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Napoleon

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She was alone for 36 years was my dad’s text to me this afternoon.

Her husband died in 1980, but she hung on until just a few years ago, which I wrote about right here. I just re-read that memory, and feel as close to the moment now as I was then.

She would’ve been 105 today.

My dad tried to give his complicated mother-in-law a dog for companionship in the mid-80s, but she called him after two days and told him to take it back. She was ok being alone, in that big house on the hill.

We lived close by as the crow flies. And while I didn’t have a crow, I did have a dog, who knew every turn by heart and would pull me there on my skateboard.

A cavernous, magical otherworld waited inside. And you know what? The magic was real.

Her living room was dominated by an old, almost-discarded painting, which she’d found at a garage sale and bought because she liked the gold-leaf frame. Sleuthing by the local museum discovered that the frame held the work of an Italian master from the late 15th century, and the painting had belonged to Napoleon.

Napoleon. Not Napoleon Dynamite. Napoleon.

That kind of magic was everywhere, and made the house feel full and alive, so I never thought of my grandma as alone.

Which is how I learned that alone doesn’t have to mean empty.

She did things her way, per the Sinatra song, and had two sayings that you won’t find in a Tim Ferriss 5-Bullet-Friday email: Money doesn’t make you happy, but it sure as hell helps, and You come in alone and go out alone, no matter what happens in between.

Reminds me of a beloved Billy Joel lyric.

They will tell you you can’t sleep alone in a strange place

Then they’ll tell you you can’t sleep with somebody else

Oh, but sooner or later you sleep in your own space

Either way it’s okay, you wake up with yourself

Amen.

Happy birthday, Grandma.

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