Thursday, August 30, 2012


How to Live Practically Forever

This morning I went over to my grandmother's house to bring her buttermilk and ice cream. She calls me once a week or so:

"Jessie, go to the store for me, will you? I'm outta cornmeal and see if you can get some of that cream for my eyebrows. You know, that cream you got at the pharmacy that one time ..."

Most of my family lives within about five miles of her house, so I'm not the only one who gets calls like this from Gigi. She lives by herself in the home she and my grandfather bought in the 1940s, and she still does really well by herself, with a little help from about 15 friends and relatives. But Gigi's funny and interesting, and calls everybody Baby, so nobody really minds running her errands or looking in on her once a week.

So, this morning I got to her house before she unlocked the doors. She's too deaf to hear any sort of knocking or bell ringing, so I walked around the house, yoohoo-ing at every door and window (that's what we do in my family: we "yoohoo"), and eventually I got around to the back door, where I saw her cat slide through the broken screen. I looked in, and there was Gigi, in just a pair of gigantic panties, fluffing her white hair in front of the mirror. She might be 95, but the girl's still got it.

She screamed bloody murder when she finally saw me in the mirror, standing outside the screen door, yoohoo-ing at her, but she recovered fast, and after she got dressed, I helped her make her bed and rounded up her hearing aids — one of them was in the living room in a goblet full of loose change, and the other was on her night stand next to the antique handgun that she thinks is loaded, but which one of my uncles assures me is not. 

Her coffee pot erupted this morning, too, so I was blotting coffee out of her kitchen carpet with a dishtowel when my uncle Lee called. Gigi's got the volume turned all the way up on her phone receiver, so when somebody calls, you can hear everything the person on the other line is saying.

Lee's not really one for preamble, so he got right down to it: "You know Cecelia died on Friday?"

Cecelia was a family friend — a baker. She made beautiful cakes like the ones you see in fancy magazines. I didn't know her very well, and what I do know about her history with my family really isn't my business to tell. I'll just say, there's a story there, and so her dying was significant, even though everybody knew she had been sick for ages. For a few minutes after Lee hung up, Gigi looked out the window, watery-eyed and very old looking, which I realized as I wiped coffee grounds off the kitchen cabinets, is unusual for her, even though she is very old.

Cecelia, on the other hand, wasn't all that old — she might have been 70, maybe younger. But none of us die of old age; we all die of something, and Cecelia died of Parkinson's disease.

But two things Gigi hates are 1) being sad, and 2) not taking advantage of the opportunity to chat somebody up when they're sitting there right in front of her. In her life, she's known a lot of people who are dead now, and I've been with her when she's received similar news about somebody she knew. But strangely, the saddest I've ever seen her was the time Miss Josh, her Lhasa Apso died: she got extremely drunk on bourbon and cried all day with her friend Susan, who will cry about anything, always, to infinity. Especially dead pets.

So, I wasn't surprised when, after a grave minute, Gigi turned to me and asked how preschool was going for my three-year-old. She asked to see pictures of her on my phone, and when I handed it over, she got right up close to the screen with her 7X power magnifying glass with the built-in LED. While she did that, I started making her breakfast: peaches, coffee, and four little biscuits I found in the refrigerator with a dollop of orange marmalade on each one.

When she was finished looking at pictures, she looked up at me making her breakfast and smiled a little:

"Nobody ever waits on me. I've waited on everybody all my life, you know." That's mostly true, and I smiled back at her and I slid a plate of sliced peaches between her elbows.

"When you're 95, you get to be waited on sometimes."

Gigi laughed, "I don't feel that old. I just feel like myself, only my legs hurt."

"Yeah, it is kind of weird that you're that old," I giggled. She's the kind of person you can say stuff like that to. But then I thought to ask her something that you only ask very, very old people; something I never asked her before:

"How do you think you got to be this old?" She was eating a slice of peach from out of the skin (I had forgotten she didn't like peach skin, and I had peeled mine, but not hers).  She wiped her mouth and looked at me like you look at a child who asks a silly question.

