Henry Gray: Somebody at dinner the other night asked me if I was looking forward to reaching 100. And I said, "No, I'm looking forward to dessert."
Alex Chambers: Whether he was looking forward or not, Henry Gray did in fact turn 100 earlier this year. He spent the majority of those 100 years - 71 of them, to be exact - with his wife, Alice. She passed away in 2013, at the age of 92. We’ll spend most of this week’s episode telling the story of their lives together. We’ll start, though, with a story about a couple who decided to live a much harder life than most of us might choose. Maybe it’s harder. Maybe it’s richer. Maybe it’s just life. That’s all coming up on Inner States, right after this.
Alex Chambers: Welcome to Inner States from WFIU in Bloomington Indiana. I'm Alex Chambers. Last spring, our then-intern Kaity Radde brought us a story about a community of people who have made some choices that I think a lot of people would admire, but most of us don’t actually follow through with. They live in voluntary poverty. They welcome people without homes to live with them - with certain qualifications, as you’ll hear. This is the Bloomington Catholic Worker community. They might be saints, they might not be Catholic, and they might just be regular humans, who get cranky as much as the rest of us. Here's Kaity.
Andrea Martinie Eiler: We're not different kinds of people or we don't have a higher tolerance for chaos or anting. Like we're just normal. How do we get people to see that like they could do this too and the richness and the depth of life that they would experience would be awesome, and hard. In many ways it's a regular life, so there's all the joy and all the heartbreak that goes on with a regular life. And maybe a little bit more because there's so many more people. So, there's a lot more joy and a lot more heartbreak I guess.
Kaity Radde: That was Andrea Martinie Eiler, and she's one of the five adults and four children in the Bloomington Catholic worker community. She founded it with her husband Ross over a decade ago.
Ross Martinie Eiler: We are an anarchist Christian additional community that offers hospitality to folks who are facing homelessness. And ultimately we are really just trying to live the revolution of the Sermon on the Mount.
Kaity Radde: When Ross says that, he's referring to a passage in the Bible where Christians get our most basic social teachings. Loving our enemies, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked and caring for the prisoner. The main tenet of the Catholic Worker Movement are--
Ross Martinie Eiler: Community life, voluntary poverty, radical hospitality and non violence.
Kaity Radde: There is some variation in the way Catholic worker communities operate, and some emphasize certain tenets over others. The members of the Bloomington Catholic Worker Community live in four houses on the north west side of Bloomington with their guests, and they own their property in common. Everyone works part time for enough income to pay the bills, but voluntary poverty means intentionally living with very little in their bank account. Most of their resources go toward in-house hospitality, which means they open their homes to people who would otherwise be homeless.
Andrea Martinie Eiler: The two of us living the Catholic Worker life together feels like giving it a real go, like trying out what we think Jesus is saying.
Kaity Radde: But how do you get there? How do you go from wanting to give it a real go to actually doing it? Andrea's journey into the Catholic worker was not linear or certain. She went to college for a couple of years, but she decided to take some time off. She joined a religious volunteer program, similar to AmeriCorps, which placed her with five Catholic nuns in Connecticut.
Andrea Martinie Eiler: I lived in a smaller house with five of them. They had a big mother house with like 80 of them. But I lived with five of them and I worked in their ministries. And at some point, Sister Sally, one of the two that I was closest to, Sister Sally and Sister Susan, was like, "You're never going to be Catholic are you?" And I was like, "No, I don't think so." And she was like, "Well, you should at least be a good Protestant and be a Catholic worker." And I was like, "I don't know what that means." So, she took me to the Hartford Catholic Worker. And the first time I went there, there was a mom and a dad and they had two young kids. And they were debating which one of them should get arrested on Saturday at this protest. And I was like, "Okay crazy people, like you've got kids, what are you talking about?"
Kaity Radde: Let me interrupt Andrea for a second. Remember what Ross said about non violence is one of the tenets of the Catholic Worker. The movement was founded in 1933 by two Catholic anarchists, Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin. Since then, thousands of Catholic workers have been arrested for protesting every war since World War II, among other causes. Catholic worker parents try not to get arrested at the same time, so that at least one of them is free to care for their children. Back to Andrea's night at the Hartford Catholic Worker.
Andrea Martinie Eiler: And then that night, the dad who had made dinner. I stayed for dinner at the Catholic Worker and he pulled me aside and he was like, "So I don't recommend eating the mac and cheese, because I did pull some maggots out of the dried noodles earlier." And I was like, "Oh my gosh, what is this place?" And he was talking about how he got all the stuff from a dumpster. And I was like okay this is crazy. I don't know why the nuns want me to be a Catholic Worker, but this is nuts. That was my first taste of the Catholic Worker.
Kaity Radde: After she finished college, she rejoined the volunteer program that she had done before. She lived in a house with five Catholic brothers. But where the nuns' house was amazing, this house was terrible. She thought that she never wanted to live in community again. But that was the year Andrea met Ross.
Andrea Martinie Eiler: So I went up to Chicago to do a year of volunteer work after I graduated from college. And so I moved up to Chicago and I was with the ClaretianBrothers and I was going to live with a few other people my age and work during the day at these volunteer places. And the first day that I was there, one of the Brothers, we were walking along the lake shore, and he was asking me about spirituality and religion. And he said, "Huh, it doesn't sound like you're Catholic." And I was like, "No I'm really not." And he said, "You know what you sound like, have you ever been to a Quaker meeting, because you kind of sound Quaker." And I was like, "I don't really know anything about the Quakers." He was like, "I'll take you tomorrow."
