I believe you are never too old to change.
Before I was born, my grandparents moved to Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. I grew up seeing them one week out of every year, which is to say that I grew up not knowing them well at all. After I left home, my contact with my grandmother became more infrequent and the time between my visits to Florida grew.
In August 2005, I made the trip from San Francisco to Ft. Lauderdale to visit her. It had been five years since I’d last been. Being there, I felt nostalgia I didn’t know I had. I knew that house. I knew the bedroom I had shared with my sister during our visits as kids, I knew the feel of saw grass on my bare feet, and I knew the tiny chameleons that scampered across the back patio.
On this trip, I got to know my grandmother through her stories. She told me how she lost both her parents within four months of one another when she was twenty-two. She told me how she met my grandfather, and how she and her twin sister worked as secretaries in Manhattan.
Three days after I arrived at her house, we watched on television as Hurricane Katrina demolished New Orleans.
When my visit came to an end, I flew back to San Francisco and my grandmother remained in the house she had lived in for thirty years. Two months later, Hurricane Wilma hit. Her house was flooded and she was without electricity for three days. She was ninety-four years old.
The hurricane destroyed much of what she had spent her life collecting – the beaded purses she bought on her travels abroad, the needlepoint dining room chairs that she spent three years making. The objects of her experience were soaked through and molded over.
She moved in with my parents up north and began to rebuild her life. In all of her ninety-four years, she had never worn a pair of pants. Winter in Maryland demands long pants, and so my grandmother went shopping. She remarked, “It’s a whole new me.”
That January, the family gathered from all over the country to celebrate her ninety-fifth birthday. It has since become a tradition. We converge from both coasts to celebrate how she made it through the depression, the death of her parents, World War II, the birth of her children, the birth of her grandchildren, the death of her husband, and the destruction of the hurricane. We converge to celebrate this and everything in between.
On her ninety-seventh birthday, someone asked the most remarkable change she had seen in her lifetime. She said electricity. Electricity changed her life when she was a child, and a lack of electricity is part of what changed her life in her nineties. My grandmother’s rebound after the hurricane is the most remarkable change I have seen in my lifetime as it confirms my belief that you are never too old to change.
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