I heard from the folks back home that they attended my Great Aunt Jenny’s 80th birthday party on Saturday in Utica, NY.
The big hit of the party, however, was not Jenny but her older brother, 13 years her senior. That’s right, my dear old Uncle Elmer is still going strong at 93.
Elmer and his older brother – my grandfather Orlando Caniato, known to his pals as “Lindy”, started their own trucking business (Elmer’s Express) back in the day, I think some time in the 1930s. I never knew much about what they did or where they went or anything like that. I think they had a route that took goods from Utica up north through the Adirondacks. My grandfather was kind a gruff Italian guy, and he died young at 72 – smoked Camels his whole life – before I was really mature enough to learn and appreciate what he had done.
Grandma and Grandpa drove out to our house every Sunday afternoon, during which time we’d jostle for who could be the first one to get him a beer, and he’d often let us have a “swig.” Half Irish, we were tainted blood in his eyes (as we were to the Irish relatives as well, and for the same reason), and we didn’t speak Italian. He called us ” ‘Merigahns ” or “mayonnaisers” or when he was in a really good mood “paisan.” Grandpa was always amused by me, however, and called me “Professor.” I bet he got a real kick out of thinking that the tough road he trod as an immigrant kid on the dirty streets paved the way for his own grandson to entertain notions of being a college professor. If so, he was right to feel satisfaction out of that.
But, between the beer and the cigarettes, Grandpa blew his shot at the kind of longevity his brother would ultimately enjoy. Still spry at 93, they say he could easily pass for 70. Elmer has outlived two wives now. He was recently talked into a riding mower, having been until lately still using a push mower. Elmer says he hasn’t given up his daily walks just because he’s on the riding mower now. He walks outside when the weather is nice and he walks at the mall when it’s cold and snowy.
Elmer says, “Sometimes I don’t feel like it, but I go anyway.”