My wife Amy’s grandmother, Ora Zimmerman Knies, died in her sleep on June 11, 2010. She was 109 years old.
Three days later we gathered at Memaw’s funeral mass held at St. Stephen Catholic Church in Hermitage, Tennessee. She was survived by her three “boys,” 11 grandchildren, 22 great grandchildren, and 19 great great grandchildren. She just missed holding a fifth generation of babies, with one of the great great’s due to have a child in a few weeks when she passed away.
Beyond savoring the memories and bonds of love and family, anyone who attended her funeral couldn’t help but reflect on all that Memaw had seen in her 109 active and colorful years of life. She was born January 13, 1901 – the year the first radio receiver picked up a transmission. Had she entered the world just two weeks earlier she would have been alive during three of the centuries of the Christian Era calendar.
Ora was born in the Territory of Oklahoma – it would not be admitted to statehood for another six years – and traveled cross country by horse-drawn carriage as a young girl when her family moved to Winchester, Tennessee.
The array of inventions and developments she witnessed in her lifetime is mind boggling – from the Wright Brothers engine powered airplane to commercial air travel and rockets and man landing on the moon; from the newspaper to the radio and on to the television, which itself morphed from black and white to technicolor with hundreds of stations; from the first Model-T rolling off the assembly line in Detroit in 1908 to the interstate highway system of the Eisenhower era; from penicillin and bubble gum in 1928 to the atomic bomb during World War II.
She witnessed the two world wars with Germany – the first by radio only and the second by radio and television. The day after her death, Governor Phil Bredesen of Tennessee landed in Germany to meet with Volkswaagen officials to discuss manufacturing opportunities in his state.
The United States of America has had 44 presidents in its history. Memaw lived during the presidency of 20 of them, from McKinley to Obama, and including her favorite, JFK.
Ora lived alone in her own house until 103, when she entered an assisted living facility. Her flower and vegetable gardens are still legendary. She drove her car for the last time on her 100th birthday. She did not hand the keys to her sons readily or happily and it took her a few years to forgive them – even though, according to the daughters-in-law, Memaw was pretty certain her boys had never really done anything wrong in life. She finally had to quit bowling in the Madison Bowling League when she was past the age of 100 due to hip problems.
Memaw’s last visit to our home was Christmas 2008 and she had a marvelous time, particularly looking through family photo albums. Amy had made memory books for Bo and Zach on their football seasons and after studying them several times, Ora proclaimed she was now a football fan. In fact, she wished she had learned to play.
Her one complaint about her assisted living residence was the food. She loved to have a home cooked meal and she participated in the preparation for Christmas Dinner by making her much requested peanut butter fudge. She sat by me at dinner and told me numerous times that we would be friends forever.
We all know that how we live our lives is what matters most. But most of us still have a fondness for the ongoing numbering of our days as well. If longetivity didn’t matter we wouldn’t work so hard to live longer.
For Memaw, quality and quantity were inseparable. She was one of those believers who received in abundance both of the blessings expressed in Psalm 91:16: “I will reward them with a long life and give them my salvation” (NLT).
So Ora Zimmerman Knies, may I be so blessed, and yes, let’s be friends forever.