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We’ve seen it all: lessons from six long lives

April 27, 2023

On April 10, Lilli Frank ’25 and I interviewed six members from People Plus—a community recreation center for older adults in Brunswick. This column is just a snippet of what we learned.

Bill, 75

Bill lived abroad for 35 years and developed a knack for languages while intercepting Russian transmissions during the Cold War. He then became an English as a Second Language professor. Bill was a spy, a teacher and a world traveler. But equally as important, Bill was a devoted father.

Q: What are you proudest of?

A: I just became a grandfather. I was home with my oldest daughter for the first two months of [the baby’s] life. It was so wonderful to see the cycle of what I used to do with her. She’s now doing it all to this little baby, and it’s all new to her. I’m just there, smiling. When I changed the diaper, she was like, “How do you know how to do that?” And I said, “I used to change yours!”

Ann, 78

Ann has lived in Brunswick her entire life. She has two children, 11 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. Fourteen of them live next door or across the street.

Q: What has changed from when you were our age to now?

A: When I was growing up, we could go out to play and didn’t have to come home until the street lights turned on. There was no worry about [safety]. Now, when my little grandkids go across the street, I watch them until they’re in the door. It’s scary. People should treat people with more love and respect, because this is terrible. If they just treated people the way they wanted to be treated, it would get better.

Gail, 74

Gail has lived in Topsham for 16 years. She was a Home Economics teacher, the president of a Humane Society, a minister and is now a very active People Plus member.

Q: Who is your best friend?

A: Definitely my husband. I met him in high school playing table tennis. He came in first. I came in second, and I disliked him greatly. Now, every day, we play a game of Scrabble. We’re very competitive with each other. After 100 games so far this year, we’re tied 50-50. We have a whole cadre of people that my husband sends out the statistics to. He keeps score all year long.

Donna, 78

Donna started her career as a teacher and dental hygienist. By chance—and through taking chances—she started a bed-and-breakfast, which she has now been running for 36 years.

Q: How do you deal with grief?

A: There’s nothing greater in life than to be with people who can relate. You can learn from them and share your experiences. [Empathy] got me through it, really. There are times when I still mourn, but I think that’s a good sign. It means there was value to what I lost. You learn through life that you can’t count on anything in the future. You just have to live day by day, because best-laid plans sometimes don’t go your way.

Frank, 77

Frank has lived in Maine his whole life. He has been the town manager of Bowdoinham, a paratrooper in the airborne infantry during the Vietnam War and a photographer.

Q: Would you have done anything differently in your twenties?

A: In my twenties? I had my 21st birthday in Vietnam. Yeah, we were young. I’ve always said that the last thing of value to my service is that none of my kids or grandchildren have had to serve in a war. I hope that stays. I wish I [had] finished school. I went back to school right after I came home from Vietnam, but it was a very unpleasant experience, so I never finished. My mother, God bless her, got her degree in English and history when she was 80. I have six brothers and sisters. She went nights and Saturdays and did all kinds of stuff to get that degree. She showed it to me and said, “Now you got to get yours.”

Bonnie, 74

Bonnie was a film photographer for the Times Record, a hometown newspaper in Brunswick. Bonnie and her husband love the beauty of coastal Maine, and they permanently moved back in 2019.

Q: What is it like being your age?

A: Sometimes I don’t feel different in my head, but my body is telling me that I’m different. You know, it’s nice. You’re making me feel—I don’t know what the word is, but—seen. You know? I don’t feel old, but old people? Nobody wants to know what they think. It’s nice to feel like you want to know what we have to say.

Lilli Frank is a member of the Bowdoin Orient.


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