My grandparents are finally getting old. Grandma is 90 and a bit fragile. She gets a little confused, but she realizes she's confused and she's very gentle in her confusion. We had the same good conversation several times during my last visit. Every time she was very supportive of my teaching, proud that I'm department chair and encouraging about my dissertation. Her personality hasn't changed, but her short-term memory has declined.
Gone is the Grandmother who insisted on finishing her degree at Iowa State (where she met Grandpa) and who raised four kids with such a strong value of education that all of her grandchildren are either in college or have BAs.... most of us are or will have graduate degrees. Also gone is the Grandma who started a career as a social worker in the rough parts of Des Moines. While Des Moines isn't exactly the mean streets of NYC, it was a challenge for a quiet woman from Michigan's UP. Grandma took that challenge and I'm sure the families on her caseload were better for it.
We've been having the same basic conversations with Grandpa for several years now, but I recently realized that is because he's stubborn and not because he's really senile. One of my stronger motivations to finish my dissertation is to be able to give him a copy. I'm going to print it in large print and give it to him bound, like my cousin's husband did a while back. The difference is that I'm going to insist that he read it -- and give him a quiz on the contents :).
Grandpa was a pioneer in several ways. He developed farming techniques that have increased farm productivity in amazing ways. He later developed the techniques needed to recover land lost to the open-pit coal mines that used to dot the Iowa landscape. These days he's a crusader for proper nutrition and exercise. He reads the large-print version of several health related magazines and is always nagging his overweight children and grandchildren to get more exercise. His main focus now is taking care of Grandma. He makes sure that she's eating well and that she takes a 30 minute walk every day.
Every day I hope that I end my life like my grandparents. Healthy, happy and going to Super Wal-Mart for exercise (not shopping!) on rainy days.