In 1980, while working at a major hospital, I met a patient that was 104 years old! She had broken her hip and up until that point had lived alone and managed by herself. Her son, who was 78 at the time, came by her home often to take her shopping and run errands. She was born June 25, 1876 -- the same day as the Custer Massacre. I spent many of my off-duty hours talking with her. Imagine the history she lived through.
In 1889, when she was 13, her family participated in the Oklahoma Land Rush. They had lived in Vermont and her father decided to take advantage of the free land the government was offering. She got married in 1892 at the age of 16. She and her husband moved to Michigan shortly after.
One of my favorite questions to ask an older person is who the first President they knew of from living life and not by learning about in school. (Mine was Eisenhower.) While her first Presidential memory was Grover Cleveland, her most vivid memory of a President was William McKinley. She and her husband had gone to the Pan American Exposition in Buffalo, New York in 1901. She was standing less than six feet from President McKinley when he was shot! Imagine the horror.
She retired in 1945, just after the end of World War II. Her husband died in 1948 and she had lived alone in the same house ever since. They had 3 children but two had died. My Gosh! She had been collecting Retirement Social Security Benefits for thirty-five years when I met her.
She had lived her adult life for all of the historic events in the 20th century -- Oklahoma Land Rush; Spanish American War; Assassination of McKinley; Sinking of the Titanic; World War I; Prohibition; Gangster Era; Explosion of the Hindenburg; Rise of Hitler and World War II, Assassination of John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, and Martin Luther King; Man Landing on the Moon, Apollo 13 Near Disaster; Challenger Disaster; Attempted Assassination of President Reagan, and more. With so many to choose from, I asked her which one had the most dramatic effect on her. I supposed it was witnessing the assassination of President William McKinley, but asked her anyway. I was surprised by her response. With a smile on her face, she told me it was man landing on the Moon. In her lifetime she had gone from horse and buggy days, to the invention of the automobile, airplanes, to jets to the Concorde to Space flight and walking on the Moon!
At the time I met this lady, my favorite television show was Little House on the Prairie. This lady went much further in what she had seen and done in her lifetime than Laura Ingalls Wilder had. I wished SHE had written a book about her experiences. Her story would have made a great television series too. My only regret in this experience is that I did not at least make notes of what she told me, or even better yet, made tape recordings of her telling me about her life. She died one week after being discharged from the hospital. I went to her funeral and her son told me that I had made his mother feel important by my wanting to know about the historic events she had lived.
How many people do you know that are older than yourself? Ask them about the historic events they lived through. Once they are gone, so are their memories. Older people are the world's greatest treasure.