"I stay happy, Baby. And I eat lots and lots of fruit."

Jesslyn Shields  is a freelance writer in Athens, Georgia. She mostly writes about Science, which makes Science a little bit sad. 

120 Comments / Post A Comment

Heat Signature

Oh, I just love stories about awesome old people. There should be some sort of anthology: "Awesome Old People I Have Known", or something.


@Heat Signature I just spent a week with my awesome 95 year old gramma. She talked with me more frankly about sex and politics than my mother ever has. She introduced me to everyone as "My poet granddaughter", and told me about her mother, who was an activist at the turn of the 20th century, very concerned with making sure women knew about how sex could be fun, "because she had a sister who couldn't have orgasms, and that disturbed her profoundly". My great-grandmother also, apparently, had a whole bunch of younger boyfriends when she was in her 90's. I come from a line of awesome old ladies.


@Heat Signature I would buy that book and carry it EVERYWHERE with me.


@slutberry I want to be your grandma when I grow up.
(that phrasing was weird, sorry)


@BoozinSusan I want to be EXACTLY like my grandma when I am her age. Also, her breasts are remarkably youthful-looking. I found myself getting jealous of her 95 year old rack.


@slutberry TELL ME MOAR :D


that was good@t


Awww...makes me miss my Grandma. She liked harlequin romances (but claimed to skip the the 'filty' parts), drank peach schnapps for coughing (and then claimed the bottle must have evaporated), and kept a very realistic toy gun in her bedside table in case of intruders.


@LacunaKale I got my first Harlequin Romances from Gigi's extensive collection! Your Grandma sounds awesome, BTW.

The Lady of Shalott

This is awesome and reminds me of my grandma and all eight of her sisters. They all (excepting my grandma, actually) lived to their late 90s and as far as I can tell, spent all of their retirements sitting around each other's kitchen tables, drinking endless coffee and laughing hysterically at their children/grandchildren/great-grandchildren/cousins/neighbours/neighbours' grandchildren/husbands/late husbands/whoever else happened to be convenient. They also went to Mass every week and dozed off each time, attended the weddings of everyone in the clan and danced with each other, kept their homes spotlessly clean even well past the age when their children would walk into the house and go "Ma! You're eighty-five years old! You shouldn't be washing the ceiling!", and complained about THEIR mother, who lived to the ripe old age of 99, in their opinion expressly to torment them.

Old ladies like this are the best.


@The Lady of Shalott I want to hang with those ladies.


@Slapfight I want to be those ladies.

The Lady of Shalott

@EternalFootwoman I look forward to becoming them in my old age, even though sadly I have no sisters. This is why friends!


@The Lady of Shalott LOVE LOVE LOVE


Staying happy is good advice. I am sure my tendency towards depression and anxiety will eventually be the death of me.

Beatrix Kiddo

@MoonFlavor Me too. At least we can combat this by eating lots of fruit.

every tomorrow@twitter

@MoonFlavor Or you could just take it off in the other direction: Too angry to die. I'm pretty sure my granny has gotten to 91 and counting out of straight up spite.

That said she is not a nice lady and she doesn't know 15 people who are still speaking to her (I, for instance, do not talk to her if it is avoidable), much less 15 people who would look in on her occasionally and run her errands, so I think Gigi has the right idea.


Nice, but just real quick, that gun is loaded.

I'm Right on Top of that, Rose

@sutton Yeah, something tells me Gigi knows her shit about firearms and such.


@sutton She only takes the bullets out when your Uncle stops by


@Megano! I envision a sort of slapstick routine wherin he comes by, unloads the gun, she loads it as soon as he leaves, etc.


@sutton Oh God, and die a little bit to think of all the times I've handled that handgun as a child. I should be dead.


How did you know I stayed up until 1 AM last night reading wikipedia pages on supercentenerians, plundering for secrets to longevity?


