He spent a few days with us. He lives with my sister-in-law in Connecticut. He no longer travels by himself by plane, but my sister-in-law was in Michigan visiting her daughter and we picked him up from there and drove him the two hours to our house in Norwalk.
He is 91. I don’t blame him for eschewing plane travel by himself at his age. An airport is confusing and crowded, with people demanding that you do things and stand in lines. There are gates to find which are sometimes later moved, and announcements blaring, and lots of walking and jostling. Although he is perfectly capable of walking by himself (he climbed the stairs at our house to his bed in one of our kids’ old bedrooms), and his thought process is intact, he has trouble hearing.
Grandpa Harry. Born in 1927 in Kansas City, and lived in Omaha most of his life. Stationed in Chicago during World War Two but didn’t have to leave the country because the war ended first. Returned to finish college where he’d started, at Harvard, where G.I. Bill benefits then paid for his education there and later on to Harvard Law School. A brief period living in Washington, D.C., working for the CIA which he detested, and another brief period living in Kansas City, Missouri, before returning to Omaha. Had a wife and two children. As I said, he is 91 and still going.
So what did we do with him during his recent visit here? We walked to Stoutenburg Park and sat on the bench there. We took him to Schoepfle Garden where he made one full circuit around with us, and admired its beauty. He walked a short distance with us on the Inland Coast Trail from Monroeville west over the Huron River bridge and to the bench at the old Monroeville train station where my husband and I picked him up by car. Then for ice cream at nearby Twist and Shout, where he enjoyed a big sundae.
Food….we ate dinner one night at Marconi’s, his favorite, where he always gets the Lake Erie perch.
There were a few mornings when my husband left for work and I had a chance to chat with him alone. I thought I’d try for a history lesson by asking him a bit about his life in the 1920s and 1930s.
“What has been the biggest change in technology during your lifetime?” I asked him, figuring he’d tell me about cell phones and computers, or maybe the automobile.
But no…he said people did have cars in his childhood, but they were not always used because many rural roads were not paved and those roads often became muddy and impassable. In the 1930s, many cars sat unused in garages because during the depression people were too poor to afford the gas to operate them.
His father worked for the railroad, and because of that his family traveled on trains for free, and trains were the way to travel back then – the interstate highways were not built yet.
So what was the biggest technology change in his lifetime? He told me it was rural electrification. His grandparents lived on the farm, and bringing electricity to the farm houses meant water could move directly to the house (no need to get it from the well) and there was light at night other than gas lamps and indoor plumbing meant no need for the outhouse.
I often feel that the Internet has changed lives during my lifetime more than any decade has seen change before: the ability to access information immediately on my iPad, to see and hear my children and grandchildren any time on FaceTime without waiting to receive snapshots of them, to read any newspaper from anywhere in the country and to receive news anytime without waiting for the 24-hour news cycle. But indoor plumbing trumps all that.
Grandpa Harry repeated himself sometimes, and forgot things sometimes, and relied heavily on the handrail as he ascended the steps. He sat around a lot. He seemed satisfied to enjoy our company, our conversation, our food, and our wine.
I hope I’m doing as well, if I make it to 91.
Debbie Leffler is a free-lance writer who lives in Norwalk. She can be reached at [email protected]