Monthly, in my youth, my father would pile our family into his old Impala and drive to the country to see my great-grandmother, who we all affectionately referred to as “Granny Ross.”

Florence Ross was tall and thin, with snow-white hair she wore pulled back in a bun. Always in simple print dresses, she graciously moved about her days, despite frail elbows, knees and fingers riddled with arthritis. She lived in an old house with her 80-year-old son and his wife. They were both infirm and she cared for them daily, preparing meals and tending to their needs.

I never thought of Granny as old until her last birthday. She was going to turn 100, an occasion to be marked at her home with a large celebration and lots of food and cake.

At her house, cars and people were everywhere. I couldn’t believe I was related to all these people, but my father informed me that yes, they were all what he called “family.”

After socializing and filling a plate with food (a family event was always an excuse to eat), we all gathered around Granny Ross to pay tribute. We sang “Happy Birthday”; I looked over and saw a tear gently stream down her cheek.

Then a man I had never seen before approached Granny with a microphone. He was from a local radio station that had determined her birthday important enough for a Sunday interview.

As the crowd became silent, the man began asking general questions about happiness. He asked about what she’d seen in her centennial of existence. She had witnessed, she told him, the first space travel, the introduction of the automobile and the television and the invention of the airplane, and watched on TV the first man to walk on the moon.

She had, in short, witnessed the advent of the contemporary world in which I had grown up. I hung on her every word.

Toward the end of the interview, the reporter asked what was the best thing about reaching 100. She offered many stories about all the great experiences she was still able to enjoy and about having remained healthy. However, his very last question was the most poignant.

He asked, “What was the hardest part about growing old?”

She sat silent for a moment, closed her eyes and then reopened them and quietly said, “Losing my loved ones. Your husband and peers die first, then your children, and if you live long enough, your grandchildren.”

For Granny Ross, watching those around her pass on had been the hardest part of living to be 100. The next year, we lost her – she peacefully died in her sleep. With tears in my eyes, I said my final goodbye.