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Life with my 94-year-old Roommate

What is the key to a long, happy, healthy life?

“Muesli!” – at least according to my 94-year-old uncle “Wujek,” that is. For those that don’t know the magic of this oat and grain concoction, you’re missing out. Particular ingredients aside, though, I think my uncle’s morning muesli (which I’ve been eating for breakfast almost every day since I arrived) is an example of his very wise approach to diet: your body is smart; give it *options* not optimization. In other words, everything in moderation. Muesli, but just the same, butter, bread, salt, sugar (and all the other so-called evils of modern-day cuisine) are allowed a seat at the table. For my uncle, there is no algorithm for good health, just common sense and a little humility to let your body make the decisions it was created to make. I think the sometimes overly health-concious world today, could use a little more of that mentality.

In all seriousness though, it’s not what I’ve been eating, but who I’ve been eating it with that I wanted to share.

There’s been a ton of adventure over the past two months: dancing my first Polonaise, climbing the snow-covered Polish Tatras, coding an app, spending Easter in Rzeszow, but it’s been the day-to-day with my uncle that has been the greatest gift. In his 94 years, my uncle Wujek, has lived through a lot. A journalist for 32 years, brought up in a farming family on the Polish countryside, fluent in Polish, Latin, and German, Wujek is a fountain of knowledge and good conversation – on topics both classic and current.

With the assumption that it’s likely rare opportunity to live with someone 70 years your senior, I wanted to share a bit about why I feel so fortunate to have had such an experience:

  • Chances to be helpful – Doing the laundry, buying groceries, cooking – these magically turn from chore to treasure when you have the opportunity to do them for someone you love, not just yourself.
  • And chances to be helped – my uncle’s soups (his specialty) and even-more-so, his stories of our family history, were a priceless start to stress-free evenings after a long day at school
  • Breaking stereotypes – It’s been fun to see how opposite to the typical notions of “senior citizen” / “millenial” my uncle and I are. Political views, habits, going to sleep late/waking up early – we break all the stereotypes that society tends to classify us with.
  • Today deepened through knowledge of yesterday – Visits to so many places (like Żelazowa Wola, the birthplace of Chopin, cafe ‘Jaś i Małgosia’, or Ogrody Krasińskie this past weekend) gain a whole new level of meaning when I hear my uncle’s experiences of those places years ago.
  • Above all, inspiration.

When I am 90 years old, I hope that, like my uncle I am:

In a long, happy marriage. My uncle has been married to my aunt (now in a home for full-time care) for almost seventy years!

Intellectually curious. Genuinely interested in all that’s going on – whether in the family or in the world.

Active. Yes, my uncle still works out.

Honest. In all respects, respectful, but honest.

Sensible. Nothing goes to waste. Even 37-year-old jam. (Photo evidence provided below ;)) I was kind of on the fence about that one too, but apparently “it holds well, I promise.” 

With the coding bootcamp behind me (highly recommend to anyone interested, happy to share thoughts) I’m leaving Warszawa in a little over a week. Spring having sprung, my uncle is doing the same, spending summer in the countryside. For the next few weeks, my days will be filled with some long walks on the Polish beaches with my mom and Aunt Danusia (my first time by the Baltic), but Wujek and I will reunite in late May on the countryside that brought us together and will always keep us close at heart.

© 2022 — The Polish American