I often thought about that. She had, in her mind, her wonderful Erico with her. My wife and I are lucky enough to still be going forward but I have enough good memories so if I have to go back it won't be a burden.

Posted by: glenn at June 25, 2009 6:19 PM

This was very powerful and thank you for writing it. You certainly have a gift for writing and it brought tears to my eyes. It describes Dad to a tee and you picked up on that so well.
It was great to see you again after all these years and thanks for bringing your Mom to help us celebrate.

Posted by: Linda at June 25, 2009 7:00 PM

This was very powerful and thank you for writing it. You certainly have a gift for writing and it brought tears to my eyes. It describes Dad to a tee and you picked up on that so well.
It was great to see you again after all these years and thanks for bringing your Mom to help us celebrate.

Posted by: Linda at June 25, 2009 7:00 PM

My 88 year old dad(ex P-51D fighter pilot with the RAF)died last night. This was after a little over a month in a hospital and then his last days in a nursing home. I saw my daddy sit in a diaper, confined to a wheelchair. Towards the end he couldn't see and was fed the nice pureed foods of different colors and smells, none of which he could tolerate. He couldn't even sit in the wheelchair anymore. The words Gerald wrote was my Dad. I hope that I was able to bring some kind of peace to Dad's last days and hours of his life. Even if to turn his pillow over or kiss his forehead and rub his arms and hands. I always told him I loved him and that I knew that he loved me as well. His passing was a blessing. I will miss him deeply.

Posted by: Mary E. Hamel at June 25, 2009 8:31 PM

I'm sorry, Mary. My dad was also a WWII vet and died in 2002.

Posted by: rickl at June 25, 2009 10:28 PM


That was remarkable; your description of the memories you'd relive as you retreated deep inside were perfectly drawn and intensely moving. Honestly, I doubt anyone's ever done a better job describing what it's like to approach the end of our days, when the body fails us but the mind remains young.


Posted by: Mike Lief at June 25, 2009 11:08 PM

Thank you, sir. Thank you very much.

Posted by: JeffS at June 26, 2009 9:22 AM


Takes your breath away.

Posted by: pdwalker at June 26, 2009 7:48 PM

Thank you for writing something so wonderful about grandpa. It was great seeing you and your mom on this special event. Thank you for bringing Aunt Lois. It was a wonderful weekend and reading this brought memories and tears to my eyes.

Posted by: Jennifer at July 3, 2009 10:50 AM

Gerard, you are absolutely at your best when you write about your family. Deeply touching. Thank you.

Posted by: Maggie45 at July 3, 2009 8:15 PM

I've been gone, just read your aging post.

Glad Warner inspired you to share you views about the part of life we dread and fear. It was beatifully written.

Warner stated just yesterday," You know, breaking things just doesn't accomplish anything."

I wonder what in his memory prompted that? Good luck with your own quest.


Posted by: at July 7, 2009 11:44 AM

Good men must die like everybody else, but death cannot kill their good names.

Posted by: sippican at October 8, 2009 12:29 PM

Peace be with you.

Posted by: Kerry at October 8, 2009 1:04 PM

I'm devastated. RIP

Posted by: FeFe at October 8, 2009 2:00 PM

Thank you so much for this. I can not express how much this spoke to me.

God Bless

Posted by: Dan at October 8, 2009 2:45 PM

There is something so immeasurably sad in this tale, yet something so profundly human and uplifting, that we are all moved by it.

My mother is getting quite old, and perhaps the saddest part is that while she is still quite lucid and aware, many of her lifelong friends have already departed this earthly realm. In some ways, I cannot fathom the heartbreak of being one of the last of her generation.

We all deeply fear the darkness and the unknown that will surely capture us all, yet we all hope that we can somehow, someway retain our humanity.

And we all hope for a light beyond the darkness.

I hope that your uncle has found the light that we all seek.

Vaya con Dios, Mr. Van der Luen. This was one of the best of many wonderful essays.
Thank you.

Posted by: David at October 8, 2009 3:58 PM

My sympathies, for what they are worth.

I have my grandfather's footlocker (born 1892) from his service in the RFC in WWI. Old railroad stickers on the side, and a University of Iowa sticker from the early 1920's. And on the inside is the address of next-of-kin, in Ontario.

Odd to have a relic like that when all you knew was the old man. Although, I suppose some families do not have those thoughts when the past is all about them.

Posted by: Mikey NTH at October 8, 2009 5:18 PM

And I am going to have to insist that mom and dad use that dictaphone I gave them this summer.

Grandpa didn't say much about the RFC but once, when as a gift I gave him a model of a WWI British fighter. He spoke then. But I was fourteen and never recorded it.

Posted by: Mikey NTH at October 8, 2009 5:26 PM

Beautiful! God bless him and thank you for this. As if he were in the room! Reading it again today, knowing that he had died, I was struck by how your imagining the Palace of Memories is in tune with Jesus' "I go to prepare a place for you...In my Father's house are many mansions...". What a grace to be given a glimpse into your family's rooms so rich with memories. Praying for him and all your family as you mourn his loss and celebrate his life.

I sat so often in the hospital with patients who were close to death and whatever the age, if they were not inextreme agony or crisis, they seemed to withdraw into their own world. Sometimes meds, sometimes being assumed to be disoriented, but it seemed to me that most were actually turning in to why really mattered and brought satisfaction ( as opposed to the horrors and indignities of illness and upset over ones whose reactions often tired the patient more. This could upset family members who took it as rejection personally. The old fashioned notions of preparing to meet one's maker have some truth to them I believe. At the end of life, the greatest love and honor we can show our elderly loved ones is to remind ourselves of what you described. Because it isn't about us, but them.

