This is Ken, my mother's father. That's actually his middle name -- we thought about giving Peter his first name, Jackson, but he heard about it and told us it was an awful name. So we scrapped that plan and gave Peter the middle name Kenneth, just like him. He is/was the youngest of my grandparents and is now the last one left. My grandma said it was a good thing she didn't know he was two years younger than her until their honeymoon because she might not have married him if she'd known. My dad's mom was older than her husband, too -- I think it was because it was wartime, or maybe it just runs in the family (I'm 17 months older than Dan). I recently realized that my mom, mom's mom, and mom's mom's mom were all in their 30's when their first children were born. I was a mere 25.5 when Peter was born, so I broke that trend. My dad's mom was over 30 at her first birth too -- due to the long generations, I never met any of my great-grandparents. Peter met four of his, plus a step-great-grandfather. I realized that if I'd waited until my mid-thirties, none of my kids would have met either of my grandmothers.
My grandpa has the most amazing memory. Leo seems to take after him in more ways than one. Over the past decade, my grandpa wrote down the story of his life -- I think it's about 1,500 pages, including 100 before his birth. I haven't actually read it because the detail overwhelms me, but I love knowing it will be there when I can't call and ask him anymore.
He came over a couple weeks ago and I suggested bringing a map or two, since he'd be here with just Leo, the baby, and I for awhile, and nothing holds Leo's attention better than a map. He brought his atlas and I suggested using ours instead when I realized he wanted to write in it -- Leo's marked ours up plenty already. The Scotchman in him had torn a piece of a Post-It off and written in a small corner of that slip of paper. He started highlighting all the places he visited during his seven years on active duty in the Navy. I learned that he'd spent a month in Hawaii, seen most of the Pacific islands, and he says he's covered every inch of the Atlantic in the smaller latitudes. Once he was done with his Navy years, he switched to a different color and traced the paths of the European vacations he'd taken with Grandma. Another color were the train trips around North America, including the month-long, 38 state tour where he'd met my grandma at Glacier Park and talked with her until she got off the train in St. Paul -- they corresponded by letter for 3 more years before a bombed ship gave him 5 day leave to get married.
Leo was less patient a listener than me and soon began drawing his own paths on the maps, moving to a different atlas when I worried that he was getting in the way. But he heard everything and brings up the little facts at odd times -- that boy remembers everything. Just like his great-grandpa.
Since he was already in his sixties when I was born, I remember more of the home-body things he's done. Like biking 5 miles to my parents' house to weed their gardens without being asked. And walking 1/2 mile to the grocery store and carrying back the food in the carrier he designed (which strongly resembles my fleece pouches). I forget that he and Grandma visited all 50 states by the mid-80's (he says that he's been to each state, save Hawaii and Alaska, four times each). He's pretty much been my grandma's full-time caretaker for the past 5 years, and they haven't been able to travel together for much longer than that. He and my uncles are planning to take the train to D.C. to visit his 96 year old brother later this winter. Other than the occasional birthday party, he has only visited our current house once before -- my mom stayed with Grandma so he could come check out our chickens. He'd given us a long list of coop-building suggestions.
He grew up on a farm in southern Ohio -- the only one of my grandparents who wasn't a lifelong Minnesotan. He's never really accepted cold Minnesota winters. He can rattle off every type of crop they grew and exactly how to plant them. When he moved into a townhouse in 1982, he brought black raspberries from his house and threw the seeds out near the highway by his new place so he'd be able to pick them on his walk to the store. Kelsey and I have each been given black raspberry starts when we bought our houses.
My grandpa has always seemed super-human to me. His only physical ailment is some hearing loss, and that is a war injury, not a problem due to age. I've joked that he won't die unless he's hit by a bus at 105 or something.
At Thanksgiving, I finished darning a slipper he gave me to fix last winter -- I bet he's had them for 20 years. I didn't tell him I was finally working on it, but when we went to his house, I saw the matching slipper sitting on a nightstand. In my house, something like that would have been long lost. We have to convince him that a pair of shoes from 1963 might not be worth repairing sometimes. He has a smallish 2 bedroom townhouse but I think there must be a spare thousand square feet somewhere where he stores things. He's been slowly giving things away for years--all the possessions he has carefully kept for decades. Maybe he'll have it perfectly timed and give away his last knick-knack the day he dies. When we came for Thanksgiving, he had all of Grandma's jewelry and personal things lined up, telling us to take anything and everything so he could give the rest to charity.
When I was little, he was working on the family genealogy (I think he later went through both my grandmas' histories as well). He'd call now and then to tell us that we had an ancestor from yet another country. My other grandparents were all German and Scandinavian (either entirely from one country or half one and half another) but not him -- English, Irish, Dutch, Swiss, Alsass-Lorraine, American-Indian -- he was a little of everything. He got back to at least the 1600's for part of his background.
If my boys can be even a bit like their Great-Grandpa Ken, I'll be happy.