August 21, 2006

Do These Genes Make My Ass Look Big?

Among the many (seriously, I'm kinda wiped out) things we did this weekend, we celebrated my great uncle Dick's 90th birthday.

Dick spent World War II flying fighters in the European theater. After the war, he was debriefed by the woman who would later become his wife. For years, they lived behind the Iron Curtain as diplomats. Dick was a member of one of the first military delegations to Saudi Arabia. A couple of years ago, he and I were talking about books. I'd just read Joe Gould's Secret and was describing it when Dick stood up and said, "I knew him! When I lived in New York I ran into him constantly!" And sure enough, he did. To say Dick led an interesting life would be one of the great understatements of the 21st century.

Over the last month or so, Dick's life has changed. Dick's wife has Alzheimer's. They recently moved from their condo to a "retirement facility" which he actually seems to love. He mixes a drink every night and head's toward the big-screen TV to see what's on. This is the same guy who drives a cherry-red sports car, surfs the net and owns two plasma TVs. So, he's fine. His wife, however, is not. In spite of all of this, he's still cracking jokes.

When I sit back and take a gander at the family tree, it bodes very well for Mia. Dick is 90. His sister - my maternal grandmother - is 95 and still active (although she is convinced that contrails from commercial airliners are dropping vitamin-infused vapors on an unsuspecting public...oh, and that Hillary Clinton might actually be the Anti-Christ). My paternal grandfather was almost 90 when he died a couple of weeks ago and my paternal grandmother is 90 and chugging along just fine, fuelled by that Lutheran, mid-western stubbornness that would yield a sure, I'm fine even if she'd just lost an arm to a shark attack (rare, though it would be in Ohio).

Mia's inherited some great genes from both sides of the family. Unfortunately, she's also probably inherited a massive case of The Crazy, from which there's virtually no escape.

Posted by Chris at August 21, 2006 7:00 AM

He sounds like the coolest person ever. You are so lucky to be related to him. I'm sorry about his wife though, that must be really hard.

Posted by: Pixie at August 21, 2006 7:05 AM

It sounds like he's lived an awesome life, as has his wife. I'm sorry to hear she's ill--that's such a difficult disease to deal with. You are lucky to have such interesting people in your world!

My family, too, is quite long-lived. Judging by past history, my children should live well into their 90's. A blessing, I hope, and not a curse.

Posted by: Alissa at August 21, 2006 8:08 AM

That's the best way to grow old...with your humor, curiosity and intellect stil in tact. He sounds like a fascinating guy. As for "Joe Gould's Secret"? Holy Crap! You've got to be one of the only people I know who has ever mentioned this. It's fantastic! Now you need to see the movie. Also one of the best movies out there. I think Stanley Tucci plays Mitchell. I absolutely love anything having to do with old New Yorker writers. Another book to read is Thomas Kumkel's "Genius in Disguise". It's about Harold Ross...the creator of the New Yorker.

Posted by: wordgirl at August 21, 2006 8:09 AM

Sounds like you have a great family. That is something to truely be thankful for ^_^ As for the craziness, every family needs a little nuttiness to keep things going!! happy monday!

Posted by: Michelle at August 21, 2006 8:19 AM

you say crazy like it's a bad thing. look at the world around you, my friend. being a little or a lot crazy is the only way to survive. otherwise, how else would we make sense of all the ridiculous nonsense that passes for normal from day to day.

Posted by: pea at August 21, 2006 8:28 AM

What a cool guy! Yeah, and us Midwestern Lutherans don't complain about anything.

Posted by: Heather at August 21, 2006 8:38 AM

Your uncle sounds like a wonderful man.

I think every family has a lurking crazy gene. Unfortunately I think my family's crazy gene is bigger than most.

Posted by: MrsJoseGoldbloom at August 21, 2006 8:40 AM

My family is like that too. I wish him and his wife well. Alzheimer's is such a terrible thing for all concerned.

Posted by: ann adams at August 21, 2006 8:44 AM

It sounds like your uncle's had a very exciting life. You've got some Crazy in there, but it's Cool Crazy.

Posted by: Fraulein N at August 21, 2006 9:57 AM

Your grandma thinks that too!?! I'm glad I'm not the only one with one of those. It's that guy... uh, Art Bell? I think he's dead now, but she listened to him on the radio for years.

Sorry your weekend got so busy, but sounds like good, wacky family fun.

Posted by: Kate the Shrew at August 21, 2006 10:05 AM

Uncle Dick sounds like a really neat guy.

And if Mia turns out crazy like you and Beth, I think she'll be just fine.

Posted by: bad penguin at August 21, 2006 10:35 AM

I love reading about people's life stories. I think it's part of what drove me to journalism. I'd love to sit down and shoot the shit with your Uncle.

Posted by: mamatulip at August 21, 2006 11:25 AM

Um... you think The Crazy might be why everyone in your family is living so long? It would make me stop to wonder.

Sorry about your Great Aunt. That's such a horrible illness. Gotta say though, Uncle Dick sure looks good for 90.

