Biff America: The calendar’s white lie
On Christmas Eve 1997, with failing health, Louie Jaquett thought he was 100 years old. He looked at the calendar on the wall, and smiled.
Born in Switzerland in 1898, he arrived in America eight years later. The life of an Iowa immigrant was no better than for those in the industrialized cities. Though the air was clean, the landowners considered the foreigners little more that farm animals.
Glenie, his future wife, was born in a log cabin on Bear Creek. She had the coloring of her Swedish mother and the temper of her Irish father. They met as teenagers at a July Fourth picnic and, over time, fell in love.
Though Glenie’s family was poor, Louie’s was poorer. When the young couple announced their engagement, her parents were skeptical of Louie’s ability to provide for his family. “Love won’t stop the hunger pains,” were the words her mother used. Her father, remembering his own young love years earlier was more realistic, “You’re stubborn like your mother, and I’ve learned not to argue with her; be a good wife Glenie.”
Glenie’s parents were correct, love was no substitute for a good meal, but it made a dandy appetizer. The passionate, but poor couple married on Valentine’s Day in 1917. They leased a small plot of land and were inseparable. The neighbors would say that you’d never see Louie taking out a load of manure without Glenie standing behind him on the wagon.
In an age where women were expected to be homemakers and pregnant, Glenie broke the mold. They were more than husband and wife, they were partners, and best friends. They did not hide their affection.
An elderly Louie told an embarrassed 30-something grandson the secret to a happy marriage. “Glenie and I had an agreement that whenever one of us wanted to make love, all we had to do was ‘inkle’ and, if possible, the other would comply.” “Inkle,” to Louie, meant raising your eyebrows a few times in rapid succession.
When Louie’s grandson, Craig, recounts this story, he tells how he wanted to end the conversation, but Louie insisted on dispensing birth-control advice. “You’ve got to learn self control. Glenie and I would make love at the drop of a hat, (or overalls) and yet we only had one child. Do you know why? I had self-control!”
The couple was blessed with a deep love and good health maintained by hard work and clean living. But the calendar is heartless.
When both were in their 80s, Glenie suffered a stroke and Louie broke an ankle. Unable to maintain their property and take care of each other, the couple sold their lands and moved into a nursing home. Life there agreed with them. According to Louie, “It’s a lot like living on the farm, minus the cooking, cleaning and pitching manure.”
To everyone’s surprise, their health improved and they remained active octogenarians. They would take drives down to Bear Creek with Louie at the wheel and Glenie enjoying the views of her youth. Though they had separate bedrooms, they had two easy chairs in Louie’s room – they would sit there for hours holding hands and dozing.
Life in the nursing home did not lessen the couple’s affection; Louie would crawl into his wife’s bed every Valentine’s Day in celebration of their anniversary.
Louie had a few bad years after Glenie died. He was in his early 90s, lonely, and his awareness seemed to fluctuate with the seasons. He lost interest in life and sometimes prayed to be taken to Glenie in heaven.
Then he got it in his head to live to be 100.
“If I lived to be 100, now that would be something.” He would say with wonder.
After his decision to reach triple figures, Louie began pacing himself. He would sleep most of the day, waking only when family would visit. Every birthday they would bring him a cake and sing “Happy Birthday.” When they were finished he would say, “Today I’m 96-97-98. Now if I live to be 100, that would be something.”
Louie had only five months before his 100th birthday on May 10, when his health began to fail. Constant pain from a hip too badly broken to repair had sapped all that was left of any remaining vitality. He would be incoherent for days at a time and was unable to leave his bed. When he would regain consciousness, he would ask in a feeble voice, “Am I the oldest man in the world yet?”
He regained consciousness on Christmas Eve. His family was around his bed. Someone had brought in a calendar for the next year, turned the page to “May 1998.” The contradiction of Christmas decorations in May was lost on Louie. He believed it to be his 100th birthday.
“His family sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to him for the last time. Louie smiled and said, One hundred years. Now, that is something; I can’t wait to tell Glenie.” Then a day later, he died.
Louie Jaquett squeezed a lot of life and a lot of love in 99 years and 7 months.
Jeffrey Bergeron, under the alias of Biff America, can be seen on TV-8-Summit and read in several newspapers and magazines. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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