I’d never met someone with a century of stories to tell, until a few weeks ago when I met Trudi Timpone. She is 102 years young.
A few days before I met her, the house next door was demolished. I watched one morning as it disappeared. With each swing of the excavator, I thought how unfortunate it was that a house standing since 1901 disappeared in about the same amount of time it took me to make and drink my coffee.
As I watched the excavator slam its boom into the second-story of that old, red farmhouse, I heard the sound of its walls caving in, collapsing under their own weight, crashing down, and swallowing all the stories held between them, forever.
I heard from neighbors that the house was one of the original homes in the area. It used to be surrounded by a vast orchard, they said. It was built just decades after Philomath was renamed from its first given name by pioneers, Mary’s River Settlement.
I began to think of what the world was like when that old farmhouse was built. In 1901, baseball had not yet held its first World Series game; Henry Ford had not yet founded Ford Motor Co.; the first silent film had not yet been made.
On the day I met Trudi, my experience watching that century-old house disappear was fresh on my mind. Then, I realized, Trudi was almost as old as that house. She was a keeper of stories, just like that house had been.
Many of Trudi’s stories are from a time I’ve only read about: the Roaring '20s, Prohibition, the Great Depression. I was overwhelmed thinking about all she has witnessed in her 102 years. And I was eager to ask her some questions.
Her answer to one particular question resonated with me for days. I had asked what she thought people and society have today that is for better or worse. Her answer was quick and matter of fact.
“I grew up during the Depression, so a nickel was very important,” she said. “I don’t think I’d want to live that again, but maybe we have too much now. Things are a little too easy for people today.”
After pondering a few days about what she had said, I came to understand how Trudi may think we have it too easy. I began to notice the things that frustrated me throughout my day — Wi-Fi being too slow, lines at the store being too long, Facebook making another annoying update — none of which threatened my well-being.
Trudi, however, remembers a time when people stood in the cold for hours just to get their daily ration of bread in hopes of surviving another day. A time when people, such as herself, walked the eight miles from Wall Street to 44th Avenue in New York because they didn’t have the nickel it cost to ride the subway.
The thought of this comparison gave me a moment of clarity I won’t soon forget. I’ve come to realize that the hardships that Trudi and many others from her generation faced are foreign to my middle-class, millennial mindset. I don’t worry about where my next meal comes from, or if our house will be heated this winter. I do, however, worry about whether I have cell reception or if I can charge my laptop.
Since meeting Trudi and witnessing the demise of the old farmhouse, I’ve spent much time thinking about time. I’ve concluded that time really does change everything. That life is full of fleeting moments that will never happen again. That our tomorrows may bring things we’ve never even dreamed possible. That our todays are like time capsules, made of stories that forever hold the essence of time passed.
I can’t help but wonder how lucky we would all be to get the chance to collect a century of stories to tell.