Posted by: retriever at October 8, 2009 10:37 PM

My wife and I took communion to both your uncles on Sunday, October 3rd. It was clear that Warner was with us while we were there. We will miss him.

Posted by: Charles at October 9, 2009 12:43 PM

I meant to comment on this earlier. It's a tough thing, losing a close member of the previous generation, regardless of age. Centenarians are rare in that generation, they will surely become more common. Not sure what that will mean in terms of quality of life.

It's good that you knew him, and had the opportunity to interact with him, and respect him. I fear we Boomers will be considered detritus by our offspring, however well they camouflage that fact. Not that we don't probably deserve it.

Here's to Mr. McNair. Uncle Warner. Godspeed, and rest in peace.

Posted by: Velociman at October 10, 2009 4:21 PM

Gerard---very moving. you have a true gift for describing that which we all secretly dread. I saw Warner briefly the Sunday before he died, and also visited with Dad that day. I was saddend by both of thier conditions and fled in to my "Doctor" persona to protect myself. Perhaps I was wrong and they were both in their "palaces of memory." Thank you!

Posted by: Tim McNair at October 15, 2009 1:07 AM

I remember when Warner and Barb had the store on the south side. My mother always ordered groceries from there and my Dad and Warner played tennis together for a long time. I think that they were all best friends. I was just a boy but I remember both Warner and Barb with affection.

Bill Oakey

Posted by: Bill Oakey at November 17, 2010 2:37 PM

Thank you for that note, Bill. I appreciate it.

Posted by: Vanderleun at November 17, 2010 4:40 PM

Thank you for reprinting this. At age 78 I realize that I have been building my own Memory Castle my entire life, brick by brick, and I hope it will always be a work-in-progress. It is fun to visit from time to time, some rooms more fun than others, but with luck and the Grace of God, I will never have to move in full time.

Posted by: Tom at March 13, 2011 12:09 PM

I have just read this & just finished mopping up my tears...I am a nurse & have worked in many homes for the aged & seeing residents apparently 'non responsive'...I think now I see why the residents may seem this way. I have never understood why our elderly are treated poorly by others. They are our historians, our links to the past that you can't read about in books & library buildings. If we just sit & listen to our elders, we can not just learn from them, but gain an understanding of bygone lives...On Jan 7th 2012, my grandmother celebrated her century birthday. Surrounded by 3 generations, her closest friends & two surviving brothers, we spent a few hours recalling the events in her lifetime - we are blessed as apart from poor hearing & eyesight, the lungs don't work like they used to, my grandmother is still sharp as a tack. Does the crosswords in the paper & can still recall who our political leaders were & currently are, (not that she agrees with them either!!) Sadly though, I think that it was the last time me & my family will see her...our next family gathering will be to say goodbye I suspect. Mean time, I am teaching my children to have the respect & to take the time to listen as I do truly believe that our elders hold the keys to family units & have lessons to be taught that just can't be found in any book or classroom. Thank you for your writings, I have printed it up & given it to my kids to read.

Posted by: Pippa at January 29, 2012 2:10 PM

Lord Liftin' Thunder.

I know I read this before, but it has lost none of its impact.

I hope you're right.

Posted by: pdwalker at June 11, 2012 8:28 AM

It still hits, this post.

I know I have started down that road and I am only 46. I see something, I am reminded of something, and I follow that memory, and then realize that memory was from twenty-five years ago. And then I think "Holy cow, if I'm doing that now, what will I be doing in ten years?"

Posted by: Mikey NTH at June 12, 2012 7:19 PM

Gorgeous as always.

Posted by: Uncle Mikey at June 28, 2012 1:28 PM

Great story and message cousin. Sadly I knew very little of my uncle and others from my Moms(Emily) side of her family. I only wish I had a time machine that could rectify that. Hope to read some more story's of my family. Best to you.

Posted by: Arthur Fitzgerald at November 3, 2012 10:34 PM

This essay is as perceptive as it is beautiful. This one, the essay about the elderly gentleman in the Seattle museum, the one about your father and the one about your father's brother are as good as any ever written.

Posted by: Quent at September 12, 2016 1:58 PM

Damn G, you hit that out of the park.

I have always dreaded visiting elderly folk at the home, ever since being dragged as a kid to visit a great gramma, to sit for hours as my mom listened dutifully to stories.

It was horrible to see other old folks drooling and nodding, and I promised myself I would never end up in a place like that, or let my Mom and Dad do same.

But now I understand, and it wont be so hard, to visit, and simply be there. with much less distress, and peace in acceptance of how it is.

I would do just exactly as you describe, G, were I trapped as your uncle was- fly away to that inner world of memory, and of course- once you described it- I'd expect that to be the most humane way any other sane person could resolve it, if all their friends were gone, too.

Just beautiful, again. Thanks.

Posted by: foodog at September 12, 2016 10:51 PM

Now that I'm 87 I could dread the thought of a nursing home.

My defense: don't think about it.

Denial gets a bum rap.

Posted by: JamesG at September 13, 2016 7:11 AM

Well, I love this. Staggeringly beautiful. (I need to read The Wasteland again, well perhaps another look at Eliot all together, it's been a long time.)

Posted by: DeAnn at September 14, 2016 8:51 AM