Posted by: Calmseas (Mike) | September 18, 2008

107 Years

The year was 1901.  The world welcomed the official arrival of the 20th century on January 1st, though there were a few discounted “zeroists” who insisted that it had arrived a year earlier.  The “American Century” (a term used first by Henry Luce of Time Magazine in an article from 1941) would go on to see American domination in science and innovation, in business and finance, in economic might, in military power, and in moral superiority and leadership.

But in 1901, the Wright brothers were still nearly 3 years away from their first flight at Kitty Hawk.  There were only 8,000 cars in the United States, and only 144 miles of paved roads—this was still a horse and buggy age.  The life expectancy in the US was 47 years at birth; though if you lived to adulthood, you could expect to tack 10 years onto that.  14 percent of US homes had a bathtub.  8 percent had a telephone, and a 3-minute call from New York to California cost 11 dollars (over 275 of today’s dollars!).

In 1901 the average hourly wage in the US was 22 cents. And the average US worker made somewhere between 200 and 400 dollars per year, though a good accountant might earn 2,000, a dentist perhaps 2,500, a veterinarian as much as 4,000, and a mechanical engineer about 5,000 dollars per year.

The new century was to usher in a new era.  On January 10, 1901, the first major oil discovery in Texas was made.  The Victorian Age came to an end on January 22 with the death of Queen Victoria who had reigned on the British throne for some 64 years.  New York State became the first state to require automobile license plates, and the age of the automobile was off and running.  For you motorcycle aficionados, the first prototype Harley-Davidson cycle was created in 1901.

But perhaps the most noteworthy event of 1901 happened on September 14 when Teddy Roosevelt become the youngest President of the United States upon the death of President McKinley who lost a 9 day battle against an assassin’s bullet.  On that day, the first real 20th-century president came to power, and the country is vastly different today for the things that Roosevelt left as his legacy.

Just 4 days into Roosevelt’s presidency, and 107 years ago this very day, another child was born who was to leave his own legacy.  107 years ago today my grandfather came into this world.  He lived to be nearly 90 years old.  And for all I can tell, he made good use of every day of those 90 years.

I remember many good things about my grandpa.  He loved the Lake Michigan car ferries and would take a day trip across the lake and back every chance he got.  I remember many times, when as a young boy, I would take that trip with him.  Back in those days, the “car” in car ferry referred to railroad cars, not automobiles—though autos were ferried as well.  It was much fun getting on the boat early to watch the railroad cars load at the rear of the boat and the crazy dock workers drive the automobiles at much-too-fast speed backwards up a wooden ramp to the top deck.  The actual lake crossing was just the icing on the cake.

Grandpa also loved his high school football games.  On Friday evenings in the fall, you could always find him in the stands cheering on the local team.  One of those places in my life where I miss him the most these days is when I attend a football game.  He is not there anymore to welcome me into the stands and into the seat next to him.

Grandpa also loved his windmill cookies.  He was only a generation or two removed from the “old country” (The Netherlands, in his case) and his windmill cookies were one of those things that connected him with his heritage.  He loved his dog Friskie.  Actually Friskie was the name of two of the dogs that he owned.  I especially remember the second Friskie who certainly lived up to his name.  Friskie II was a small dog, always on the move along a wire that Grandpa had set up from the dog coop to the end of the dog pen.  I would accompany Grandpa often out to the corner of his lot—where the dog pen was located—to feed little Friskie.  You never saw a dog so agitated as when we would approach with his supper!

I remember that Grandpa was a hard worker.  I really only knew him in his retirement, but even then he would put in full days of work as a groundskeeper for an aging gentleman and his wife, as a custodian and a volunteer for his church, and as a handyman around his own house.  I can still remember as a very young boy riding with him in his old jet-black Ford to “help” him with his grounds-keeping.  It is certain that I was not much help, though I think he realized the value to both of us in taking me along with him.

For a year or two when I was a teenager, I would ride with Grandpa in his old blue Rambler (or was it his green Ford Pinto wagon? . . . that’s not important now) to his grounds-keeping job.  While he went about his business, I worked at the next door neighbor’s house, keeping their lawn in shape.  This is one of those formative events that taught me the value of showing up on time and doing the work that needed to be done; and it taught me the value and satisfaction of a day’s work for a day’s pay.  I think it also contributed to my understanding of the value of family, and of the value in staying close to your family throughout your life.  The way that my grandpa treated me when I was so very young has really come full circle as it is reflected in the way that I now try to treat my own grand kids.  I hope I can measure up to my grandpa with my own life.

I remember many times tagging along with Grandpa while he worked as a custodian and did other volunteer work at the three different churches that he attended during the formative years of my life.  And on the home front, well into his 70’s Grandpa could be found up on his own roof in the dead of winter pounding ice from the eaves!  When I would go to visit him, I think I remember finding Grandpa on the roof almost as often as finding him in the yard or in the house.

