'Don't forget to work grandpa into the conversation!" I yelled to my daughter, Emma, as she headed out for her first job interview after college graduation.
"Mom, I'm sure you believe throwing grandpa in the mix would be the key to world peace," she laughed as she ran out the door.
Hmm, I thought, he is pretty amazing. The mere mention of him is a great ice breaker between strangers.
Grandpa -- my dad, Jim Murphy -- will turn 103 on Thursday, yet that is only a small part of why he is amazing. He and my mom raised their 11 children in a very noisy, three-bedroom, one-bathroom house in Amityville. It was heaven to us, and Dad worked two or three jobs -- primarily as an inspector for the old Republic Aviation factory in Farmingdale -- to make it so. Dad would rush in from one job, listen to my mother's two-minute summary on what the brood had been up to that day, take a quick nap, and be off again, dinner in a brown bag, to the next job.
Sometimes I would run to the corner, watch for his car, jump in, and have him all to myself for that 10-second ride home before the rest of the gang vied for his attention.
When my mother died at the early age of 59, my lonely 67-year-old dad took up jogging. Over the next 13 years, he ran nine marathons, the last in 1990 at age 80, when he and I ran New York together. At the start, Dad seemed nervous. I asked, "Dad, would you like me to run with you?"
"Are you sure?" he replied.
"Absolutely," I said.
We ran together for six-plus hours. Near the end, Dad suddenly made a mad dash for the finish. I laugh when I look at a photo of that moment, Dad sprinting across the line, me struggling to catch up.
Along with the running, there was baby-sitting. Dad, who had moved to Greenlawn, would watch one group of grandkids in New Jersey one day, and another batch in Connecticut the next. Always smiling and patient, with 17 grandchildren, he was in great demand.
At age 98, Dad gave up the car keys (our idea, not his). At 99, he took his last jog on the road, although he still occasionally runs up and down the halls of his house. Medically, Dad's still got it, but at 102, age is finally catching up. In 2012, on his first trip ever to a doctor, he was finally prescribed the first pill of his lifetime -- a daily multivitamin.
Today he rents a house near Newport, R.I. Unfortunately, Dad has become somewhat confused lately. He recently became lost and was brought home by the police. His short-term memory is pretty much shot. Well, so what. The important thing is that Dad is happy and secure in his home.
His eight surviving children have set up a 24-7 schedule to ensure he is never alone. In turns, the "weekers," my retired siblings, come on Sunday and leave on Friday. The "weekenders," tired from working a full week, arrive on Friday night. We have a phone conference every two months to discuss the ever-changing "new normal" of Dad's life. He insists that he wants to live alone, and we are doing our best to keep him where he is most at peace.
Dad always says he is lucky to have such wonderful children, but we feel so lucky to have him.
Incidentally, my daughter did mention him in her job interview. There's no assumption of cause and effect, of course, but she also got the job.
Reader MaryEllen Murphy Peck lives in Huntington.