Keep Tickin’: Life Inspiration from Nonagenarians

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Last Updated on December 17, 2019 by Audrey Scott

Last weekend, I arrived in Asheville, North Carolina to visit family. And boy, was I tired.

The last two months have been chock full: traveling from Central Europe to Crete to Istanbul to Iran, back to Istanbul, Germany and finally to a series of family visits up and down the east coast of the United States.

But I’ve been feeling a little spent. It’s not only the movement, but also my head, to the brim with fresh experiences and quite frankly deprived of the time and space to properly process them all. Amidst the fatigue, I began to wonder if perhaps I had reached some limit in what I could do, what I could take on.

Audrey and her Grandfather
Audrey with her grandfather at Highland Farms retirement community near Asheville, North Carolina.

Then I began to listen to my 95-year-old grandfather and his pals telling stories at their retirement home. They offered me a lift and a few lessons about life and determination.

These days, the world tends to look to youth for inspiration. But don’t count out the gray hairs, for there are many things we can learn from them, too.

Here are just a few lessons to learn from nonagenarians.

You are never too old to learn.

Andrew, one of my grandfather’s colleagues from when they both worked in India in the 1960s, now lives in my grandfather’s retirement complex.

He had to give up his violin lessons when he escaped Hungary in 1937 as his family began facing persecution for being Jewish.

It had been 75 years since my last violin lesson. I wanted to play violin again, but I sounded awful. I decided I needed lessons.

violin lesson

Andrew taking violin lessons anew after a 75-year break.

Earlier this year, he began taking violin lessons again. We asked how things are going.

I’m progressing pretty well. It’s fun to play again,” Andrew chuckled.

He’s scheduled to play a Christmas concert this week. I imagine there are many more in his future, too.

Enjoy the moment.

We didn’t meet Liz Talmage, the woman playing piano in the video below, but heard her story on our first night in Asheville. Liz was 101 years old when this video was taken one evening of her and her nephew playing a duet of She’ll Be Comin’ Round the Mountain.

Later that evening, she played an encore of My Only Sunshine.

The next day, she took a nap and never woke up.

Enjoy the moment. You never know when you – or those around you – are going to go.

Keep on playing.

“I now play what I played in high school. The pieces from college are too difficult for my hands to reach the octaves,” my grandfather explained as he sat down at the piano.

He went on to play a challenging classical piece he’d memorized 80 years ago. He sounded great for any age, really. More importantly, he was having fun.

Even if you can’t do things quite the way you did in the past, it doesn’t mean you should stop. Continue to do what gives you joy. Daily.

Ask questions. Be curious.

One thing continually strikes me about my grandfather and my Oma (my mother’s mother): they never stop asking questions and they are always curious. They wanted to understand what we were up to, our plans for the coming year.

We tried to keep up with their questions.

Now why are you going to Egypt again? What sort of conference is this?” they both asked about a travel and tourism conference in Cairo we are headed to this weekend.

Try to explain the life of a nomadic travel blogger to your 95-year old grandfather who has never even known email, much less the internet.

It gives you perspective.

Keep on moving. Be determined. Always.

”I can’t run up steps as fast as I used to,” my grandfather now explains, as if he must.

He may not be able to scale the stairs as fast as he once did, but that doesn’t prevent him from charging them anyhow. Sure, he might be a bit wobbly, a little slow. But he doesn’t complain. He’s still rather upright, too.

May we all charge our own sets of stairs with as much determination and grace.

One step at a time.

About Audrey Scott
Audrey Scott is a writer, storyteller, speaker and tourism development consultant. She aims to help turn people's fears into curiosity and connection. She harbors an obsession for artichokes and can bake a devastating pan of brownies. You can keep up with her adventures on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. And you can learn more about her on the About Page and on LinkedIn.

18 thoughts on “Keep Tickin’: Life Inspiration from Nonagenarians”

  1. I love this post.
    And I love what you two do.
    Happy Holidays and as my octogenarian aunt would say to me,
    “Keep up the good work, Kiddos!”

  2. @Megan: Thank you for your kind words on this post and what we do. It really does mean a lot to us to hear this. Sounds like you have a pretty cool octogenarian grandma! Happy holidays to you as well!

  3. So glad to here that your grandfather is doing well. His life should be an inspiration to everyone. My daughter and I visit with elderly friends and relatives on a regular basis. They have a peace and wisdom that is worth emulating. They also have perspective having lived through the depression and WWII. The stories they tell also connect us to generations that have passed on.

  4. Absolutely wonderful. I will turn 65 in a few days, and have, over the last few years, become increasingly angry and disappointed not only at the attitude of younger people to “seniors” but of my peers themselves, who seem quite happy to “give up” on life, as if there is nothing left to do/see/feel/experience. I think having a purpose and a goal, as Andrew does with his violin, is crucial to staying young. I wish your grandfather and his friends could come and give some of my friends a talking-to! Long may he still be with you to inspire and support what you do – which is terrific btw! I have recently been a bit disappointed in blogging, and you have renewed my enthusiasm. Thank you on both counts.

  5. Working at retirement homes as a teenager really helped me with understanding the older generations. I got to hear the coolest stories and meet the most amazing people. If only they could see us now!

  6. Though I don’t (yet) have the 9 decades of your dear grandfather under my belt, as a sexagenarian that recently plopped herself down as an expat/new EFL teacher in Vietnam – I can readily attest to both “You’re never too old…” and my own life mantra: “This ain’t a dress rehearsal, folks!”

