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101 Years

June 9, 2014

charbonnayPardon me. I interrupt your otherwise peaceful (and relaxing?) summer to talk about death. I suppose it might be more about life.
Funerals are sad, right? Even seeing traffic pull over and stop for the procession makes me cry. It’s hard to go to one without tearing up at least once. Sometimes, we’re sad, because death is just so damn tragic. A young father dies too soon, or a child can’t be healed with medicine. These are the worst of the worst. They catch us off guard. They don’t feel right.
We took The Kids to a funeral on Monday. This wasn’t their first, but The Boy even said, “That was actually pretty lovely for a funeral. It wasn’t too sad at all.” He wasn’t kidding. There were tears, but it was a true celebration of a life well lived.
Martha Shueler lived 101 years. 99 of them were in the same house. With the exception of a very, very brief time just before she died, she had a caregiver who stayed with her during the day, bringing her meals and driving her around town, but she lived by herself. Her daughter visited regularly, buts she got herself ready for church each week and never missed lunch with a friend or family member.
She was Nama (pronounced Namaw) to 4 grands and 8 great grandchildren, but so many of us got to try her chocolate cake. Nama’s Chocolate Cake. It might be a little confusing when you first taste it. The cake part isn’t chocolate, but the icing is. It’s still called chocolate cake. Her grandchildren will tell you of conversations over a Snickah (sic) Bar and a Co-Cola. She liked to tell stories, but she loved to hear other people’s stories even more.
When she was born, across the street from the house she owned until she died, there was no such thing as television. Woodrow Wilson had just defeated Teddy Roosevelt and Taft to become President, and she’d see sixteen other men elected. Shoeless Joe Jackson and Ty Cobb made the news, and Alaska had yet to become a state. The Masters wouldn’t start for another twenty two years. The Titanic went down months before her birth. That was just 1912.
Throughout her lifetime, so much happened. Can you imagine if someone told her, when she was a teenager, that one day we’d have these phones you could take anywhere, and they’d have a camera and could answer any question you could think of? She probably would’ve laughed. She wasn’t ever really interested in learning about the internet, but it must’ve amazed her. She often drank a glass of wine. Her CharBONnay, as she called it. Proudly.
There are hundreds of funny stories about Nama. Those who knew her well can talk for days about the things they love about her. She was the oldest living native of North Augusta when she died. The list of things she saw in her lifetime will blow your mind. That’s not my point, though.
It’s not about death. It’s not necessarily about her life. It’s about how she lived.
When asked about her secret for staying so healthy and living so long she always replied, “a positive attitude.” Is it that simple? She wasn’t smiling and happy every minute of every second of her 101 years. That’d be unrealistic. All of us have bad days. Was she able to focus on her positive attitude better than the rest of us? Shortly after she was married, her father died, and she moved home to help her mother. Her husband died many years ago, and not long after that, she lost her only son. Her life wasn’t without heartache. She was able to thoroughly enjoy what she had, while looking past what she didn’t.
There’s something to be said for positivity and longevity. Lower stress, longer life. We can’t eliminate the stressors, but maybe we can handle them better.
I’m also going to continue my little wine habit, and I’ll throw in a slice of chocolate cake on a regular basis. Nama would approve, I’m sure of it. Let’s all try to assume good intentions, listen to other people’s stories, and have a positive attitude. For Nama. First, though, we’ll raise a glass of charBONnay (or Co-cola), and toast a superb Southern lady and a life well lived. To Nama! Cheers!

*originally published in The Metro Spirit, Augusta GA June 5, 2014

3 Comments leave one →
  1. June 10, 2014 6:11 am

    My kind of story… one might suspect.

    You captured it perfectly, Jenny.

    We are in the business of telling people’s stories and assisting those that are left behind to remember them accurately.

    There are certain people that come into our lives that give us a seemingly endless number of stories….cherish and keep telling those stories.

    It is also important for the children….the more “little” funerals they go to the better prepared they become for the “big” funerals.

    I will RB this tonight….

  2. June 12, 2014 6:23 pm



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