Tuesday morning, I hurried my morning routine along so I could be out the door by 8:45am to vote. As I was getting into the car, I twisted my back – somehow – and was in great pain. Muscle spasms shot through me, and I questioned whether I should even be driving. After all, the church was just across the street; but there were a few errands to run after voting.
I walked right in, signed in with no wait, and took a seat. Normally, I always have experiences at this particular polling site – my political affiliation shouted from one elderly worker to a very deaf elderly worker; a resident from One Lincoln Park who seriously believed my joke that Eleanor Roosevelt was running for president; touch screens that are too difficult to push; and workers that are not adept at policy.
Today was different.
I sat, gently, in one of the folding chairs set up for those anticipated long waits. A nicely dressed gentleman entered, full of enthusiasm and charisma. The location had been moved from a small, cramped room to the gymnasium in the church, and the elderly gentleman insisted we all get a game of basketball going.
This man had an energy, and enthusiasm about life that made me forget about my painful spasms shooting through my back. I heard him tell the workers, “I will probably be the oldest person voting today.” The one female worker assured him there would be folks older than their 80’s.
“Nope! I am one hundred three and a half years old!”
I looked up to examine the centurion with an additional three and one half years tacked on. Due to my condition, he was walking more erect than I was, and even had a bounce to his step. He finished signing in. There were a dozen chairs set up, and I was the only one seated. I was not in the mood for a chat, but he aimed his stride right towards me, and took a seat.
He immediately charged into the conversation, sharing that he lived in One Lincoln Park, the retirement village next door to the church (and where my son works).
I asked him when he first voted.
“1924. I voted for Calvin Coolidge.”
I chuckled. My grandmother was born that year.
“I was born in 1905 and Teddy Roosevelt was president. The Wright Brothers had just flown a year or so before.”
I perked up. I asked if he was born in Dayton.
“Yes, I was.” He went on to explain where he lived but I was not familiar with that particular neighborhood.
I asked if he ever had a chance to see Wilbur Wright who died in 1912.
“I saw Wilbur several times and up close. Nice man. I was about six or seven when he died. I remember the funeral – all the carriages and all the bells rining all over town. A few days later my parents took me to the cemetery – you know, the one by the university. There were so many flowers. I met Orville a number of times, too.”
I asked a few more questions about Wilbur but he could not recall much more – just that he had seen him in person and that he, along with his brother, seemed like a nice man.
I asked if he went to dining service at One Lincoln Park.
“I never miss a chance to be with people. I go there every meal.”
I asked if he knew the tall, thin Mexican boy.
“Jose? Of course. He is such a delightful young man. Polite and kind. Do you know him?”
I explained he was my son and the gentleman really sized me up… I knew what was going through his mind.
“I adopted Jose.”
“Ah! Good for you. You chose a good young man.”
The gentleman looked around and said, “I hope this doesn’t take too damned long. I have a walk to get in this morning.”
I asked how often he walked.
“Every day. Two miles.”
Smack! I needed that one. I sucked my stomach in and tried to look a little more perky.
He went on to describe that he gets up at 6:00am every day and is often frustrated that other people are not yet up and “ready to start their day.” He looked over and said, “some people fight old age and don’t welcome it.” I learned that he plays cards, goes to concerts at the Fraze Pavilion in the summer, goes to the Rec Center when the snow and ice cover the sidewalks, chats with others as much as he can, and will not watch television in a group of people. “I like to talk to people – see what makes them tick. You can’t learn anything about others when the TV is loud because most of my friends are completely deaf, and most fall asleep.”
It was my turn to vote. I offered to let the gentleman go before me.
“I’m one hundred three and a half, not one hundred and eight. You go right on.”
Before I left he said, “When I was a kid I loved saying I was six and a half or what ever age I was. Then I stopped using it. When I turned 90 I realized it was time to start saying ‘one half’ again. That ‘one half’ was just as important as the landmark age.”
He soon stepped next to me at his booth and had difficulty figuring out where the credit-card card went.
“Now where in the hell does this damned card go?”
I showed him.
I finished voting and took leave of the wonderful spirit. He wished me well and said he hoped to see Jose soon.
Despite my painful muscle spasms, I was walking a little taller. I tried to match the spring in his own step, but it hurt too much.
Still, I was invigorated.
I had just touched history… all the way back to Teddy Roosevelt and the Wright Brothers. I write about these great Americans. Today, I met someone who remembered them first hand. This gentleman seemed to sum up what life, and our country is all about – hope, enthusiasm, determination, gratitude, and love for mankind.
Now, that is a blessing!