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Four Swell Ideas from a 123-Year-Old
9/22/2023 1:00:00 PM BY Sandi Banks

Update: September 22, 2023

Today, Grandma Helen turns 123. Even from her corner of heaven, she continues to inspire this granddaughter on earth. 

She had the good sense to be born in 1900 so my math-challenged brain could always know how old she was. In 1959, at age 59, (aren’t I quick?) Helen and Grandpop, both widowed, met at the old town Church. They married the following year. She was 60. He was 73.

“That young widow Helen MacGregor!” Tongues wagged. 

“How preposterous!”

“Sakes alive, what will the children think?”

If they meant Grandpop’s nine grandkids, I’ll tell you what we thought: we were thrilled! And so was Grandpop. She brought his smile back to life.

Grandma Helen ushered a new kind of “special” into our family. She laughed a lot. She smelled pretty. She hugged tight. She liked having us kids in her life, especially since she never had any of her own. And she worked magic in the kitchen--Cinnabuns, her specialty.

Some folks reach 60 and think their life is over. They’ve done all they set out to do. Been all they hope to be. Seen all there is to see. Grandma Helen? Her life had, in a sense, just begun. 

Glancing at 60 in my own rearview mirror, I decided I want to be like her when I’m 123, leaving a memorable mark on those who came around, and those who come behind.

Maybe you do too. Here are four ideas she’d think are swell:


1. THINK BEAUTIFUL THOUGHTS . . . and let them spill onto your countenance.

Her shiny-silver hair---pinned in graceful waves atop her head---was beautiful. But what appeared beneath it was radiant: her countenance. Sunny. Engaging. Welcoming. She seemed to live in perpetual-positive-Philippians-2 mode, and folks loved being around her. Her face often declared, “Life is good,” even when it was hard, because her thoughts ruled her countenance.  

     I want to look more like that. 


2. BE INTERESTED IN FOLKS . . . and let them know you are.

“Well, land sakes, isn’t that something!” she’d say, when anything good, bad, silly, shocking, or interesting happened. She comforted you when you hurt, cheered you on when good things came your way. When you chatted, she looked you in the eye, listening intently. With her presence she spoke volumes. Things like, “You matter to me.” You’d come away encouraged, inspired, uplifted.

     I want to love more like that. 


3. WRITE REAL NOTES TO PEOPLE . . . and let them share in your life story.

 She did this regularly and with flair. My mailbox at A.S.U.  might’ve died of malnutrition, were it not for her diligent care and feeding. Whenever I saw “From Mrs. C.J. Creighton”  opposite the 5-cent stamp on an envelope, I’d rip it open and  savor the five or six beautifully handwritten double-sided  pages. They told of simple things like the corn crop, and  Colorado weather. She gave detailed travel accounts, and  kept me updated on family matters--you know,  who was  feeling how and doing what with whom, where and why. She  always signed, “Heaps of Love.” And I felt it. During my 5  years away at college and 9 years living across the ocean,  her  faithful letters brought a far-from-home girl a bit  closer. Today those treasures still entertain, inspire, inform,  and encourage me. The gift that keeps on giving!

      I want to letter more like that. 


4. LIVE LIFE FULLY . . . and let others join you on the ride.

Whether sharing her fresh-from-the-garden delicacies or delighting you with her talking parakeets and lively stories, Helen MacGregor Creighton had a zest for life. People were drawn to her adventurous, servant spirit. In their latter part of life, she and Grandpop became world travelers, letting us join them through England and Scotland--we were in our twenties, and struggled to keep up with them. Even to the end, they were doers, and givers.

     I want to live more like that. Don’t you? 

We can. Starting now, let's you and I become intentional about looking, loving, lettering, and living––four swell ideas from a 123-year-old who still makes me smile.


Your turn: What other swell ideas have you learned from one of YOUR mentors or older-wiser folks? I'd love to hear your stories. . . .

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