Tag Archives: Centenarian

Grandma turns 104 today

Centenarians are rare. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, there were just 53,364 people 100 or older living in the United States. Nine years later, nearly all of them have left this earthly plain. A new, and probably larger group of centenarians has replaced them. In the period 1980 to 2010, the centenarian population experienced a larger percentage increase than did the total population, meaning more Americans than ever are living to this triple-digit age.

I found these and other facts in Centenarians: 2010, a publication of the U.S. Census, and I bothered to look them up in honor of my grandmother, who turns 104 today.

Me and Grandma

Me and Grandma two years ago during a visit a few weeks after her birthday. Note the scarf: Always fashion conscious.

One-hundred-and-four! Can you imagine? Even she can’t imagine. She has said more than once she doesn’t know why she has lived this long.

As a white woman living these past four years in an elder care facility in north-central Minnesota, Grandma typifies what a centenarian looks like in the United States; 82.8 percent of American centenarians are female, and 82.5 percent of centenarians were white. Almost unbelievably, about a third of centenarians live alone in their household; the rest live with others in the household, in a nursing home or in other group quarters.

Minnesota is No. 10 among states with the highest number of centenarians as a percentage of the population, at least back in 2010. The states with the most as a percentage of the population? North Dakota is No. 1, South Dakota is No. 2, Iowa is No. 3 and Nebraska is No. 4. Go Midwest! The states with the most in raw numbers? Not surprisingly, it’s some of the states with the highest overall populations: California, New York and Florida.

When Grandma turned 100, I wrote a blog post with 100 pieces of trivia about her and her life (click here to read it). In summary, she’s a 100% German American farmer’s wife with four children and a host of grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren. She’s got a great sense of humor, is a gracious host and has just enough vanity to have kept her in good shape for ten and half decades. The most impressive fact about her this time of year is that she has lived through 104 Minnesota winters; other Minnesotans impressed with their own toughness might tell you frozen storage is why she’s lived so long.

I exchanged letters with Grandma for many years, and I inherited 25 years worth of her daily diaries. She rarely wrote anything emotional or introspective. Mostly, she stuck to the transactional events of her day. Here’s an example from her diary 10 years ago when she turned 94:

Happy Birthday to myself. Woke up in plenty of time to go to church; rode with [a friend] Harley. Got home at 9:20 so took a nap as we left for [daughter] Mary’s at 12 for my birthday party. Very nice. All three [grand]babies born in ’08 were there. … Big gifts. Was home again at 6:30. Was hyper so couldn’t relax but really tired when I went to bed. [Son] Bob called from Hawaii to wish me a happy birthday.

Not sure what “big gifts” meant, but I’m guessing it was gourmet jams, stationery and postage stamps. This sort of encapsulates her formula for longevity: Spirituality, lots of sleep including a daily nap, loving family and gratitude.

Happy birthday, dear Grandma!

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In observance of Ash Wednesday, I was asking big questions about life and death this week on Minnesota Transplant. Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent, a six-week season during which Christians focus on the life and, in particular, the death of Jesus Christ. Check out my entries on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Tomorrow, I write about repentance–or the lack of it–on my Monica Lee author blog.

100 things about Grandma and her lifetime

My paternal grandmother turned 100 today. In her honor, I’m sharing 100 bits of trivia about her and her lifetime. Happy birthday, Grandma!

