a million thanks for one hundred years

Happy December!

Hope you had an especially delicious Thanksgiving last week.

Dad’s matinee idol pose

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?”

Dad (standing center) with his parents and two of his five siblings.

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.

Dad was O’ahu’s harmonica champ when he was 14.
With my brother Newton (I’m wearing the yellow dress Dad bought me in California).

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?🙂

At his care home.

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.

Everett presenting his lei (photo by Heidi Dodge).

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.

My parents at Lake Wilson.

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.”

Dad and me at Haleiwa Beach Park.

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.

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Copyright © 2014 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.

55 thoughts on “a million thanks for one hundred years

  1. Jama, how wonderful! Happy 100th birthday to your father! The internet does give us beautiful and amazing ways to communicate and it makes me happy to hear of how your father puts it to great use. Here’s to 105!

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  2. Jama, I love your family stories so much. Your dad seems to come from a family of “long-livers,” as my mother would say. I bet he’ll make it to 105! It’s interesting that the Internet is extending his life, giving him something to do when much has been taken away, yet he’s still *here* and wants everybody to know it. So cute now, and a real looker when he was younger.

    As much as I whine about the Internet, I realize from your post that it enables people who can’t get out to remain in this world. It makes me wish there was Internet in heaven. I’d love to receive a message from my mother.

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    1. Yes, wouldn’t it be fabulous to have internet in heaven — we could both email our mothers.🙂 We are grateful that he was willing to learn how to use the computer to begin with years ago. Not many 90-somethings are open (or able) to embrace the new technology.

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  3. What a handsome guy! And I love his enthusiasm for food — yes, the apple (or apple tart, apple pie, apple cruller . . .) didn’t fall very far at all! So wonderful that all four siblings (and then some) could be there.

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  4. Jama,
    I can’t begin to thank you enough for sharing this wonderful blessing with us. One of my Mom’s caregivers mentioned to me that no one gets to be 94 without being a strong person. I also believe communication is key. I particularly like your statement about words and language being powerful tools and healers. I will be cheering your Dad to 105.
    Love,
    Margie

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    1. Yes, the ability and willingness to communicate are key. When the physical body begins to fail, it’s crucial for the mind, heart and spirit to be able to express and engage. His strong spirit and faith continue to amaze us.

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    1. I agree that he’s amazing — we were happy to be able to travel to Hawaii (3rd time this year) to help him celebrate this landmark birthday!

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    1. It was especially nice to be reunited with my half-sister. FB has allowed us to keep in touch too🙂.

      I encourage everyone to help the seniors in their lives record their memories. The written word is such a priceless legacy. We also treasure the recollections my mother left us.

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  5. This was so wonderful to read, Jama! I’ve been looking forward to this, ever since you talked about the memoir and the big celebration — and it was worth the wait. How special your dad was able to enjoy the day and to continue enjoying his days, and he is blessed to have such a loving family. Much aloha!

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    1. Thanks, Margo. We are also grateful for my Dad’s wonderful caregivers — they are the best! My Dad thrives in his familiar routine. We are all rooting for him to reach 105!

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  6. So glad he reached this amazing milestone still enjoying himself! Love the photos. You are so bitty in that last shot! I wanted to reach out and make sure you didn’t fall backwards🙂 Do you have any recordings of your dad playing harmonica?

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    1. Yes, we do have some harmonica recordings — not from when he was young, but playing as an adult. We also have recordings of him singing (he was in the choir and sang at weddings sometimes).

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  7. Oh, how I love this post! I’m so happy for you that you were able to celebrate this milestone with your amazing father.

    The autobiography is a great idea, too. Telling one’s story is so important for older people. My husband’s uncle was a Holocaust survivor and for many years wouldn’t talk about the war. But eventually, he told one of his adventures to a journalist who compiled them into a collection. He was very proud of it. He lived to 101 and discovered the Internet when he was 85.🙂

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  8. So glad you got to celebrate this milestone with your Dad, Jama! And what a looker he was–I love those saddleshoes and striped socks, and that bathing beauty photo with your mom. And the photo of him with his parents and siblings is amazing–so much change during your father’s life, but clearly family love has been a constant. Thanks for sharing this.

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  9. As the Polish say, “Sto lat!” One hundred years! It’s mind-boggling, and indeed, is the grace of God. I’m so happy for your family to get to share this – so happy that you once again have reason to celebrate. Here’s to 105. ☺

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    1. We managed to cobble together lots of bits and pieces into a rough chronology. The biggest challenge was to motivate a sometimes reluctant interviewee to elaborate and provide more detail.

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  10. Oh, Jama, such a marvelous story . . . and I’m so glad you are helping your dad preserve his story–it is a treasure. Love the photos! Happy, Happy Birthday to “Jimmy” and may he continue to communicate and celebrate life and family!

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  11. I love the title of this blog, though “the oldest person on Facebook” would be pretty compelling, too. May he make that goal! It’s nice to hear about the internet, extending his life. So many ways it extends our outreach, what a positive. So wonderful all four kids could be there. There’s a story there, too. Wow.

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  12. Congratulations to a handsome man and, clearly, a wonderful father and patriarch. Happy birthday to him! (I love that he’s online, too. My father – aged 87 – wouldn’t know how to turn on a computer, much less use it. Multiple times people have tried to get him on email, with no success. He just doesn’t have the technical instinct. This is a man who has a PhD in science, btw. But modern technology just passed him by. So, anyway, I really admire that your dad kept up!)

    My own grandfather *almost* made it to 100; he died 5 months shy of the goal.

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  13. I love the pictures, your handsome father, and that picture of your parents is so wonderful, Jama. It’s such a special post. I enjoyed his memories you shared, that he’s e-mailing and writing still. Your family is fortunate to have him, and to celebrate this special family time with him. “Don’t count me out just yet. I am still here, and I know what you’re up to.” Terrific!

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    1. It’s fun looking at the old pictures. We found more after my mother died and we were cleaning out her files. We’re happy to have been able to record some of his memories and it was of course great to be there to celebrate the big birthday!

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  14. Wonderful post, Jama. Wonderful to see your family photos and the happiness therein. Love your dad’s spirit. It’s no wonder you have such a special and heart-warming blog yourself. Happy Birthday, James!

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