He’s 98½ years old, and just walked in the door for lunch after mowing his neighbour’s lawn. His neighbour is 75. A moment later his 90-year-old bride of 68 years opens the oven door, releasing the soul-filling aroma of freshly baked buns into the room. She places them next to the cinnamon buns she baked earlier this morning, right beside the mouth-watering lemon squares she baked yesterday.
As we sit down for lunch, it occurs to me that there’s so much more to sharing a meal with these two than just having a full plate and a full tummy. Those who are fortunate enough to spend time with Nanny and Papa and hear their stories, also come away with a full heart, let alone a full cup.
Nanny and Papa, the grandparents of a dear friend, have almost 100 years of captivating stories, respectively. Stories from what it was like to grow up on the remote, central coast of British Columbia, to many other stories of how they navigated their way through the last century. Stories of the telephone, cars, refrigeration, television and the internet coming into their daily lives. Stories of blessings and hardship, of choices and change. Stories of people and places, of adventure and lessons learned. Some of their stories are so darn funny you can’t help but cry with laughter. Other stories are so darn heavy you can’t help but wonder if you would have the same fortitude, given the same circumstances.
Both grew up in poor families, Papa’s in particular. Papa’s father was a Prospector, which meant he was away from his wife and seven children for long periods of time. Often breakfast was a paste of flour and water, the leftovers fried in ooligan grease for supper. He had exactly one pair of shoes that were saved for Sundays, and it was his job in the family to find creative ways of getting more credit at the store so the family could buy food. The early years were hard. And yet, every once in a while much needed help would come from the most unlikely of sources, like the day the dog stole a ham that fed the family for a week.
None of us are immune to difficulty and hardship, we’re all given our share of these chapters in our story, to varying degrees. Hardship wasn’t reserved for the early part of Nanny and Papa’s stories, the later years offered all sorts of character building opportunities, to say the least. My fascination with how we tell our life stories seems to be growing by the minute, and listening to how Nanny and Papa tell theirs affirms, yet again, the power of choice with respect to how we interpret and tell ours – particularly the tough stuff. We have the choice to let those events define us and keep us small, or allow them to shape us in ways that strengthen us for the better. Nanny and Papa have spent a lifetime in lockstep with each other in choosing the latter.
They live in a profound state of gratitude and appreciation – for every moment, morsel and memory. They’ve gently and decidedly mined the goodness out of each story of challenge and hardship, and share those stories with pride, gratitude, and even humour. Not a thing - not a blessed thing - is taken for granted - particularly when it comes to people.
To Nanny and Papa there are very few things more important than the well-being of family, and to be of service to others. Visitors are greeted with the kind of joy that the rest of the world reserves for Ed McMann holding a Sweepstakes cheque under his arm. And even as they tip-toe toward Centenarian status, and require a little help with some of life’s details themselves, their primary focus and attention is still centered on what they can do for others. No sooner does Nanny pull baking out of the oven, when Papa cuts it in half and heads to any number of neighbours with a warm, delicious offering.
While they may seem like unreal characters only Hollywood could imagine, I assure you, these two are the essence of what choosing a life and lens of celebration can be. I aspire to see the world in the ways that they do, with a strong, healthy sense of purpose, and gratitude.
This is what 98 and 90 can look like…particularly when celebrating what’s right moves beyond being a great idea, and becomes a way of living.