@staircases If it helps my grandad's family are all really long lived and he's the happiest person I've ever known. He says having a wide range of interests and staying active is key, because a lot of his friends retired and then just died because they had nothing to do. He on the other hand is 89 and keeps a vegetable patch and orchard that produces more than my family can eat, and his father died at 96 because he fell off a ladder repairing a roof.


@staircases The secret is getting lots of sleep, oh no!


@staircases Someone else did that? Hi! I did that too! I learned that eating biscuits and drinking Dr Pepper is probably okay. Their life stories were really interesting, even when they were pretty "ordinary."

polka dots vs stripes

This was really lovely, thank you!


I liked this.

Both my maternal grandmother and my paternal great aunt died this winter. My grandmother was, I think, 82; my great aunt was 99. You can't imagine two more different lives or such two different ways to go. My grandmother got married young, had five children and lived in a big old farmhouse and read a lot of books and always seemed a bit melancholy. My great aunt fled the Armenian genocide when she was young, got married but never had kids, and was the most selfish, glamorous, suck-the-juice-out-of-life person I'll ever meet. By the end, every inch of her house was covered in gaudy gold and aquamarine knicknacks. It was incredible.

My grandmother died after a seven year battle with Alzheimer's. My mom's siblings tried to care for her at home for probably longer than they should have; I think it was traumatizing to all of them in a way they're still dealing with. She would say such terrible things with just enough truth in them to be wounding. She spent the last year of her life in a locked Alzheimer's ward, terrified and hallucinating; by the end, she just sobbed all the time and would repeat "I want to die I want to die I want to die" in an endless loop.

My great aunt lived at home until a few months before she died. My dad moved her into a fancy place where she spent most of her time eating lobster and getting her nails painted and bossing around the staff. She died of heart failure, which wasn't entirely easy, but which was a reasonably peaceful way to go.

I don't even know why I wrote all that other than to say that there is no justice in the world and that old age terrifies me.


@Kristen Oh man, I'm so sorry to hear about your grandma. That sounds really heartbreaking.

Your great-aunt's longevity might have been partly genetic, since certain regions of the South Caucasus produce the world's longest-living people. I have also never seen anyone more able to hang on to life than people who've been through wars, annexations, ethnic cleansing. Once they've made it out, it really is like they'll suck life dry as long as they can.


@ColdFinger There was just a RadioLab episode called Double Blast, that talked about Tsutomu Yamaguchi, a guy who was in not one, but TWO atom bombings - he worked in Hiroshima and then went home to Nagasaki after the blast, only to be bombed again. Anyway, point is, he went on and had two daughters with his wife, then lived well into his nineties. Living through adversity can give you amazing longevity! Also, Elie Wiesel is still alive too, right?


@BoozinSusan Wow. What a life!

All of my grandparents lived through both Stalinist terror and WWII (the Stalinist part only touched one part of my family directly) - and now both of my grandmas are in their mid-90's. They've both given out some in the last couple of years, but one still helps take care of her great-grandson (my cousin's kid), and the other remembers my friends and their personal lives better than I do sometimes.

It's a shame Russian men rarely make is as long, but the one grandpa I knew was a pilot and insisted on flying to the US to visit us well into his 70's because he'd always wanted to see America.

Megan W. Moore

Loved this. My grandma was also my Gigi. I had that same exact moment of catching her in her underwear fluffing her hair, sneaking in the back door because she couldn't hear any kind of bell ringing. She still had it, too. I miss her! She passed at 93 this time last year.


Fellow Athenian, greetings! I saw that Cecelia had died on Facebook this past week and was very mournful for a person I've never actually met. Despite this, her cakes have been an integral part of so many of my family's celebrations.

In other news, your grandmother truly seems to be a grand lady!


@Mandalas Awww! I'm so glad you've enjoyed Cecelia's cakes. They were magnificent.

lavender gooms

Sure, being happy will let you live to an old age, but if you're my grandmother, being bitter and mean will allow you to live forrrrrrrrrrever!

