My grandma is 101-and-a-half. (With centenarians, like toddlers, you have to be exact.) Most likely, she is NYU’s oldest living alumnus. She graduated with a degree in Journalism during the Depression, back when Journalism was an actual career people had. Born in what’s now Bed Stuy, she has lived in the same cushy DC two-bedroom high-rise condo for several decades, with a view out onto the pool. From the time my grandpa died in the early aughts until this past October, she had only MSNBC for company. Now she has a live-in nurse. Still, she reads, and knits, and does her exercises, and she could teach me lots of lessons about life and finances, if only she remembered things anymore.
My grandpa handled the money over their 55+ years of marriage. Once he was gone, my mother had to teach my grandma how to use an ATM. Money in the abstract makes her nervous: she has very little sense of what things cost anymore, prefers to spend as little as possible, frets about whether she has enough. She does. Though my grandpa was born in a tenement building on the Lower East Side, in a family so large and poor he didn’t have a bed to sleep in let alone a bedroom, he too went to college — CCNY, baby! — and then to war and to work, hoisting his own family into the middle class, and then further up, because why stop there?
What he made, he invested, and the stock market treated him well. Though there was that one time he had the opportunity to buy a plot of land next to what was going to be Disney World and he was like, “A movie-themed amusement park? Why would anyone think that crazy idea is going to take off?” But the same gene that kept him from making the occasional good risky investment kept him from making lots of bad ones, too.