  1. She was born March 8, 1915.
  2. Civil War veterans were still alive when my grandmother was born.
  3. The Model T automobile had been in production seven years in 1915.
  4. Her birthplace was the house on the family farm in Central Minnesota.
  5. Grandma went to country school.
  6. She has lived within 20 miles of her birthplace her entire life.
  7. Her father was born in Hanover, Germany.
  8. Her mother was born in Wisconsin.
  9. She is 100% German.
  10. Grandma spoke both English and German growing up.
  11. She had two sisters.
  12. Grandma had three brothers, including an older brother who died at birth.
  13. Grandma milked cows by hand until the day she married my grandfather.
  14. She remembers squirting milk into the barn cats’ mouths.
  15. The first refrigerator was invented when Grandma was 12.
  16. The Great Depression began when she was 14.
  17. Grandma got married when she was 21.
  18. She married a man nine years older than her.
  19. They got a milk cow for a wedding gift.
  20. My grandfather was Grandma’s sister’s husband’s brother (got that? two sisters married two brothers).
  21. My grandparents lived on a farm a mile away from his brother and her sister’s farm.
  22. My grandfather once dated my grandmother’s oldest sister (but they fought a lot).
  23. Grandma’s oldest sister became a nurse.
  24. My grandparents raised milk cows, sheep, hogs and chickens.
  25. They grew hay, corn and grain to feed the cows.
  26. Grandma rarely drinks milk, and she doesn’t particularly like ice cream.
  27. My grandparents had four children; the first three were born five years apart, the last one three years after the third.
  28. My grandmother has 14 grandchildren.
  29. Grandma has 17 great-grandchildren.
  30. She has one great-great-grandchild in utero (“on the way”).
  31. Grandma has experienced the death of two grandsons.
  32. None of her children have divorced (one son lost his wife to cancer and remarried).
  33. Only two of her grandchildren have been divorced (I’m one of them).
  34. My grandparents and my great uncle and great aunt eventually retired from farming and moved to the same small town.
  35. None of Grandma’s children became farmers.
  36. The first computer was invented when Grandma was 31; her second son grew up to work on room-sized computers for Control Data.
  37. Lund Boats was founded when Grandma was 33; two of her sons eventually worked for the fishing boat manufacturer.
  38. Ray Kroc founded McDonald’s when Grandma was 40.
  39. The first Wal-Mart opened in Arkansas when Grandma was 47.
  40. When my grandparents moved to town, they became janitors at the church.
  41. Grandma earned extra money babysitting.
  42. One of my earliest memories of Grandma was when she babysat me, my sister and brother overnight. I couldn’t sleep, and she made me warm milk with honey.
  43. There were to 53,364 centenarians in the United States in 2010, according to the most recent U.S. census.
  44. There were 1,211 centenarians in Minnesota, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
  45. Grandma had lived independently until about a month ago when she had a heart attack and double pneumonia.
  46. Grandma has a good sense of humor.
  47. She loves practical jokes.
  48. Women did not have the right to vote when my grandmother was born (the 19th Amendment was ratified in 1920).
  49. She has lived through all or part of 17 U.S. presidencies.
  50. She has remarked that her favorite presidents were Franklin Roosevelt and Bill Clinton.
  51. She is an excellent gardener.
  52. At one time, she raised an acre of cucumbers for Gurney’s Pickles and used the money to buy school clothes.
  53. She has a knack at keeping Christmas poinsettias alive until long after Easter (years later).
  54. She grew tomatoes, lettuce, radishes and flowers on her back porch last summer.
  55. My grandmother is a gracious hostess,
  56. She makes delicious pies; her secret is her pie crust.
  57. She made a pecan pie for my father’s 67th birthday. She was 95 at the time.
  58. The recipe to her pie crust is not written down because one of the directions includes the words “until it feels right.”
  59. She loves visitors.
  60. She serves “coffee” to her visitors; coffee means the caffeinated beverage and an array of sandwiches and desserts.
  61. Grandma likes Lutheran coffee. Lutheran coffee is weak enough you can see the bottom of the cup.
  62. When my grandfather was alive, he’d make coffee so strong a spoon could stand up in it.
  63. Grandma serves coffee in china cups with saucers.
  64. Her coffee meal always includes a garnish: pickles, pickled beets, a sliced orange or something else tart or colorful.
  65. Grandma loves coconut.
  66. Wilbur and Orville Wright made four brief flights at Kitty Hawk, N.C., with their first powered aircraft 12 years before my grandmother was born.
  67. My grandmother was 54 when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon.
  68. Grandma is an accomplished quilter and belonged to a quilt club most of her adult life.
  69. She has made dozens of quilts including at least for each of her children, grandchildren and most of her great-grandchildren.
  70. My grandparents were married 41 years before my grandfather died.
  71. My grandmother has been a widow for 37 years.
  72. The world’s first television station began when my grandmother was 13; her son (my father) would one day make a living selling and repairing TV sets.
  73. Grandma is hearing impaired and has worn hearing aids as long as I’ve known her but she enjoys closed-captioning on TV.
  74. The highlight of the Easter egg hunt at Grandma’s house through the years was finding the Golden Egg, a hard-boiled egg Grandma painted gold.
  75. Grandma broke her neck when she was 83; she fell off the steps in the garage, got up and walked back into the house!
  76. She had to wear a halo (one of those contraptions doctors screw into your head to keep your neck immobile) for months.
  77. Grandma is a little vain; she allowed no one to take her picture while she was in the halo.
  78. She gets her hair done once a week.
  79. Grandma colored her hair into her 80s.
  80. Two of her children have red hair; two do not.
  81. None of her grandchildren have red hair.
  82. Breaking her neck was her second brush with death (her first was a tangle with bleeding ulcers in the early ’60s).
  83. My sister’s middle name is the same as Grandma’s: Marie.
  84. Grandma takes a nap almost every day.
  85. Her entire family gathers at her house on Christmas Eve.
  86. She was a regular church goer until about two years ago when she started using a walker.
  87. When she was growing up, she went to church only about once a month in the winter; the weather prevented it from occurring every Sunday.
  88. She has endured every Minnesota winter for 100 years.
  89. She is Lutheran.
  90. She got confirmed when she was 11.
  91. Grandma prays before meals and before bedtime (when her sister died, she was found kneeling beside her bed, her hands in the prayer position).
  92. When Grandma drinks wine (I’ve only ever seen her drink alcohol on holidays or special occasions), she drinks Mogen David.
  93. My grandmother’s only source of income is Social Security, which was created by Franklin Roosevelt when my grandma was 20.
  94. I not-so-secretly believe I will be long-lived like her.
  95. Her four children live within 60 miles of her; until she moved to a nursing home in a nearby town, two of her sons lived in the same town as her.
  96. All of her grandchildren except two live in Minnesota. One lives in a town just across the border in North Dakota. I am the other one living out-of-state (in Illinois).
  97. I write Grandma a letter about once a month.
  98. She almost always writes me a return note; I’ve gotten hundreds of letters over the past three decades.
  99. In her lifetime, there have been 86 Academy Awards, 49 Super Bowls, 25 U.S. presidential elections, seven major U.S. wars, and the Chicago Cubs have lost the World Series seven times.
  100. In a brief family biography, she said this about her longevity: “I have people ask me why I think I’m living so long. I don’t have an answer but I think there is a reason. There is something I have to do yet. I am getting forgetful. Maybe someday I will forget to wake up. I don’t know, but I think I have something left to do. I had a good life and a good husband and kids. All of my life was good.”