Hope you had an especially delicious Thanksgiving last week.
We were especially grateful this year to be in Hawai’i to celebrate my father’s 100th birthday. Yes, wow. One hundred years on this earth, an entire century, and who knows how many bowls of dumpling soup! 🙂
We had started counting down in earnest when he turned 93 or 94 — so thankful then that both my parents were still with us while we lost beloved uncles and aunts — parents to cousins a decade younger than me. Each year, each birthday became a bonus, time we cherished more and more. With each new health crisis, we kept wondering, “Can he make it?”
Thanks to the grace of God — for there is no other way to explain it — James Young Nam Kim — born before television was invented and now posting daily on Facebook — is very much still with us, inspiring awe and respect, and dutifully keeping us on our toes.
This time it felt good to return to Hawai’i, not to mourn the loss of my mother as I did in April, but to celebrate my Dad’s good long life. For the first time in decades, all four of his children were there together, as well as five of his grandchildren and six of his great-grandchildren.
He had three birthday cakes — two at his care home, and one at my brother’s house, and he was able to blow out all the candles despite being on 24/7 oxygen for emphysema. Sadly he wasn’t able to eat any of his birthday cake or his favorite Chinese food since he’s now on a feeding tube, but there was nary a whine nor a whimper.
Since late Spring, my siblings and I worked on helping him write an autobiography. We thought this would be a good project to get us through the difficult days following my mother’s death, and it was an unprecedented opportunity for us to learn more about his personal history.
Back and forth we went, via numerous emails all through the summer, with our question prompts and his sometimes reticent replies. We hungered for more detail about the greatest inventions he’d seen in his lifetime (jet airliners, cloning, microwave ovens, internet), or key historical events (Great Depression, Pearl Harbor, Hawai’i statehood, Kennedy assassination), but he was chattiest when discussing music, fishing, carpentry, and food:
After I got home from Royal School I used to help my father in his furniture repair shop. For doing this he would reward me every Saturday by giving me two silver dollars. Wow! That was a lot of money those days. I would spend some by going to Wo Fat Chop Sui on Hotel Street and order a large bowl of won ton mein which cost 15 cents. Then on other days I would go to Kanae Store on Fort St. and treat myself to a large oval-shaped glass dish filled with azuki beans and ice cream, which cost 5 cents. They didn’t have electric mechanical ice shavers in those days. It was all done by a hand tool.
Food was still paramount on trips to Las Vegas:
We always stayed at the Fremont Hotel & Casino in downtown. I just loved the food which was buffet style. I loved the breakfasts with heaping piles of rice, scrambled eggs, Portuguese sausages simmered with onions, bacon, breakfast sausages and more. There was a station where a chef would cook omelets of your choice. There were several kinds of fruit. I used to go for the honeydew melon. We always had light lunches. Dinner was fabulous where a chef sliced prime rib for you. On Fridays there was a seafood spread. I used to eat a dozen raw oysters. Then for dessert there was lemon meringue and pecan pies, cakes and more.
The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, does it? 🙂
We made DVD copies of these memories to share with all the birthday party guests. Yes, we wanted more, and perhaps should have started the project a long time ago, for 100 years is a long time, and the mind and heart can be fickle as well as generous in giving up secrets. Still, I think we all valued the experience, since we learned new and surprising tidbits about our Dad.
Perhaps the most touching moments at the party were his encounters with the oldest and youngest attendees: his brother Lloyd (90), his sister Mary (87), and his great-grandson Everett (3), who instead of crying as he did last time, had a smile, hug and a lei for Grandpa. Dad made a point of mentioning just how happy this made him. He was also tickled to be featured on local morning TV, where the newscasters were genuinely impressed with a 100-year-old who spent all his time emailing and posting updates on Facebook.
Asked many times to share the secret to his longevity, his usual answer is:
There is no secret to longevity. I was just blessed by the Good Lord to enjoy life. I would like my family to remember me as one who loved music, played his harmonica, went fishing and spent hours on the computer. The best day of my life was when I married Margaret.
I do think the internet has extended my Dad’s life. Though he needs help breathing and walking, can no longer eat anything by mouth, is hard of hearing, and has his share of other health concerns, he hasn’t lost his desire to communicate. Words and language are powerful tools and healers. He doesn’t write snail mail letters in his beautiful penmanship anymore, but types emails, updates, and even a short autobiography using his two finger hunt-and-peck method. He sits daily in a small room in front of his trusty computer, his little window to the outside world, keeping up with loved ones and current events, his way of saying, “Don’t count me out just yet. I am still here, and I know what you’re up to.”
His next goal? To reach 105, so he can outlive his grandfather, who made it to 104. And he is very determined to be the oldest person on Facebook. 🙂
We are thankful for every minute.
Copyright © 2014 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.