Beatrix Kiddo

@lavender gooms That's totally true. My maternal grandmother is a selfish, heartless bitch, but she's the only grandparent I have left.

AJ Sparkles

@lavender gooms Terrible but true. My family has long joked that my grandmother is too mean to die. She's quite the bitch.


@Beatrix Kiddo Oh hey, your maternal grandmother is the same person as my paternal grandmother. That is to say, the worst. Mine is Sicilian and has the Life Force and is never going to die. Cancer barely made her blink. She is a mean, negative, no-fun-for-anyone, bothered-by-everything person.

I am looking into adopting one or both of my boyfriend's grandmothers, who are both badass and lovely ladies.


@The Everpresent Wordsnatcher Picture it! Sicily, 1904...


I was reading this, and thinking how familiar it all sounded, even though I don't know Gigi or Jessie. I could tell this takes place in the South without any overt mention of place. Then I had this really surreal moment, when I got to the line about the phone call… HOLY CRAP I KNOW WHO CECELIA IS (and boy, her cakes tasted like the sugar from angel wings.) That was totally weird until I saw that Jessie and I live in the same town. I really enjoyed reading this, and not just because of the weird connection.


@katie walker@twitter Angel Wing Sugar. For real :)


@katie walker@twitter I could also tell it was taking place in the South without anyone needing to say so. I love that.

Frankie's Girl

If staying happy was the secret to longevity, I should have died about 10 years ago.

Love this story tho. I wish I had this kind of family and Gigi sounds like a real peach!

fondue with cheddar

@Frankie's Girl Maybe being unhappy makes you strong, and the ideal is to be either happy or unhappy but not in between? That doesn't even make sense.

Every time I see your username I sing, "You know, I wish that I had Frankie's girl..."


@Frankie's Girl In my (short) experience, sweet people die younger, cantankerous bastards just won't die. There's an ounce of truth to the phrase "the more you bitch, the longer god lets you live".


Jessalyn Shields, you should write more about this awesome family of yours! I mean, keep writing about science, but it sounds like you have quite the brood down there in Athens. (But, as a fellow southerner, I really appreciate how gracefully you *didn't* go into Cecelia's story--sometimes it makes me uncomfortable when people get all confessional about stories that aren't theirs to tell!)


@fullofgrace: Isn't that funny? I had the same reaction - thank you for keeping Cecelia's private stuff private.

I like folks who understand the concept of "none of my/your business."


@fullofgrace: Isn't that funny? I had the same reaction - thank you for keeping Cecelia's private stuff private.

I like folks who understand the concept of "none of my/your business."


I loved this. And it reminds me to call up my Grandma to arrange a visit. Though if you asked my grandmother (or anyone else in my family) how she got to be 91-almost-92, they would probably point to the liquor cabinet and note Grandma's 5 pm ritual (a gin and tonic or a bourbon on the rocks).


@sox This could be a running series: "Drinking with my grandmother."


@redonion "It's gin o'clock!"

Also, my 92 year old grandmother could drink any number of people under the table.


@MoxyCrimeFighter Yup. Got an 85-year-old grandmother who brings Poland Spring bottles full of vodka to family gatherings. Keeps her young, I guess! But then sometimes she hits on the manfriends I bring to the party.


Wow, I miss my grandmother so much. We used to sit around the kitchen table and eat peaches (and also tomatoes) together too.


Awwww. My grandma is 98, just lost her boyfriend of 20 years, and made me drink Baileys and play Ouija with her last time I visited. And whupped my butt at scrabble.

Her secret appears to be: be vegetarian, wear lots of fur, and don't be sentimental.

fondue with cheddar

@RobotsNeedLove Shit, if that's the secret I'm going to keel over any second.


@jen325 When I expressed my condolences at her boyfriend's passing, she said "these things happen".

They sure do.

fondue with cheddar

@RobotsNeedLove Wow. Yeah. Being old certainly gives you a different perspective on things.

every tomorrow@twitter

@RobotsNeedLove There is something fabulous about the vegetarianism + fur wearing. You rock that boat, grandma!


