Leaping through the Centuries
I have touched a hand that Theodore Roosevelt shook.
Several years ago a neighbor and friend in our church asked for friends to take shifts staying with her mother, who was dying of congestive heart failure and didn’t want to be alone. Born in 1898, Esther was 104.
My husband and I spent an evening with her. Although her body was failing, her mind was clear and her memory was sharp, and she kept us entertained through our visit. Her best story was this: her father was president of Augustana College, a small Lutheran college in Rock Island, Illinois. When she was a teenager, the colorful former president visited the school and was introduced to the college president’s daughter. My husband has long been fascinated by Teddy Roosevelt and listened with rapt attention, holding her right hand. She told us Roosevelt took her hand and shook it, saying “DEE-lighted to meet you, Miss Esther.” Gary was thrilled to be holding the same hand that shook the president’s, and I too touched that hand.
Speaking of links to presidents, John Tyler, born in 1790, has two living grandchildren (as of January 27). President Tyler had a much younger second wife and 15 children, including a son born in 1853, whose sons were born in 1924 and 1928.
I was born near the middle of the 20th century, so I’m not that far removed from people who lived in the 19th. My grandmother, who lived to be 95, was born in 1879. Her wedding photo is strictly Gay ’90s; a couple of decades later she boldly sports bobbed hair. My fashion-designer neighbor mentioned previously, Mrs. Basore, was a link to the transition of fashion from Gibson Girls to flappers.
When I was in the eighth grade in 1958 I had a teacher, Glenna Post, who played the violin in the silent movies. She was in her 70s or 80s when she taught English at my junior high school—she really was old, despite the fact that teenagers think anyone over 40 is old. Even if she was only 75, she would have been born in the 1880s. I had other teachers in their 60s and 70s, so of course they were also born in the 19th century.
Given the longevity in my family, I have a pretty good chance of living nearly to the middle of the 21st Century, yet it would take surprisingly few leaps, if we could make them, to reach back to ancient Rome, Egypt, or even Olduvai Gorge.