Wednesday, December 01, 2010

105 Years Old Today

This is pretty much the same piece I’ve run on this date for the past six years. I first put it out here when My Grandma had her 100th birthday. Today she is 105.

There isn’t much I’ve had to change within the piece each year. A few numbers, of course, as each year adds one to everything, but, other than that, not a heck of a lot of work for me to do.

(I am now 53, while Grandma is 105. It has taken me this long to reach more than half her age. This means there is no more denying that I'm middle-aged, and I can probably expect to go rapidly downhill from here on since my habits are nowhere near as healthful as My Grandma's have been. Of course, I might have at least another 52 years, if I have her genes, and I suppose this is good news for me while not so much for fans of good writing.)

If you haven’t read this before, I think you’ll like it. My Grandma has lived a very full and interesting life. On top of that, the changes that have occurred during the course of her lifetime are fairly amazing. The history lesson alone is worth the read.

I don’t suppose I need to say anything else to set it up. Enjoy!


Today My Grandma is 105 years old. That's her, with the cat.

Think of it - she has lived an entire century, plus another 1/20. 105 years. What an amazing thing. The world was a completely different place when Maybelle Barcelo was born.

When Grandma was born, there were only 45 states. Alaska, Hawaii, Arizona, New Mexico and Oklahoma were just territories. Not until she was 54 years old did it become the 50 states that we now know.

When she was born, Roosevelt was President. Franklin? No, Theodore. There had never been any such thing as a "World War". The first one didn't begin until she was 9. The United States didn't become involved until she was 12. It ended when she became a teenager.

When Grandma was born, television wasn't even an idea, let alone a reality. Hell, radio as an entertainment was unheard of when she was born. The telephone was a relatively new device and only 8% of US homes had one. When you needed to send news, you may have relied on the telegraph.

There were no such things as commercial airplanes in the air overhead. The Wright Brothers had flown at Kitty Hawk only two years previously. So, you drove everywhere, right? Yeah, if you had a horse. There were approximately 8,000 cars in the US, and only 144 miles of paved roads.

In the year of My Grandma's birth, 1905, the second World Series was played. The Red Sox, with Cy Young pitching, had won the first two years earlier. By the time Grandma was 13 years old, in 1918, the Red Sox had won 5 of the 14 World Series that had been contested. The Sox had won more than 1/3 of the World Series ever played. They were the winningest team in baseball history. When she turned 99, they had managed to win another one, and then when she was 102, again. How many folks can say they've been around for all but one Red Sox championship? Not too many. And how about The Celtics? The Bruins? The Patriots? No, no, and no. Let's take it further. The NBA? The NHL? The NFL? Non-existent at the time of My Grandma's birth.

Movies were not a mass entertainment at all. The first movie theatre in the country - that is, a building specifically made for showing motion pictures - opened in Pittsburgh the year she was born. What motion pictures there were, were silent. Sound would not come to the movies for another 22 years.

CDs, cassette tapes, records? Fuggedaboudit. You wanted to hear music, you pretty much had to go find a band playing somewhere. There were some cylinder recordings, and a few of the newer flat records, but the Gramophone (or Victrola) wouldn't be introduced until 1906, so most folks didn't have the ability to play them. It was some 30 years before the invention of the electric guitar.

The outhouse was not a total anomaly. There were quite a few homes in the United States without indoor plumbing. Only 14% of US houses had a bathtub. Considering a slightly more delicate matter, there was no commercial production of feminine hygiene products. Kotex, the first major brand marketed, did not make its appearance on shelves until after World War One. And birth control? What the heck is that?

Coca-Cola still contained Cocaine. Heroin, Morphine and Marijuana were available at any of your larger drugstores, over the counter. There were NOT cities full of addicts making it a daunting task for good folks to walk the streets without fear of being mugged for drug money. Now, they're illegal, and... well, you know. On the other hand, many thousands of people died from the flu each year, as well as tuberculosis. Penicillin was just bread mold. The third leading cause of death in the United States was diarrhea - no joke.

Women didn't have the right to vote until Grandma was 17.

When My Grandma was born, the average life expectancy in the United States was forty-seven. She sure has beaten the hell out of that statistic.


