For the second time in my life, I’ve seen a relative hit 90. My great grandmother celebrated her 90th birthday at my high school graduation. That was 27 years ago. As the oldest, of the oldest, of the oldest, I’ve had good fortune to spend a lot of time with my older extended family.
My grandfather turned 90 this weekend, and while I revel in the nearly 45 years I’ve spent with him, he’s spent nearly half his life with me around. That’s incredible.
This weekend was a collection of family. Daughters, grandchildren, and great grandchildren.
On Friday night I took him to a hockey game, continuing a tradition that started in 1979. Birthdays are to be celebrated with hockey and chinese food. And so we did.
Saturday meant a visit to Confederation Park in Burnaby where we had a picnic and rode the miniature trains. A bona fide train nut, my grandfather blew out the candles on his Thomas the Tank Engine cake surrounded by some of his great grandchildren.
Sunday would be a walk along the waterfront in White Rock and a lunch of fish and chips from the best place on the beach.
It was laid back, it was cousins digging in the sand, it was family hugging, it was just a weekend to celebrate a great man.
I don’t take my grandfather for granted anymore. I soak up every single second I’m lucky enough to spend with him. He’s the only one I have left.
So what have I learned watching my grandfather? What lessons can I take from a man who has made it to 90 and shows no sign of slowing down? After all, when we went to the hockey game on Friday, he insisted on driving having recently passed his latest drivers’ test with narry a raised eyebrow from the licensing office.
Here are a few
1 Pay Attention To The Little Guy
My grandfather always told me to pay attention to the little guy. “One day he’ll be the boss,” he warned. As a salesman who called on businesses around Montreal, my grandfather always chatted with the front office clerk as much as he did with the purchasing agent. He was laying the foundation for future bridges, playing the long game. And it served him well, he didn’t retire until he was 70.
2 Plan For The Future
While my grandfather was good at building his business for the future, he didn’t set himself up for it. He rented the top floor of a Montreal home for most of his adult life in the city. He didn’t own. At a time when property values skyrocketed creating one of the wealthiest generations on record, he was passed over. As my grandparents neared 80, my parents bought a bigger house than they had when all the kids were living with them so the grands could move into a basement suite.
3 Control Your Destiny
My grandfather was in his late teens as the second World War raged on. Faced with being conscripted and heading to Europe, he chose to enlist on his own in the Merchant Marines. “If you were drafted, they told you where to go,” he recounted to me one year on Remembrance Day. “So I enlisted so I could choose where I went.” My grandfather would spend the final years of the war working on Canadian Corvettes escorting ships between New York, Halifax, and Bermuda.
4 Chill Out
I get my temper from my grandfather. As we blasted down the highway to the hockey game, he grumbled about drivers, flashed his lights at people driving too slow, and was irritated. It was like taking a ride with myself. I am just like that guy, and being a passenger in the car I was witness to my own temper. We have called him Grumps for more than 30 yrs for a reason. He’s not angry, he’s still a loving, caring, beautiful man – he’s just rough around the edges. I could use to smooth mine.
5 Get Out
At 90 my grandfather is an active lawn bowler and bridge player. Every single day of the week his calendar is filled with something. Whether he’s spotted a deal on chicken at the store, or needs to cross the border for some gas, he’s out and getting things done on his own. At 90 he’s still one of the best lawn bowlers at his club, winning major tournaments every year.
When my grandmother passed in 2010, I suspected he would soon follow. Now we all figure he’ll be around for another decade. He’s never locked up in his basement suite, he’s out living life.
6 Sleep Naked And Have A Cookie Before Bed
With a full house for my grandfather’s birthday, I was sleeping in a pull out bed in my grandfather’s apartment in my parent’s basement. It was 10, and he had gone downstairs about an hour earlier. As I sat in the shadows in his chair doing some writing, my grandfather – all 90 naked years and 152 pounds of him, wandered by. “Oh, I didn’t see you there,” he said, startled. “I was just getting a cookie.” And then he went back to bed. Presumably, to sleep naked among his bedtime cookie crumbs.
If that’s what it takes to get to 90, I’ll do it.