I like this. I like that advice, too.


My grandma had her 96th (or 97th, we're not sure) birthday on Monday. She has the best memory of anyone I know, at any age and is quick to point out any "old" people she sees and be smug about how she's in better shape than them. When people are surprised at her being so much older than she looks she always says that she exercises every morning, and it keeps her young. She cooks for herself every day and cleans the house on her own, and generally pretends that she's really just as young as she thinks she is.

She was engaged for 10 years to my grandpa before getting married at the age of 31 (A big deal 70 years ago) and talks to a picture
of him daily (he died 30 years ago). Every single time we talk she wishes me:
1. health
2. happiness
3. to have a good understanding between my bf and myself, because love and companionship is important, but it's not worth anything if you don't understand eachother
4. to always enjoy what I'm doing in life
5. "everything grandma wants for you because it's all good".

And every year on my birthday she tells me the same exact story about the day I was born and how it was "a beautiful Spring day, like/not like today" depending on the weather at the moment.


@yarabollocks she sounds pretry rad, especially the birthday story.


I'll add to the chorus of people who have grandma-nostalgia after reading this.
I'm getting married on Saturday, and when I met with the DJ last weekend I had him promise to play In the Mood in her memory.
At my sister's wedding in 2010, she told me if the DJ played that song, "the dance floor would be packed."
..And then we drank Brown Cows together, because at 93 years old, that was her drink of choice.


My favorite thing is to hear what people call their grandparents! Gigi is a good one.


@Probs My grandmother asked my mother to have us call her 'Grammar' because she is an editor. She is also amazing. I'm so happy I get to see her this Thanksgiving!


I'm compiling a list of these from The Hairpin! (For stories!) They're just so cute and nonsensical. My favorite so far is "Nonny", what is all that about.
And Ghengi, from Arrested Development. That sparked my curiosity originally.

alice b. tchotchke

@Inkling I have a "Noni"! Pretty sure it's a fairly common Italian thing?

Lucy Honeychurch

@Probs My paternal grandparents are Papap and Memaw. Using their names always gets us a few strange looks. And Memaw would be horrified if she knew that I had "blogged" her (her blanket term for social media).


@Probs I've always called my grandparents Binks (childhood nickname), and Par (because he loved golf.) Didn't realise they were strange names til I was about 11 or 12.


@alice b. tchotchke
How cool!
I do like these :)


Savta (pronounced Safta) which is Hebrew for grandma, and Malka which means queen in Hebrew, and is her name. Grannie Queen.


@Inkling My 18-month-old niece calls my parents/her grandparents Mimi and Baba. No idea where she got those names from... she just came up with those totally on her own. Funny how kids do that. I think it's cute, and hope it will stick as she gets older.


@Probs My boyfriend's nephews call his mother "Momo" (mormor means mother's mother here) and his father "Brum Brum", like the noise a car makes.

Rookie (not the magazine) (not that there's anything wrong with that)

@alice b. tchotchke I think "Noni" might be an Italian-American thing... "Nonni" (with a bit more of a U sound than an O sound, almost like "Nunny" is plural = "grandparents." Or it's just the standard English way of making a nickname cuter by adding a -y sound to the end instead of just Nonno or Nonna.

I spent half the day with my Nonna today, and had to remind her not to work harder than she's supposed to at 85. But she had her hands in everything, trying to lift up pots that reached up past her knees.


I loved this---I lived in Athens for many years and knew Cecelia, was very sad to hear of her passing. Also, small world, I believe I've met your grandmother (Virginia, yes?)! She's dear friends with my former boss, and we three had lunch from time to time, back in the 90s. Glad to hear she's still her funny self.




@jesslyn Yep, your last name was the giveaway; Athens is a small town! My boss right out of college was Bonnie Ramsey, who's longtime pals with Virginia (you must know Bonnie?). So I tagged along on a few of their lunch dates back in the day. Your Gigi is a very cool lady.