Some folks might wonder just what My Grandma thinks of all the changes that have happened since she was born. I guarantee you that she doesn't spend much time thinking about it. That's one of the secrets to her longevity, I think. Grandma is one of those folks who let little or nothing bother her. She is, without a doubt, the least aggravated person I have ever known.

I once mentioned this to my mother. I said, "You know, Mom, I don't ever remember Grandma being mad. Is it just me? Have you ever seen her really angry?" My Mom said that she really could not remember a time when My Grandma was steaming mad. In all the time I've known her, which is 53 years, I've only seen her either smile or, at most, have a look of indifference. I don't believe I've ever seen her cry, although I'm sure she has. I've probably said more swears during the course of my writing this piece than she has uttered in her entire life. I've never heard her curse, even once. My Mom doesn't curse, per se, but she uses substitute words, such as "fudge" or "shoot". My Grandma doesn't even use those.

Understand this, though - she has certainly had reason to use some pretty strong words. Some folks who had her life might have invented completely new swear words.

She lost her left eye just before her first birthday. A clock fell from a mantle and the corner of it punctured her eyeball. She's had a plastic eye ever since then. That hasn't stopped her from being one of the most marvelous artists I know. She has no depth perception, yet she paints and crochets and does mosaic work - beautifully. There is absolutely no indication in any of her work that she has vision in only one eye.

She has had a number of operations, any one of which might have made other folks bitter (or at least extremely sad) for years afterward. Not my Grandma. She had a mastectomy a few years back. She has false teeth. Her gall bladder long ago went the way of the dodo. She's had a couple of procedures involving her intestines. Add a hysterectomy, sometime in the 1940's. And the plastic eye, of course. On top of that, she's quite deaf. But none of it stops her. Or stops her from smiling.


The only thing that's slowed her in any significant way is the stroke she suffered 10 years ago, at the age of 95. Thankfully, it caused little physical damage. However, it took away her ability to sing. This was important because, until that time, she had been singing regularly.

There was this bar in Quincy called Mr. C's that she and my mother went to, along with my stepfather, Bill. There were quite a few folks of their age, or perhaps a bit younger, who came out once a week to gather around the piano and sing some standards. My Grandma was a regular. However, don't get the idea that she was some sort of senior barfly. Sure, she'd have a drink (a sombrero was her choice) but at other times during the week, they would take this show on the road to various nursing homes and retirement facilities, along with good friends and great musicians Rose Ryder and Bill Bemus. Yes, in her nineties, Grandma was traveling around entertaining nursing home patients.

Except for her age, this was not an unusual activity for her. She had been volunteering at such residences for more than thirty years - since her mid-sixties, when My Grandpa died. She was, as a matter of fact, the Volunteer Of The Year for the state of Massachusetts in 1978. Of course, she didn't get an award like that for just singing and dancing. She taught arts and crafts to the patients, as well as helping with transportation and other things. She did this, for many years, all day, every day. The award she received did not make her rest on her laurels. In 1995, she was nominated as "Elderpreneur Of The Year" for her various volunteer activities. She was 90 at the time.

You might be thinking, "How nice that she started doing this type of stuff when her husband died. It must have helped to fill the void his absence left behind." Well, yes, perhaps. However, volunteering and doing community work was hardly something new for her. Many years before, she had been instrumental in starting the first Girl Scout troop in her hometown of Weymouth. She worked in entertaining many servicemen, in hospitals and service clubs, following World War One. This was with her older brother, Louis, who did magic and ventriloquism, and her younger sister, Gerry, who also sang and danced. In addition, she and my grandfather also entertained service folk at their home throughout the years. There are quite a few veterans who would gladly tell you how much Grandma, and her family's hospitality, meant to them during a tough time in their lives.


One of the more interesting stories about Grandma was how she finagled dancing lessons for herself when she was a young woman. She couldn't afford to just take them and pay for them, so what did she do? She started her own dancing school. She signed up students, and then she signed up for dancing lessons from a renowned Russian ballet teacher of the time named Russikoff. She would take a lesson from Russikoff. Then, before her next lesson, she would give lessons to her students. Then she would take another lesson, afterwards giving that lesson to her students, and so on. How brave and inventive was that?


