By Peter Grimsrud
Old age can be cruel not only to a person’s body, but also on a person’s legacy. My grandfather A.T. Grimsrud was a respected and well-educated newspaper publisher. After some health issues in old age, his doctor recommended walking as a remedy.
As with everything in his life, he was regimented — work seven days a week, church on Sundays, and three square meals a day. He had no hobbies other than his work, civic memberships, and politics. So he walked.
He was a preoccupied walker who often relied on traffic to look out for him on the shoulder. At dusk one evening a pickup truck with oversized mirrors clipped him in the head, somersaulting him into the ditch. Bob Post witnessed the accident and quickly went to his aid, certain that he was dead.
Already an old man, he survived with his elbows and face shattered. A.T. was never really the same person again except for one quality — his determined regimentation. He rebuilt his body through physical therapy by working homemade pulleys at home and carrying a dumbbell and hammer in each hand on his long walks.
He is remembered by those who only knew him in his later years as the goofy walker. But his doctor praised him as one of the best patients he ever had.
After being forced to relinquish his car and then house, he stubbornly went to the nursing home by saying, “So this is it.”
Last week, I spent two days in Milwaukee with my gracious father-in-law helping my aunt, on my mom’s side of the family, clear out her house. She sold the house in order to fend off foreclosure, purchase a tiny new home, and pay off a large credit card debt.
I am her last surviving relative and her house is my grandparents’ old home. The house and my memories of it have crumbled after many years of neglect.
My aunt not only neglected the needs of the house, but also her body. After surgery to assist a balance problem, she completely ignored the follow-up therapy. The woman who spent her life traveling to every hospitable continent and country in the world cannot leave her house under her own power.
She belongs in a nursing home and yet has managed to stay out. She harbors the idea that someday she will ski and travel again. She hasn’t walked in three years, but insisted that I not donate her skis or luggage to Goodwill.
She is a shadow of herself. We left her home ready for the professional movers and with a few thoughts: we never want to leave things in that condition for our children and how sad that it’s come to this.