We're leaving momentarily for a weekend in my hometown of Evansville to celebrate my grandpa's 100th birthday. His longevity is a subject of amazement to us all, including him.
Words cannot express how I cherish this man. He's been a warm, kind, generous, calm, and no-nonsense presence thoughout my entire life. I usually get creeped out by old people, but he's still just grandpa to me.
Born into poverty in Evansville in 1908, he spent his youth in a roughneck neighborhood and watched his parents divorce at an early age. He married my grandmother when he was 18 (and she was 16), and the two rose to middle-class respectability through his steady work at Servel, a local manufacturer, and her retail jobs. They lived in the same house for nearly 70 years, until my grandmother died and he moved to a retirement apartment (not a nursing home, mind you).
He has been amazingly healthy and lucid, and the doctors always ask him what his secret is. He tells them that he never smoked, didn't drink excessively, and took walks every day (even today he strolls the corridors of his apartment). But he loves fried taters and pork chops, so I always use him as an excuse for my own french fry fetish.
My favorite story was several years back when he was at the mall, walking. An older gentleman sat down beside him in a bench and asked, "So, what did you do in the war [WWII]?"
"Nuthin'," he answered. "I was too old."
"Too old!" the man exclaimed. "I thought you were my age!"
Turns out, the guy was 15 years younger.