My grandpa turned 90 last week. So I took the train home to Michigan to be with family and celebrate the happy occasion. He doesn’t get around as well as he used to, but his mind is still wonderfully sharp. He appreciates any good joke, and I think his memory might be better than mine is. Until a few years ago, he still played golf in the summer, and he was hiking the Appalachian Trail even in his eighties. That’s his 80s, not the ‘80s.

I grew up about 90 minutes away from my mom’s parents, so I saw them occasionally but not all the time. We’d celebrate holidays together, and I would stay there for a week or two in the summer. One of my favorite childhood memories was when we were visiting and had gone to church on a Sunday morning. When we came out, the rest of the family went in one vehicle, but my grandpa took me alone to his car and started driving. I wasn’t sure where we were going, but he had a twinkle in his eye. It turns out we had tickets to a Tigers baseball game, just him and me. And there we sat in the centerfield bleachers in the old Tiger Stadium on a brilliantly sunny summer day. I don’t even remember who won. I just remember I was with grandpa.

104-0421_img-resized.jpgAnother of my favorite memories happened much later, when I was around 30. My dad, brother, and I used to golf once a summer—when Matt came in from Boston and I came from Chicago. So one summer, my dad decided to invite my grandpa to play with us. Now my parents had divorced when I was a kid, but my family (in all its permutations) has always got along well. And so my dad, grandpa, brother, and I duffed it around the Forrest Akers course in East Lansing. My grandpa had been a caddie as a boy, so he spent just as much time finding golf balls that round as he did hitting them. I think he found a couple dozen balls that day, including a few of mine, and did his best to give all of them to my dad. The only tense moment came when my dad insisted on paying for the golf (my dad, stepdad, and grandpa are all fierce check grabbers). My grandpa would only agree to this arrangement if he could pay for lunch. My dad still laughs about that.

One last memory, this one about movies. It was Christmas Day, and I was about 21 or 22. The tradition on my mom’s side of the family is that the nuclear families open gifts that morning, and then the whole extended family comes together in the afternoon for dinner and “family gifts.” I’ve always loved my cousins and uncles and aunts (I consider myself most blessed to get along with everyone in my family). But I went through a phase in my early 20s where I didn’t feel like I belonged. I had gone away to college and changed significantly, or so I thought. But my family still treated me like a teenager. I didn’t fit in with my younger cousins, but I didn’t fit in with the adults either.

So on holidays, like Christmas, I tended to find a corner of the house and read a magazine. Sure, if someone sat down next to me, I was polite and made small talk, but it felt awkward. It was one of those Christmases when an hour or two after dinner my grandpa came up to me, again with a twinkle in his eye. He had something to show me. I was briefly excited until I realized it was a program he had recorded off the tv. A PBS program on Buster Keaton, and it was three hours long! Ugh. I had no idea who Buster Keaton was, but I knew (in my arrogant early adult frame of mind) that any movie star my grandpa liked had to be boring. And now he was gleefully inviting me to watch all three hours with him. What else could I do?

So I reluctantly headed to the tv room with my grandpa and then proceeded to laugh myself silly for three straight hours. It didn’t take long for the whole family to congregate around the tv, and three generations of Nagodes howled with delight at the slapstick, sight gags, and deadpan expression of Buster Keaton. It wasn’t for another few years until I fell in love with movies, but I’m convinced that, today, part of my love of silent and classic Hollywood dates back to that Christmas night when I saw the joy a whole family could experience around a tv set/movie screen.

My grandpa turned 90 last week. Hopefully, my memories will last at least that long. Happy Birthday, Grandpa!