Grandma, Aunt Jeanne, Uncle Rick, Mom (Connie), and Grandpa, Francis N. Drown

She has kept a marvelous outlook despite some serious kicks in the face from life. As mentioned earlier, she has one eye, has had a mastectomy, a stroke, etc., and lost her husband of 43 years over one-third of her lifetime ago. She also is without one of her three children. My Aunt Jeanne, the eldest, succumbed to cancer at the age of 59. They say that one of the worst things that can ever happen to anybody is to lose a child. She had this happen when she was in her eighties. No doubt it hurt then and still does.

However, My Grandma does NOT dwell on the past. And that's probably the biggest secret to how long she has lived and how well she has lived. Whenever she brings up the past, it is NEVER to relive something bad. She remembers the good times, almost exclusively. What a wonderful way to live. What a gift to have the temperament to do so.

It helps to have helpful children, of course. My Mom, Connie, is in her seventies. She lives just a block or so away from Grandma, with her husband (my stepfather) Bill MacDonald. They visit regularly and help out in whatever ways they can. And my Uncle Rick, a former airline pilot (for some years now, a private investigator) lives with Grandma. He is a skilled carpenter and woodworker, very handy with just about any tool, so is invaluable in keeping the house, and everything in it, in good working order. She also has had the love of 15 grandchildren, 17 great-grandchildren, and even one great-great-grandchild.

Still, Grandma is as self-sufficient a person as you could hope to find at her age. She wouldn't have it any other way. She still drove at age 95. She had to give that up when she suffered the stroke, but before then she'd still go shopping for groceries and run other errands herself. I'm sure she still would, given the opportunity.


Grandma, with future blogger, circa 1957

My own memories of Grandma are pretty pedestrian stuff, I suppose. I remember nice meals when I visited. For some reason, I remember almost always having lamb at their house. I remember her driving to meet Grandpa at the train station after his workday (he was the senior claims attorney for the MBTA), me in the back seat, and then going to her place. Sometimes when I visited, she'd take me to a bakery near her house and buy a half-dozen cupcakes. I remember the marvelous aromas of baked bread and the desserts at that bakery, and the way Grandma would let me pick out my own cupcake (I always took one with chocolate frosting.) I remember the interesting mix of smells that Beechnut peppermint gum and Winston cigarettes would make. She chewed one and smoked the other - you can probably guess which.

Oh, yeah. She smoked until she was well into her seventies. It appears to have had little lasting effect. I sure as hell hope I've inherited those genes.

She has always loved cats and has pretty much always had one. When I was growing up, it was Mugsy, a big all-black tomcat that my Uncle Rick found abandoned as a kitten. Most recently, it was Dennis The Menace, another big black tomcat that I can't remember how he came to be there. She doesn't have a cat now, Dennis having gone mouse hunting in heaven a year ago. Always black cats, even in the photo from when she was three years old. I'm sure there will be another black cat someday. And they say black cats are bad luck. Not if you want to have a long life, apparently.

She always saved the Sunday funnies for me, from her local newspaper that we didn't get in Dorchester. It was a special treat when I went there to visit and got to read those full-color pages on a weekday.

She was a huge Bruins fan for a while. I don't know why. Of course, during that time period (the 70's) there were few people who weren't Bruins fans in New England. If there was a Bruins game on when you visited, she'd be watching it. I don't remember her ever being a sports fan before or since.

She used to do things with acrylics and with polished stones. She had this sort of motorized canister than tumbled stones until they became really smooth and beautiful, and she used to use these stones to create marvelous works of art, combining painting with the stones (and with other bits and pieces) to create seascapes. And with the acrylics, she'd make these lovely lamps, full of color and really eye-catching. And then there was her sewing and knitting. She made pillows and comforters and other usefully pretty objects. These things were, of course, on top of her painting and needlework and crocheting and singing and cooking and houseplants and volunteer work and...

And I get tired just thinking of it, never mind doing it. She was (and is) an amazingly talented and inspiring woman.


She is also one of the most moral people I know. She doesn't thump a bible in your face or anything like that. As a matter of fact, I don't know the last time she was in a church other than for a wedding or a funeral, although I suspect she says her prayers at night. She just lives right. She knows what's fair and what's unfair. She has never, and I mean never, shown anyone even the slightest prejudice because of skin color or religion or political leanings. When it comes to people, she is absolutely blind to anything other than their humanity. Just as I've never heard her swear, I've also never heard her use any sort of pejorative in her description of someone.