@jkd Yep! Bonnie's pretty great--she used to live next door to Gigi!

Dirty Hands

Is anybody else curious about this eyebrow cream? What eyebrow cream? What's an eyebrow cream?

The Lady of Shalott

@Dirty Hands I am now!


@Dirty Hands It's just this...thing. She thinks she has a rash, but I've never been able to see it. She loves putting the cream on, though, so we go with it.


Sniffle -- today would've been my grandmother's 97th birthday. She died in July and man, this makes me miss her. She was sharp and clever and kept her hair ginger and enjoyed a little glass of Cold Duck of an afternoon. The last time I saw her, she insisted that I go to Hawaii on my next vacation, in particular because then I could take hula lessons, like she had when she and my grandfather were there (in their 60s). She even had a certificate from the class! Her name was Billie but everyone -- *everyone in town*, not just family -- called her Mama B. She was the greatest! Thanks for this tribute to awesome grandmas.


@nellypants Oh man, that's awesome. Happy Birthday, your Grandmother.


My admittedly limited observations have led me to believe 2 keys to living to a graceful 90+ are the Southern California climate and regular vodka consumption.

Redheads have even more fun

God, I miss my grandparents.


@Redheads have even more fun Me tooooooo.


This just makes me wish I had a better relationship with my grandma (the only grandparent I have left). She lives about 10 minutes from my office so in theory I should be over to see her a lot. But we've just never been that close. We love each other, she's not mean or anything, but we just don't have conversations really. This sounds awful, but I feel about her like I would feel about a 7 year old or something. Sure we can talk and interact, but it's all totally superficial ("this cake is good"/"that baby is cute"/"it's supposed to rain this weekend") and while she doesn't have Alzheimers, she's not really "all there" and hasn't been for a long time, so we never really built and adult relationship.

oh! valencia

@KeLynn My relationship with my last living grandma was much the same, and she passed away just a few weeks ago. I don't know how I feel.


The YOOHOO was also my mom's signal to my GoGo that she was coming in. It was so ingrained that my GoGo's cockatiel Fred would YOOHOO everytime the front door opened, LONG after my grandma had passed away. Now that my mother is aging and lives alone, I've ALSO picked up the YOOHOO when I let myself in. The world is weird and circular.


@angermonkey Yea... I recently caught myself calling my mother "Ma", something she always called my grandma.


I never really had awesome grandparents, and I am always jealous of those that do. (My grandparents were special in their own ways, but I never really knew half of them due to life circumstance and the two that I did know had a lot of emotional baggage.) I should find a nice old lady to hang out with. I'd peel her some peaches any day.


@phipsi That same sentiment is what prompts me to think seriously (about three times a year) about volunteering at a senior center or care facility. Then I start having FEELINGS and my head gets complicated and I don't actually do it. :(


I had a great aunt who passed away a few years ago, and the void she left is like a neon hole. She had done everything - ran a whorehouse, blackjack dealer in Vegas, gourmet cook - and she had Very Strong Opinions about men and women.

She also drank about a fifth of vodka a day until the day she died, so most of these lessons came with colorful language and animated gestures.

Gigi's story reminded me of her, though I suspect they couldn't be more different. I loved this essay and am so envious that you still have days to spend with your treasure.


@karion AMAZING.

Beatrix Kiddo

@karion Your great-aunt sounds badass. Could you please write an essay about her?


This made me really sad because it reminds me of how my mémère used to be. She still has her moments, but ever since her sister died last fall, she's been so sad and just not her usual bright and lively self. She's always been my role model - she's lived alone ever since my pépère died 25 years ago, and she still works cleaning houses for "the old people". She's such a strong woman, and it kills me to see her this way. I'm afraid that she's lost her happiness and that nothing's going to bring it back.

...I'm sorry. This just really resonated with me, and I'm going to see her tonight and I want more than anything to make her feel better.


@sadiejo Give her a big hug! I hope she starts feeling better soon. Being old is tough but it's nice that you go visit.


