• Tribute to a Nonagenarian

    • Posted on Mar 31, 2002

    3-31-02

    Ten years ago last week, I wrote a tribute in this space to an octogenarian, a local man who had turned 80 and deserved credit for his perseverance, among other qualities.

    Last week, that same man turned 90, and now deserves even more credit as a nonagenarian.  That's a real word meaning anyone in their nineties.  We don't hear it much because few of us know or become nonagenarians.   It takes more than perseverance; it takes perspective and guts. 

    Born in 1912 in Alta Vista, Iowa, he lived most of his adult life in Cedar Falls, graduating  from CF High in 1930.  He attended ISTC for a year and then quit to work.  Few could afford college during the depression, and he never finished.

    Like so many who outlive their three-score-and-ten, he's lost most of his friends and two wives, one of whom died at in 1963, the other just three years ago.  He also lost a son four years ago, so he knows grief and sadness. He speaks fondly of his lost loved ones, and misses them, as he misses so many friends from the old days. 

     Yet he doesn't dwell  on the past, and he knows he's lucky to have so much of his health and faculties intact.  That's perspective.

    He cooks all his own meals, drives his own car, plays cards and bingo practically daily, and enjoys a large circle of friends who visit often.  He received dozens of cards for his birthday, and feels lucky to know many people younger than he, including grand and great-grand children.  

    Though his short-term memory lets him down at times, his sense of humor makes up for it.  He still knee-slaps at jokes of all colors, and a trip with him is something of a laughfest--when he isn't whistling or singing. He still can carry a tune, sing harmony,  and whistles tunes that sound remarkably musical. 

    He hears well without a hearing aid, and after laser eye surgery, almost doesn't need glasses.  He walks slowly, but without a cane, and seems in excellent health for a man who was born before aviation, electronics, television, penicillin, two World Wars, and women voting legally in national elections. 

    This is not to say he hasn't suffered.  He's undergone pain treatment for pinched nerves in his back, surgeries of various kinds for the usual old age ailments, and suffers from failing kidneys and diabetes.  A bout with the flu or even a cold flattens him for days.  Aged immune systems are as retired as their owners.   He knows that no one who reaches ninety gets there without pain and suffering. 

     Yet none of his grievings and pains get him down.  As he says, "I have to keep my mind right sometimes.  My old friends are gone, or if they're alive they don't know me.  It's sad."   And he looks faraway for a moment. 

    Then he shakes it off, as though his will kicks in, and laughs at something he heard that morning, talks happily of looking forward to a dinner.  That takes guts. 

    So he's a fortunate man indeed, and I'm even luckier because he's my dad.

    Anyone with his genes stands a chance of living long and reasonably well, if they can summon the guts and perspective. 

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    Posted in
    • Personalities
    • Cedar Valley Chronicles
    • Aging & Birthdays
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“Even before the advent of the Internet, Cawelti’s columns went 'viral' in the Cedar Valley… the role of a columnist is to be thought provoking, to take tacks that shed a different light on an issue or possibly cause a reader to reevaluate a position. At the very least, it should bring clarity to a particular perspective, whether you buy into the commentator’s worldview or not.

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