Left - Maybelle, and her younger sister, Gerry, on right

Some of this may be due to her own ethnicity. She is, as a Barcelo, of Hispanic background (I am also, of course, though you certainly can't see anything but the Irish in my pasty skin.) She tells the story of her mother having been left by her mother with someone (possibly a relative, but nobody is quite sure) and then never seeing her again. This person treated her as a servant and she lived for a while in slave quarters in the south. No doubt this would tend to have an effect on a person's way of treating others and this was probably passed on to My Grandma and her siblings.

Then again, it just may be that she's a nice person without any mitigation. It happens.


I suppose it goes without saying that I love My Grandma. Beyond that, though, in so many ways, My Grandma is my hero. She has done more, with what she's been given, than anyone else I know. I treasure the time I spend with her now and the times I have spent with her in the past. I couldn't have asked for a Grandmother, made to my specifications, who could possibly have been more perfect than the one that I have.

Happy 105th Birthday, Grandma. God willing, many more.

I love you.


Jackie said...

Happy Birthday to your dear Grandma. I read every word with tears in my eye....not of sadness...because who could be sad reading about such a kind and loving woman.... The tears were those of respect. God bless your Grandma, Jim. What a blessing to have her in your lives.
Hugs to you,
Jackie said...

Happy Birthday, Grandma Suldog! Reading this brought back memories of my own Grandma who died ten years ago at the age of 95. (A youngster compared to your Grandma!) She grew up in the same time and lived through the same events. Thanks, Jim, for bringing up lovely memories on a rainy day!

Cricket said...

Happy Birthday Grandma.

As you know, I'm a big fan of Grandmas. I hope you rerun this story for years to come.

Anonymous said...

Happy Birthday Grandma!

I love reading this every year.

- Jazz

Jeni said...

I don't anticipate having that kind of longevity -too many warnings have already been given to me you could say. Plus, if I do get to a really ripe old age, the odds there of my being lucid aren't the best either as there's a family history of senility. And that's the only thing along the medical lines that I truly fear -mainly because I've seen what it does to people and would hate to have my kids and grandchildren endure watching me as my marbles began to disappear.
But however long I have left to be on this planet, I sincerely hope that all three of my grandchildren can say at least a few of the beautiful words you've written here about your Grandmother.
'Cept I suppose mine would probably say I was a bit on the looney tunes side from their first memories of me -senility or not!
Love these posts when you allow your sentimental side to show through in all its shining glory, Jim! Please, don't ever change!

Daryl said...

And I love how you love her .. bless her 105 yr. old heart, may she live as long as she wants to ... I loved how you listed all the changes that have occurred in her lifetime, my dad was 92 when he passed being here with us for the turn of the century was a very big deal to him ...

Craig said...

Utterly wonderful. . .

I had a great-aunt who lived to 102 (she was my dad's father's sister; Dad was 81 when she died). She was the unofficial Family Historian, and I got to sit down with her a couple times; she told me about the time her grandfather gave her dad a team of horses when he bought a new farm. . .

I loved the context-setting stuff at the beginning. Somewhere in my 'archives', I have a photo of my own grandma (b 1902) with a 45-star flag. . .

Nick said...

Holy Smokes, that's awesome. She was a toddler when Teddy Roosevelt was prez.

Lora said...

Happy Birthday to your Grandma! I really enjoyed reading her story.

Dawn said...

Happy Birthday to your Grandma! I very much enjoyed reading about her life. What an amazing and inspiring woman!

Michelle H. said...

Happy Birthday, Grandma Suldog! May we re-read this post many more times.

JInksy said...

Wow ! What a record, and what a life story. Happy Birthday, Grandma! XXX

Buck said...

Happy Birthday to your Grandma, Jim.

Your post is as good a read today as it has ever been. What a remarkable life.

Hilary said...

I have read this once or twice before but thoroughly enjoy rereading it today. May you repost this for many years to come. Happy Birthday to your beautiful Grandma!

Pauline said...

I hope she's read this tribute every year since you first wrote it! That would surely make her day. Lucky you to have such a wonderful grandmother.

(not necessarily your) Uncle Skip said...

It's been more that thirty years since my Grandma (paternal) passed at the age of 94. As much time as we spent together, I wish we'd had more. The same for my Grandma (maternal) who passed when I was eleven. I still miss them both.