    And yes, yes: “Curiosity”. I do believe that my perpetual curiosity continues to nudge me towards ever new adventures (case in point: an utterly unplanned backpack in Sumatra for Christmas.)

    Indeed. This travelin’ stuff isn’t only for the young…

  7. Lovely and inspirational post, Audrey! Did you (or someone else) mention that your grandfather is an author of several book?

    Anyway, he looks great and is alive and alert! I wish I could look like that when I am 95..

  8. Audrey,
    I was so excited to read this post: I am currently reading your grandfather’s book “Around the World in 80 Years.” I bought a copy after hearing you speak in Scranton two summers ago when you shared the story of your grandfather growing up in China and that Betty Stam was his oldest sister (and your great-aunt). I’ve been meaning to read it and finally started it when after recently telling a friend about you and Dan and your website and blogging. I’m at the part where your grandparents are about to leave India and move to North Carolina. They certainly met many interesting and famous people. Having dinner with Billy Graham and meeting John Stott–wow. What amazing opportunities. As I read the book, I’m struck with your grandfather’s dedication to our Lord and his heart for people. I’m glad to know he’s still alive and doing well. I appreciate your comments about staying curious about the world. That seems to be something you have certainly inherited! (By the way, you look a lot like your great-aunt Betty :))

    Thanks for writing. I always love reading your posts. Have a wonderful Christmas & safe and healthy New Year. I’m excited to see where you and Dan go to next!

    Joy McG.

  9. Joy,
    It was Audrey’s grandfather that introduced Dan and Audrey to me in a sense. I had read “The Triumph of John and Betty Stam” and was looking for more information about them on the internet when I came across a link to “My Grandfather’s House” which was a post on Uncornered Market. It was the story of Dan and Audrey searching for the house that Ken Scott grew up in, in China. This led me to corresponding with Ken and reading “80 Years Around the World”. Those two books are among my most treasured possessions.
    Interestingly, my father grew up a few blocks from John Stam. I went to school with some of his great-nieces and nephews. John’s father Peter Stam founded the Star of Hope Mission in Paterson, NJ and was instrumental in my grandfather becoming a Christian.
    I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas and great New Year.

  10. Hi Pete,
    The world is small, isn’t it? My husband and I are both NJ natives, Monmouth County, not that far from Paterson (we now live in PA, right outside Scranton, where Dan is from). How wonderful that you have been able to communicate with Ken directly. He certainly is one of the saints, isn’t he? I am familiar with John and Betty Stam’s story but have not read that particular book. I’ll need to look it up when I’m finished with Ken’s book.

    I thoroughly enjoy following Audrey and Dan’s adventures. They are amazing, aren’t they? Audrey has inherited her family’s love of people and places.

    Merry Christmas and a healthy, safe New Year to you too!

  11. And here I thought I was becoming weary of the road just from being in Laramie, WY for the last several weeks. The verdict: I must be a “wimpy kid”.

  12. Beautiful post and perspective! One thing to always remember as well is to listen to one’s body and give it the adequate rest/break it deserves before charging on again.

  13. @Pete: I was really happy to see how well my grandfather is doing on this recent visit. I passed on your greetings to him.

    There is such a wealth of experience and perspective in elderly people that could be shared with this and future generations. Perhaps NPR’s Story Corps should begin recording these by going from one retirement home to another.

    @Linda: Having a purpose and goal is crucial at any age, but especially so when one gets older and certain things require more energy and focus. I can imagine you out there motivating your peers and inspiring them to keep trying new things!

    And, thanks for the kudos on our blog and that it has renewed your enthusiasm in blogging. This means a lot to us.

    @Erica: What a cool job that must have been! I can only imagine the stories you heard and the examples of living life in different ways is A-OK. They would be so proud of you!

    @Dyanne: Congrats on your new adventure as an expat and teacher in Vietnam – I can only imagine how much you’ve learned and grown in this process. I love your mantra of: “This ain’t a dress rehearsal, folks!”

    And indeed, travel is not only for the young 🙂

    @Sutapa: My grandfather wrote his memoirs when he was 80 and named the book (rather appropriately) “Around the World in 80 Years.” You can find it on Amazon here:

    And yes, I also hope I look that alive and alert at 95 as well! His constant activity and engagement with people certainly helps.

    @Joy: I am so glad that you are enjoying reading my grandfather’s book. And what’s in the book is only the half of it!! We used to sit my grandmother down when she was alive and ask her about all that was happening behind the scenes. I had never heard that I look like my great aunt Betty 🙂

    Thanks so much for continuing to support us and follow along in our journey!

    @Lola: You share some wise words – listening to one’s body (and mind) when it needs a rest is one of the most important things we can do. On that note, we’re hoping for a bit of R&R in the beginning of the year!

  14. Hi Dan and Audrey, I enjoyed your post about nonagenarian liveliness. I actually wrote a book called POSITIVELY NINETY: Interviews with Lively Nonagenarians (and it’s an exhibit too) that echoes some of the observations you’ve found. If you’re interested, check out my website to learn more info.

    Thanks! Connie

  15. @Connie: Thanks for stopping by and sharing information about your book. There is a lot we can learn from nonagearians. We’ll shortly be visiting my grandfather and look forward to what this visit imparts.

  16. I just started violin lessons myself, while I’m not 75, I am 34, still not the child prodigy 😉

    You really are never too old, I wish more people would get up and grab everything they can of what life has to offer. Thansk for sharing this!

  17. @BT: Congrats on your violin lessons!! You’re so right in that we are never too old to try something new. And you never know where one of these things that you try might take you 🙂


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