My living grandma and grandpa are both 92. They still live in their own home and take care of themselves and go to church every Sunday except when it's icy out. My Grandpa schedules time in his day to worry about things. They are ridiculously anxious Danish Lutherans but they are fascinating, incredibly kind, hilarious, like no one else on the earth humans. My grandpa loves to throw parties in his own honor and tell stories about his youth as a child heart throb in Chicago immigrant tenements and the pranks he pulled in college and the army. He gets all the attention but my grandma doesn't want any, she simply holds their lives together quietly. He is fading slowly because his heart won't last forever. He always joked that he wanted us to get married before he died so he could make a scene at our weddings; he joked that he wanted me to become a nurse so I could take care of him in the Danish Old People's Home in Chicago. But later he would catch me in a hallway and say, "don't get married yet. Well, if you do, get married in India - elope with a Hindu. That'll shock em all!"

My grandma and I have a lively letter correspondence. She looks like she's going to live forever, and I think it's because she's never let anyone do a goddamn thing for her her entire life. The last time we visited my mom got up at 5 am to bake a pie before she could jump in and try to peel the apples. I do have to help her buckle her seat belt, though. She carried her little brother to school on a horse when she was a little girl. She taught in a one room school house. I hope they live forever. I think their secret is sliced tomatoes from Nebraska soil with a splash of salt at every meal, eaten with small forks. And dinner always served on the table just like supper.


My great-grandmother lived to be 96 and right up until shortly before she passed she read the Wall Street Journal AND the New York Times every single day. And she wouldn't just passively read them - she'd like having lively discussions about current events or economics, and basically just took everyone to task all time time because she was the only person who'd actually read anything thoroughly.
I love cool old ladies.

Jay St Vincent@facebook

I loved reading this! I am eager to read more of your writing, any time. Of course, I want to hear the "story there" about Cecilia, but if it's not yours to tell, then, oh well.....

Petite Araignée

When my sister, my cousins and I were deemed old enough, our grandmother, who was in her late 80's, took all of us out to dinner and had a sex talk with us. I probably wasn't really old enough, since I was mostly embarrassed. I wish she were still around now, because I'd love to have that conversation again, only without the giggling and blushing. And I'd want to ask her more questions. When you've been married 60-odd years, you must know some Really Awesome Things.
My grandfather (her husband--they're my mom's parents) is 95, and has only been to the hospital once in his life. In 1944. He swears by his daily whiskey and ginger ale highball, which is really mostly whiskey. They're the coolest old couple ever.


I am so jealous that your grandma is still living. Mine died a few months ago, very suddenly, after deciding she didn't want to live any longer. She was 92 and a total fucking badass. She is seriously a legend amongst my friends for her various achievements. She was mostly blind for the last 50 years of her life, was widowed young with two young children and two sets of parents to support, and was an activist/badass/advocate for the disabled (alongside her mother, who died in 1989 at the age of 104.) Below I've posted Sean O'Brien's poem, "Elegy," which I heard him read a couple of months ago. It reminds me of my grandma.

Just round a corner of the afternoon,
Your novel there beside you on the bed,
Your spectacles to mark your place, the sea
Just so before the tide falls back,
Your face will still be stern with sleep
As though the sea itself must satisfy
A final test before the long detention ends
And you can let the backwash take you out.
The tall green waves have waited in the bay
Since first you saw the water as a child,
Your hand inside your father’s hand, your dark eyes
Promising you heartbreak even then.
Get on with it, I hear you say. We’ve got no choice.

We left the nursing home your tired chair.
They stole the sweets and flowers anyway
And bagged your clothes like rubbish in the hall.
Here in the flat your boxed-up books and ornaments
Forget themselves, as you did at the end.
The post still comes. The state that failed to keep the faith
Pursues you for its money back. There’s nothing worse,
You used to say, than scratting after coppers.
Tell that to the clerks who’d rob your grave,
Who have no reason to remember how
You taught the children of the poor for forty years
Because it was the decent thing to do.

