Grandma grew up in Wyoming. Her grandfather -- Philip Louis -- had come over from France. Her father -- Louis Philip -- made his way out west trading furs and ended up around what would become Fort Caspar, Wyoming where he built a bridge over the North Platt river and got by selling passage over it for the people headed West. He married a woman from the local Shoshone tribe and that's about the extent of what I know about the guy.
I never met my paternal grandfather, but I heard stories enough from everyone in the area to guess at what sort of character he was. He met my grandmother playing trumpet during the depression while she played the piano.
They got by the great depression playing for coal miners. When they were about ready to pack it in, they'd play "Goodnight, Ladies". It wasn't uncommon for the miners to pass a hat around to convince them to play a while longer.
The first time was a pleasure -- kind of like bands today play for their encores. The second time was nice. Some nights, it would become a grim obligation as they went three, four, or five times.
It should come as no surprise then that with my grandfather playing over her left shoulder, she was near deaf in that ear. In addition, she played the piano with a real blacksmith's touch. All those years of playing over the din of the hall and she never quite settled back into playing quietly. Electronic keyboards were probably the best thing that could ever have happened during her lifetime. She could hammer the keys the way she normally would and adjust the volume until she could hear it through the headphones. She had pianos for a while, but they were occasionally a source of strain with her neighbors.
(She was married eight times. It's for this reason that one of my cousins advises recent divorcees to keep trying. After all, my grandmother's eighth husband was universally agreed to be the best of the lot. It was a shame that he did her the discourtesy of dying.)
I gather she was always a bit scatterbrained. Always moving from this place to that. Over the years she worked as a teacher and volunteered with the Salvation Army. Life was difficult for my father and he felt obligated to strike out on his own so that my uncle could stay in one place for a bit. When he was old enough, he went into the Navy. My grandfather's signature was his birthday present that year. When my grandfather died, he was quite surprised to find a book of pictures from the Navy that he'd sent along.
I'd call her tendency to move "wanderlust", but she had a curious habit of moving between a select few places. In my lifetime, she'd write after moving in that everything was wonderful. Somewhere within the period of six months to two years, she'd decide everything was terrible and that she had to move again. My mom often joked that she had never written my grandmother's address in pen. I remember when my mom set up a program which answered and dialed the phone for her called "Watson". It was the first computer address book I'd ever seen and my mom crowed that she didn't even need her address on paper anymore.
She took care of us when my mom went to Egypt and my dad developed a blood clot in his leg. I remember going shopping with her and the way she'd laugh when I'd chase the cats around. My sisters didn't care for her terribly much and they were glad when she left.
My parents succeeded twice in getting her to move near the house. It seemed like the right thing to do -- she was lonely. Every time the same thing happened. When I moved out, they got her to move in. Not long afterwards, she found her way out, curiously accusing my parents of elder abuse.
With that small exception, up until she was about 94, she lived on her own. She'd had a couple of strokes, heart attacks, and broken her hip and knees when she'd fallen a few times.
In spite of this, she was still trying to escape from the hospice. They'd had to put a monitor on her because she'd enjoyed a measure of success in her escape attempts.
My parents visited for her birthday. She remarked on how much she wanted to "go home" and see her parents again. I never knew my grandmother to say that someone had died -- rather that they'd gone to glory. She was likely the most religious person in my family and terribly proud that two of my cousins had gone on to get their D.D.s and become ministers. Furthermore, that everyone in my generation had gone to college. My parents never broke it to her that I didn't finish school.
It's hard to feel anything negative about living to that age. It'd be nice to see how strange the world is in 100 years. Hopefully, I got those genes.