Posted by: Karen at August 21, 2006 11:44 AM

yea. sounds like she is going to have a deep well of rich history to resource. lucky lady.

and the crazies are what keeps the undesirables away. don't knock it. life would be sheer d worthless without da KRAZZIES!

Posted by: melanie at August 21, 2006 12:26 PM

He sounds *awesome* Happy birthday to him!

I got shitty genes AND The Crazy. Which means I should probably take much better care of myself if I don't want to die of a bad attitude or a massive heart attack. Though it might be kind of fun to live forever like my great grandmother and honestly think that Truman Capote was coming to lunch every day.

Posted by: Sparkle Pants at August 21, 2006 1:29 PM

Sounds like you do have some great genes! Your great uncle looks so cute! I love the picture on the left, he looks so pleased...

Posted by: Liberal Banana at August 21, 2006 1:36 PM

I'm a Democrat, and I'm 28, but even I'm not sure that Hilary isn't the anti-christ. Looks like a fun weekend! :)

Posted by: Laura at August 21, 2006 1:42 PM

That's funny what you said about the Midwest Lutherans. My grandmother died last year at 90 from lung and kidney cancer. She didn't start complaining, and thus didn't get diagnosed with her illness until it was too late to do anything. In fact, even at the end, 4 weeks after her diagnosis when she was in the hospice she never complained at all. When my Mother was with her the nurses up there, Vancouver, asked, after commenting about how tolerant she was to pain, if she was from the plains. When my Mom responded that yes she was. They said, "Yeah, those Lutheran women from the plains are a bunch of tough old birds." (She was Lutheran minister's wife.)

Longevity certainly does runs in that line...she was the youngest to go at 90. Most in her family made it to the late 90's and early 100's. With medicine as it is now, I fully expect to make it to 150. And my kids? who knows?

Posted by: Kelly at August 21, 2006 2:42 PM

Well, congrats to your great uncle for surviving that long! I am very impressed. :-)
The alzheimer's is so sad, though. I'm thinking my granny might be heading in that direction, as a few weeks ago, she was talking about how the little monsters were coming to get us and then thirty seconds later didn't remember a word she'd said. If only everyone could grow old as well as Uncle Dick.

Posted by: Heather at August 21, 2006 2:47 PM

All of that is quite impressive. Happy Birthday to your Uncle. Love the photographs!

Posted by: Kate at August 21, 2006 3:46 PM

He sounds a lot like my great grandpa who lived to be 106.

The crazies runs in every family. She will be in good company.

Posted by: Melissa at August 21, 2006 3:51 PM

Those are wonderful pictures Chris. I want to frame them... and IM not even family!

I love that Dick is finding so much joy in life, despite age and the loss of his wife. It's an inspiration. I think it's an honor to share those kind of genes.

Posted by: Tink at August 21, 2006 4:52 PM

Moving my grandmother to a "retirement home" put another ten years on her life ... the camaraderie and all the stuff she did kept her active and alert. Good luck.

Posted by: Bill L at August 21, 2006 4:57 PM

wow! we should all look that great when we turn 90!! Happy birthday to him! :)

Posted by: Debbie at August 21, 2006 5:29 PM

Lucky duck. I don't think anyone in my family has made it past 72.

Sorry to hear about Dick's wife, though. We think my grandmother has Alzheimer's. Sucks.

Posted by: Spring at August 21, 2006 5:42 PM

I love talking to eldery people. They really are amazing people and we can learn so much from them. Not to mention they soak up the attention.

Posted by: Dennis at August 21, 2006 7:27 PM

Your Great Uncle Dick sounds like a cool cat. Alzheimer's is rough - sorry about your aunt. Now is the time to write down their stories while they are still around to tell them.

Posted by: Beth in StL at August 21, 2006 8:29 PM

Uncle Dick is totally cool. Best wishes for his birthday.

Posted by: Washington Cube at August 21, 2006 8:56 PM

He sounds so amazing and fun to talk to. My hubby's grandma lived to be 105. She was 100 when she danced at our wedding. My hubby was always fond of saying, "Grandma's too mean to die."

My son will most likely inherit long-life genes as well and has already shown that like most of his old relatives, he's fussy, fussy, fussy. And if he stays true to his genetics he could also wind up being very stingy with his money. heehee.

Posted by: Lisa B at August 21, 2006 9:05 PM

Dick is such an unfortunate name. But I know a worse name: Harry Ball. My friend's grandfather's name is Harry Ball.... ;)

This is a wonderful post. You have a great family. I'm happy for you--and for Mia. :)

Posted by: haley-o at August 21, 2006 9:54 PM

He sounds like a fantastic person to have in the family. Hope his birthday's happy and that he has many more.

Posted by: Caryn at August 21, 2006 11:22 PM

Very lucky man to have such an awesome guy in his gene pool.

Tell Mia the crazy comes from mama's side.

Posted by: Michele at August 22, 2006 3:01 AM

Hey! I had a great uncle Dick too!
And he fought in WWII too!

He was kind of racist.

Posted by: melati at August 22, 2006 12:12 PM

I hope your uncle had a wonderful and happy Birthday!

Posted by: Colleen at August 22, 2006 1:19 PM