(not necessarily your) Uncle Skip said...

Oh, yeah - Bacon!

Sandra said...

A beautiful tribute. May your love and admiration for her inspire you to be the best you can be too, as obviously she has done. What a blessing she must be to everyone around her. :)

Maggie May said...

Happy Birthday Grandma and congratulations on 105! You sound a brilliant lady who has had a very interesting life!
Thanks Suldog for writing this lovely post.
Maggie X

Nuts in May

Anonymous said...

Happy Birthday to your Grandma! She is a nice, nice woman.

Kat said...

Wow! What a woman! Amazing what she has lived to see and experience. Just amazing. And inspiring.
Such a beautiful post and tribute to a fabulous woman.
Happy Birthday to your dear Grandmother!

lime said...

happy birthday, miss maybelle! however many more birthdays you are destined to have i pray they are filled with good health and the wonderful zest you have always shown and that you are surrounded by people who love you.

what a wonderful tribute, suldog. and though i've read it before i didn't skip a word this time because it's such a worthy read so lovingly written about such a dear person.

Jenn Flynn-Shon said...

You go grandma! Happy birthday! 105 is awesome and all the things she's seen and done in that century+ just astound me. I hope to live even half as appreciative of a life as your grandma! Love re-reading this :-)

IT (aka Ivan Toblog) said...

Fair winds and a following sea to Grandma Suldog.

Sniffles and Smiles said...

Hello, dear Jim!! Just stopping by to say, "hello" to one of my favorite relatives ;-)) How are you? I love this post...loved it last year, too!! Your grandma is a remarkable woman!! No wonder she is your hero!!! I think she's mine, too! Loved all the fun facts as well as stories about your grandma's life!! So terrific. And of course always delivered in your own uniquely wonderful style!! My favorite word in this post? "Fuggedaboudit." I'm lovin' it! :-)) Hugs, Janine

Putz said...

this is so special to have her so long<><><><>my little sis just died and she was only 64 and my mom was 58 when she died, i have noone left on that side and so i wonder what it would be like<><>my grandma died when i was 3 years old and i remember her smell<><><><>so my question is how is it done?????

Putz said...

oh happy birthday grandma and i just now see that you like cash<><><><>so do i so you keep yours and i will keep mine <><><>i have been around also 6 years blogging as the infamous putz

Chris said...

I love reading this every year, Jim. Amazing woman, your grandma. To think, in her lifetime she's witnessed the first flight, and the first moon landing. Talk about progress.

And having witnessed more than two Sox championships? Unimaginable.

My dad turned 70 yesterday, so they share a birthday. To think, when my dad was born, your grandma was 35. I'll have to tell Dad that, it'll make him feel better about being old.

Anonymous said...

Happy birthday to your Grandma, and I, too, hope to read this for many more years. The world needs people like her in it! She was born the same year as my Mam-ma, but I didn't get as many years with her as you've gotten with yours. I know you know to cherish each minute with her while you have them. My other Grandmother fully expected to live past 100, and we believed she would, but she got tired before she hit that mark. Both of my grandmothers were like yours - survivors with smiles and sweet attitudes, but made of steel. True role models and inspiration on how to live a good life. Thanks for sharing this!

Judi FitzPatrick said...

Your Grandma sounds like such a wonderful woman. You are so lucky she is still with you and your family. I think if more of us were like her, the world would be a much better place.

Happy December and Happy Birthday to Grandma!

Peace, Judi

i beati said...

will you be celebrating??

Karen said...

Happy Birthday to your Grandma! I remember reading this before, but read it again because it's such a lovely tribute to a lovely lady.

Ericka said...

do you have pictures of her art? i wanna see!

Suldog said...

Ericka - I don't have any photos of her art, but I'll try to remember to take a few when I visit her place on Christmas.

Joanna Jenkins said...

105!!! Woo-hoo to your Grandma. I wish her a wonderful birthday.
And congrats on your POTW from Hilary.
Cheers, jj

Sueann said...

A very Happy Birthday to your Grandma! What a hero to us all she is for sure!!
Congrats on your POTW

Unknown said...

Congrats on your POTW Jim. I, too, have read this post and hope you continue to post it every single Christmas. What a glorious grandma!

CiCi said...

Many happy returns to your grandma. I enjoyed reading her story.