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Jewish World Review
June 26, 2009
/ 4 Tamuz 5769
Ninety-seven and independent 'til the end
I was certain my father-in-law would make it onto the Today Show with Willard Scott and the Smucker's jam jar. I was wrong.
He has died at the age of 97. Or "97 and three-quarters" as he was quick to point out.
He still lived alone in the old house where he had grown up on 20 acres that has been in the family for a century. He enjoyed a Bloody Mary, ate fast food and drove a convertible he bought at age 86.
He had a razor-sharp mind and took a wealth of facts, figures and temperature highs and lows with him to the grave. He was a favorite of the local historical societies.
His one acquiescence to old age came last fall when he consented to allowing a housekeeping service to come every other week. The service came once and he told them not to come back.
Living 97 and three-quarters years is a two-edged sword. He enjoyed a long life, but outlived his wife of 48 years, all 11 of his brothers and sisters, and nearly all of his cousins, high school classmates and members of his retirees' group. We all assumed he'd probably outlive us as well. He'd be like Methuselah in the Bible, celebrating his 100th and pushing on to 500.
He became a father later in life and cherished his children. He lived for phone calls and visits from his son and daughter.
Most everyone calls my husband Charlie, but my father-in-law has always called him Chuck. Whenever we crossed the state line into Ohio, we joked that the rest of us immediately lost our identities. We became Chuck's family. I was Chuck's wife and the three children were Chuck's kids. My father-in-law was old school; we were Chuck's appendages and we thoroughly enjoyed it.
He was a storyteller who perfected the art of the dramatic pause and had a way with words. He called the air "close" on humid days and often remarked that something was "boo-ti-ful, just boo-ti-ful."
A few months ago, he roughed out a lengthy list of information he wanted in his obituary on a piece of cardstock and tucked it into his journal. At the top he wrote, "I hate stingy obits!" and underlined it with a wavy blue line. Chuck and Chuck's sister had been instructed to make sure the obit was of good length and pay no regard to the cost.
The old suitcase he used to carry on visits to our house now sits in our front hall. The cell phone we gave him for his 95th birthday rests on the kitchen counter.
He was the oldest of our four parents and yet he lived the longest. They are all gone now. A heavy door on well-oiled hinges has swung shut with a resounding thud. Another generation has passed.
We now become the ones who will answer the questions about home mortgages, stuffing turkeys, colicky babies and buying tires. We are the ones who will keep the family stories alive and perfect the dramatic pause.
The umpire has swept home plate, lowered his mask and yelled, "Play ball."
If we handle ourselves well, perhaps we can make something boo-ti-ful.
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© 2009, Lori Borgman
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