Old age is like learning a new profession. And not one of your own choosing.
~ Jacques Barzun, who turns 103 today
Great-grandpa Charlie expressed his mastery of the profession by a customary Midwestern silence. He seemed to have been born old. It was hard to imagine him as anything other than an object of unsettling wonder, a stiff-jointed human antique. Born in 1891, he died when he was 102 and I was twenty. As a child at church or civic functions he must have been surrounded by Civil War veterans, like I was by WWII vets when my grandparents’ generation still ran the show. Charlie farmed a patch of Iowan earth well into his nineties. Visiting him, my father would switch on a tape recorder and try to provoke reflections on all that had changed down the years: electricity in the home, automobiles, air travel, the Apollo moon landings. What was it like to see the world change so much? “Oh, it was something,” Charlie would say. And not much else.