Recently I had the absolute pleasure of taking a trip to Madison Wisconsin to visit my 98 (count it NINETY-EIGHT) year old grandmother, Ruthie. Because of the pandemic, everyone’s busy lives, and the fact that we live about 2,000 miles apart, this was the first time I’d seen my Grandma in person in three years. Obviously, it’s always special to get to spend time with a grandparent but getting to talk to Ruthie as she approaches the big triple digit really got me thinking about how much talking to older folks absolutely rules.
I love history. I’m a huge nerd for it. I even wasted four years getting a degree in it. I love reading historical books, I love listening to a good history podcast (everyone should check out Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History, it’s the best), but it is next level special to get to talk with someone who was around when history was just current events. Hearing about what it was like during WWII, when EVERYBODY agreed that Nazis were the bad guys (not just left-wing-snow-flake-liberals), from someone who lived through it brings it to life in a way no other medium can.
And you don’t even have to talk about history defining events: hearing about the time your grandfather decided to buy a bowling alley, or a night club, or a pizza place (despite not really knowing how to make a good pizza sauce) is fascinating, especially when grandma Ruthie thought they were all bad ideas (my grandpa didn’t have the greatest business sense but gets points for trying).
It’s also so special to hear about a time when the world felt small. My grandparents’ pizza place, The Pizza Wagon, was the center of so many Milwaukeeans (Milwaukonians? Milwaukee-ites?? Milwaukers???) childhoods.
In a time where cellphones were a vague conception of science fiction, parents could call the restaurant and find out if their kid was there… and how much trouble they’d been getting into. Even spending my teen years in the small-town-feeling La Canada, we had two local pizza places, a Dominos, a Round Table, and cellphones – and our parents barely knew what kinds of trouble we were getting into!
And sometimes, Grandparents give you the greatest gift of all: a punchline 50-years in the making. So, one other thing my grandpa was famous for was his mustache. Every picture I’ve ever seen of him, post WWII, has the same bushy mustache. For Ruthie’s 90th birthday, every relative we could find got together for a family reunion/party and to surprise Ruthie everyone grew mustaches… and if you couldn’t grow one, you wore a fake one. We gathered together and told her to meet us before dinner. Each and every person held a newspaper in front of their face – and when she walked in, we all dropped the papers revealing our tribute to her late husband. With absolutely perfect timing, she burst out laughing and said, “I always hated that mustache!”
Anyways, this one is for you Grandma Ruthie! I love you so much!