It seems there’s no such thing as history.
We must have dreamed the world you’ve vanished from.
This elegy’s a metaphysical excuse,
A sick-note meant to keep you back
A little longer, though you have no need to hear
What I must say, because your life was yours,
Mysterious and prized, a yard, a universe away.

But let me do it honour and repay your gift of words.
I think of how you stared into the bonfire
As we stood feeding it with leaves
In the November fog of 1959,
You in your old green coat,me watching you
As you gazed in upon
Another life, a riverside address
And several rooms to call your own,
Where you could read and think, and watch
The barges slip their moorings on the tide,
Or sketch the willows on the further shore,
Then in the evening stroll through Hammersmith
To dances at the Palais. Life enough,
You might have said. An elegant sufficiency.
There was a book you always meant to write.

You turned aside and lit a cigarette.
The dark was in the orchard now, scarf-soaking fog
Among the fallen fruit.The house was far away,
One window lit, and soon we must go back
For the interrogation to begin,
The violence and sorrow of the facts
As my mad father sometimes dreamed they were
And made the little room no place at all
Until the fit was past and terrible remorse
Took hold, and this was all the life we had.

To make the best of things. Not to give up.
To be the counsellor of others when
Their husbands died or beat them. To go on.

I see you reading, unimpressed, relentless,
Gollancz crime, green Penguins, too exhausted
For the literature you loved, but holding on.
There was a book you always meant to write,
In London, where you always meant to live.
I’d rather stand, but thank you all the same, she said,
A woman on the bus to Hammersmith, to whom
I tried to give my seat, a woman of your age,
Your war, your work.We shared the view
Of willowed levels, water and the northern shore
You would have made your landing-place.
We haven’t come this far to give up now.


Whoa holy long ass comment, Batman.

C.J.'s doing the jackal

@geek_tragedy Holy beautiful comment, Batman... thank you so much for sharing that poem. Printed it out and stuck it on my wall because I have Feels.


@geek_tragedy Tears at work. Thank you.


All right, this is the second thing I've read on the internet this week that has made me want to call my 95-year old grandpa. Even though I've got a headache and the mother of all conference paper re-writes to do, I'm going to take this as a sign from the universe. Thanks 'pin.
(the other thing was this sad article about Italians in brooklyn nursing homes from the NY times is 2009: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/07/nyregion/07italians.html)


I love Georgia. Gigi sounds a little like my godmother, Mama DeAnonymous, who has only ever called me Sugar my whole life.


Thank you for writing about your Gigi! My Nana passed away two weeks ago on my birthday, and I just wanted you to know that your story made me feel so much better about life in general. It reminded me of the great little moments I was able to have with my Nana before she passed. I had the good fortune of living with my Nana for most of my life and I learned so much about life and John Wayne from her. I have so many things in my life I can attribute to her and I guess what I'm trying to say is learn as much from your Gigi while you can and keep those moments like the one you wrote about in your heart.
Again thank you so much for writing this.

Rookie (not the magazine) (not that there's anything wrong with that)

@ArgosMama I don't know if you're ready to hear this or if I sound like a broken record and everyone has already told you, but I've heard that it's a great honor when someone you love dies on your birthday. It means that you were really that close.

Also, I love how you say that she taught you so much about "life and John Wayne."

oh! valencia

This was a really wonderful piece of writing. The paragraph beginning with "She screamed bloody murder when she finally saw me in the mirror, standing outside the screen door, yoohoo-ing at her..." was my favorite.


I love reading about old, resilient people. My mother-in-law is 92 and we are the only relatives in town, so I look in on her several times a week. (She had my husband when she was 42, we´re not as old as one would think.) Can´t really think of her as old and badass, though, (she is, of course) she is so young at heart that I think of her more like a little sister, actually. It´s like she has remained 25 all her life, whereas I was born 40. I think being interested in life is the key, and if life makes you happy or angry is perhaps not as important to long life.


I love this, and your blog. Georgia girls unite! (I'm in Savannah)


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