Monday, November 21, 2011

Giving Thanks #1: Melvin

Melvin was 90 years old when I met him. That is a lot of years. I've been thinking about him this week. Much had changed during his lifetime, and I did a search to get a better picture of what that meant. The year he was born, for example, first-class postage dropped to two cents, Oregon was the first U.S. state to levy a gasoline tax, women were given the right to vote, the first nonstop flight across the Atlantic was made by an airship, Afghanistan gained independence from the United Kingdom, the cartoon character Felix the Cat appeared, and World War I officially ended.

And in the years following?
In addition to several big wars and other obvious world-changing events, Melvin was alive for such inventions as the Band-Aid, television, self-winding watch, spiral-bound notebooks, bubble gum, scotch tape, parking meter, magnetic recording, jet engine, slinky, silly putty, kidney dialysis machine, atomic bomb, microwave oven, frisbee, and velcro.

He was married and they started a family of their own. Melvin lived many places and worked a variety of jobs -- on ranches, railroads, bombers, insulation, dams, sales, and much more. He hunted, fished, and traveled. And, of course, all of these experiences shaped and were shaped by him.

By the time I met Melvin, his body was not nearly as strong as in his youth, and his memory was starting to fade. His world was shrinking, some would say -- staying closer to home, experiencing changes in relationships, missing memories which represented portions of his life. At the same time, though, he kept living the best he knew how, generally choosing to enjoy the people and places and memories he did still have rather than focusing on those he'd lost. How are you today? we would ask. Fine as frog hair! he might reply, with a twinkle in his eye.

I joined family and friends in honoring Melvin's life at a memorial service last week. I loved hearing the stories they told -- brief snapshots of his life, often told with smiles and tears. It was a privilege to be in that place, discovering more of a man I'd grown to love.

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