Memories of a life well lived

Memories shape our lives.


ST. LOUIS, February 6, 2016 – Memories shape our lives. For seniors, those memories often flood over us, reminding us of those days we thought would never end.

I remember high school, being with all my friends and dreaming of our futures. We talked about what we wanted to be, and we covered everything from joining the military to becoming a singer. Sometimes we lay on our backs in the grass looking at the stars and talked about our futures and what was ahead.

I remember playing football, with the crowds cheering and the cheerleaders chanting. Friends and family in the stands, huddling with my team mates. We were super heroes when we won, gladiators fresh from a hard-fought battle. We smiled on those days, patted each other on the back, and relished the victory.

After school, we went our separate ways, in separate careers. I joined the Navy, proud to serve my country. I learned about life and work in the Navy, about a different kind of teamwork. I lived, ate, worked and breathed with my fellow sailors, creating a bond we thought would never end. It’s hard to believe that as time passed, we lost touch and moved on to other things.

An amazing miracle happened around this time. I met and fell in love with a beautiful Irish girl with skin of snow, black hair and green eyes. People talk a lot about love now, but few understand its true meaning. Meeting Babe meant I entered a new phase of my life. It was the start of our 68 years of marriage, always standing next to each other, through thick and thin, in sickness and in health. We had children, grandchildren and great grandchildren, and we still share life together. We are truly blessed.

After the Navy, I went to work in the private sector. I found a job with a great company, a great mentor, and I learned how to succeed in business. Now I enter the workforce. It was hard to find a job for punch card operators as this was the prelude of computers but finally I found a job with a great company.

Our family thrived and grew. Our children came into the world, giving us even more blessings that we thought we could ever have. We counted their toes and fingers when they were first born and we smiled at each other, amazed that this had happened to us. Our lives changed with these children, and we went from a couple to parents. That brought us more joy than we could imagine, but also worry.

Only a parent understands the terror of a sick child and the tremendous fear when you hand them the car keys for the first time.

Only a parent understands the overwhelming emotion of watching a child walk across a stage on graduation, or seeing them stand at the alter saying “I do,” or watching them breath in the smell of their own newborn child.

No one told us that bond with a child never ends. We still worry about our children and grandchildren and great grandchildren, no matter their age. It is the wonderful burden of being a parent.

The children are now gone. The big house sometimes seems empty, and the bedrooms become sewing rooms or offices. The relationship is different, meal times are smaller, and there are no more loud records or excited giggling from upstairs.

At the same time, there is a dawning realization that we can once again focus on ourselves. We don’t have to worry about babysitters or paying for college or driving to baseball practice and the movies. Suddenly, we can go to Hawaii or the Caribbean. We can eat in restaurants shunned by our children. We can watch whatever we want on television and make our own plans for the weekend.

Retirement comes. The world changes again. Instead of focusing on saving for retirement, we are now living on that retirement. We are managing our savings and living on that, instead of putting money away for a rainy day.

We have time now. We have time to write and cook and laugh together. Retirement is not about stopping, it is about shifting. We can do all those things we wanted to do without guilt or thinking that we have to go to work or do something else.

Disaster struck when we found out my wife had colon cancer. It was a horror I can’t explain. The glue of my world, Babe, was in danger, and I feared losing the love of my life. I feared she would be in pain. I feared being along. I feared  the treatment. There are no words to explain the pain of finding out about the cancer, nor can I put into words the absolute joy of finding out she beat it. She has been cancer free for over eight years.

Babe and I will be 86 years young very soon, and we are blessed every day. We love being together and enjoying the years God has given us. We have lived a good life, and we continue to live a good life, enjoying each other every day and smiling at our memories. Our yesterdays were wonderful, but so are our today’s, and we love being together to share them.

However, that’s from a time I am from-


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Charles Vandegriff, Sr.
Charles spent a fifty-four-year career in technology, retiring at the director level from three major corporations. Followed by three-plus years as a freelance columnist, he has published three books, made over three hundred speeches to senior organizations, and been involved in numerous radio interviews and one television commercial. He has been married for sixty-five years, and has four children, seven grandchildren and thirteen great-grand children. Charles is also a Navy veteran.