Late in his life, Grandpa lost a lot of his mental acuity; but you could always find in his eyes those telltale glimmers that would comfort you in knowing that in there, somewhere, the old Grandpa still resided.  There were three things that I absolutely know about Grandpa, and they are probably the three most important things in life for anyone: Grandpa loved God, he loved his family, and he especially loved his wife, my grandma, who is still with us at the age of 95 and going strong.

It has been over 17 years now since Grandpa quit this good Earth, and we—his family—miss him, and always will.  But on this day, what would be his 107th birthday, we celebrate his life by simply taking time to remember him today, and by reflecting on the part that his life played in making our lives what they are today.

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I received a reply from my Aunt with a few more memories that I thought would be worth sharing.  My memories are from the last third of Grandpa’s life, but she has much to add from the middle of his life growing up as his daughter.  With her permission, and with my apologies to her for my editing, here are her comments:

_____________________________________________________________________________

Family and God were very important to Grandpa Keur, and are very important to Grandma, too.

Note:  It was the blue Rambler you spoke of, which was a gift to him from Mrs. Kinney when Mr. Kinney died, because Dad was so kind to both of them.  He did many things for them—he was always helping others.  And the Black Ford was a 1949 Ford, which was one year old when he bought it.  It was the first car that I ever remember having in our family—I was 9 years old.

Dad rode to work in Muskegon with two other guys from our village that worked there. He worked at Norge in Muskegon Heights and then at Shaw-Walker as a cabinet maker.  He made a curved wood bar for the world’s fair in Chicago and was really proud of that.  He met Mom when they both worked at Norge.

When I started junior high school, Mom worked at VanTol hardware in Grand Haven as a clerk and stocking kitchen supplies.  This was owned by R. Warnock. Later, she worked at the Ottawa County Court House for several years and retired from there when she was 62.

Did you know Dad was also on the local village council for several years?  In those days, this was a big deal, and he was always the top vote getter.  He loved solving problems and making people’s lives better and the community a better place in which to live.  He was also a volunteer fireman.  He truly put others first; and he Loved the Lord.

Although he was old enough to be my grandfather, I never felt that he was old.  He was 40 years old when I was born.  He always looked younger than his years.

We were actually a poor family, money-wise; but rich in so many other ways that we never even knew we were poor—although most people that lived in our small town were poor in those days.  We walked everywhere or rode our bikes.  I remember walking uptown with my Dad from our house on 6th Avenue every day to get the mail and get enough food for that day.  And our snacks consisted of carrot sticks and celery sticks, or— if we were lucky—apples.  Food wasn’t a priority but we had enough to survive.  I can remember Mom making hamburgers by mixing oatmeal and eggs with the meat to stretch it further.  I guess today you might call that “meatloaf.”  Soda pop, chips. and today’s junk food were things that we didn’t even know existed.  Food was something that we just didn’t think of like we think of it today.  And that wasn’t all that bad! We were all thinner back then and didn’t have to worry about or even think about our weight.

I can remember when your uncle and I first moved into our house just a few miles from where we grew up, and Dad telling me how proud he was that we were able to have such a nice home.  Many years later, Dad was in the nursing home when we bought the lot on the lake where we built the home that we currently live in, but I brought him out there one day and showed him our house plans. I’m just sorry he didn’t live to actually see this house.  He walked to the edge of the lot and looked off down the lake toward the main road with tears in his eyes and told me, “This is really something.”

Dad always stressed the importance of a saving account for a rainy day, as he lived through the stock market crash of 1929 and the Great Depression; he also didn’t like the idea of a mortgage. The way they did things back in his time were “if you couldn’t pay for it, you didn’t get it.” With the economic problems of today, that is not a bad attitude to have. It certainly makes life less stressful.

I thank God every day for my Dad and my many blessings.

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Responses

  1. Enjoyed reading your tribute to Grandpa. You have many happy memories about him. He was a fine family man.

  2. That was such a lovely piece. It taught me a lot of things I never knew about my Uncle Pete and brought back a lot of fond memories of things long forgotten. Perhaps one of my favorite memories is how every year, when we came to Michigan to see my grandparents, Uncle Pete would always take us to the drive-in at the top of the hill and buy us a big frosty mug of root beer. I know today’s kids wouldn’t find that too exciting, but back then to us, it was an Event with a capital “E”.

  3. Wow. I so enjoyed reading about Uncle Pete’s life — I especially love the way you set the time frame.

    I might be a southern girl who is not terribly fond of cold weather but I frequently tell people that some of the best men I have ever known call Michigan their home. Uncle Pete was certainly one of them.

  4. […] 107 Years […]


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