Andrea Martinie Eiler: So Sunday he shows up and he's got his whole like Brotherly garb cassock thing on, and took me to a Quaker meeting where no one else was wearing Catholic Brother garb. And so he took me to the meeting that was delightful and then ten minutes in, somebody walked in, you know, ten minutes late, and I looked up and I was like oh gosh, that guy's real cute. And then I went back to quiet worship. And I was like oh, that's great. Do you want to tell the next part?
Ross Martinie Eiler: Oh, the next part is--
Andrea Martinie Eiler: It was Ross by the way. Spoiler alert.
Ross Martinie Eiler: Yes. But I also noticed I think she had pink hair and was wearing army fatigues, sitting next to the priest in the cassock at the Quaker meeting. I was like, who is this? And so then afterwards during the coffee hour, I'm talking with the Brother and he says, "Hey, I'm teaching an RCA class, which is the join the Catholic church class, do you wanna take it?" And I was like, "No, because I don't wanna join the Catholic Church." And he said, "Well too bad, because the only person who's signed up for the class so far is Andrea." And I said, "When's that class again?" So, I took the class just to meet the girl.
Andrea Martinie Eiler: And it worked.
Kaity Radde: At that time, Ross was a graduate student. He was volunteering at Su Casa, a Catholic Worker House in the south side of Chicago. Su Casa began as a house for victims of torture from El Salvador. But by the time Ross was there in the early 2000s, it was a house for undocumented immigrants, mainly women and children.
Ross Martinie Eiler: I started volunteering there and I didn't know a word of Spanish, but I was like this isn't going to be a problem. And in many ways it really wasn't, you know. So, I sort of threw myself into this language barrier, which I did, I started studying Spanish not long after. And I didn't live in that community. I just would stop by one day a week to volunteer.
Kaity Radde: What did you do when you were there?
Ross Martinie Eiler: What did I do? I swept. I did a lot of cleaning. I answered the phone. They had house shifts so you had to be on house. So I'd be on house.
Kaity Radde: Ross said he felt compelled to put his faith into action and live like the saints lived from a young age. The Su Casa Catholic Worker House was a place where that calling felt answered. While he was in graduate school, he found himself spending more and more time there.
Ross Martinie Eiler: I felt really compelled like I need for every hour I spend in the library, I should spend this much time with real people in poverty and on the streets and try to match my academic book learning with a real experience of humanity and whatever you can learn about the mystical body of Christ from people. And then just slowly over time, that equation of time spent reading books, to time spent working with people got pushed farther and farther and farther. I was spending less and less time at the Regenstein Library and more and more time at the Catholic Worker. Until it just felt like a kind of a clarity of vocation.
Kaity Radde: After a while on the South Side, Ross and Andrea moved to the north side of Chicago and were closer to Saint Francis House.
Andrea Martinie Eiler: So, he was starting to volunteer there and then started talking about moving in there. And I was like, "No, I'm not doing community." So then we moved four blocks from them and I would go like every now and then and just hang out, but I was not volunteering there. And then after almost a year of living near them, then I was like okay these people aren't as wacky as the community I lived in that was terrible, so, we could try living there. So then we moved into Saint Francis House, and that kind of started our Catholic Worker tenure. And then so we lived there for a couple of years and then when we got pregnant, we were like this isn't the best place to raise kids. So, we thought we would craft a place where you could do the Catholic Worker and raise kids.
Kaity Radde: In 2008, they moved to Bloomington to do just that. There have always been kids in the Catholic Worker, but they're not usually in the communities that house guests.
Andrea Martinie Eiler: How do we do this with the priority of keeping these children safe. But when you have the priority of keeping children safe, you can live in fear and build up lots of walls that don't lead to them having a meaningful life or interaction with the world. So, mixing the priority of keeping them safe, keeping their bodies and minds and hearts safe, while showing them a life of caring for other people.
Kaity Radde: Nicky was one of the guests who lived at the Bloomington Catholic Worker last fall. She was really protective of the kids. She would chase after them if they rode their bikes too close to the road. The day I was there, Nicky treated Andrea and Ross's daughter to a facial and did her nails. Nicky moved in after being incarcerated. She told me that in prison she had no agency and felt anxious and afraid all the time. She asked God to give her a safe place to go when she got out. She moved into the Catholic Worker House, where not only shelter but also toiletries, food and love waited for her.
Nicky: First time that I came, it was around almost Christmas time. And I came in and the Christmas tree was done and it was right here in the front day room where we have our plants at right now. And when I seen that, it was a warm, loving, comfort feeling right there. And I was like this is like home right here to me. And I was settled. That's when I was settled.
Kaity Radde: The Catholic Workers goal isn't to fix people or to help them achieve the kinds of milestones that other social service agencies do, like moving into an apartment alone. Their goal is much more ambitious.
Ross Martinie Eiler: You know, it's not like they're broken and we've got our shit together and our goal is to make them productive members of, you know, capitalist society. But instead like our goal is to love them. And that's like actually way harder. Or we are much more aware of when we fail, I should say.
Kaity Radde: Loving their guests well requires them to set firm boundaries though. The Bloomington Catholic Worker requires that their guests not have untreated substance abuse or mental health issues, for example. But relapse is a part of addiction recovery and in the Fall, one of their gusts overdosed on fentanyl.
Andrea Martinie Eiler: I walked in and our guest was gray and blue, and that to me is dead, like people have a very normal skin tone and she was absolutely dead. It was frightening, but we did fine and worked together. And our two other female guests and Ross and I all worked together. It was a very like community moment.
Kaity Radde: The four of them did CPR and managed to resuscitate her. Andrea said in the past when guests lived in the house with the family and kids, the guest would have had to go, even knowing that someone struggling with addiction needed support rather than punishment. But this time, with the guests living next door, things were different.
Andrea Martinie Eiler: So with this, we talked to the other two guests, Nicky and Sabrina, and we were like, "We don't want to punish her, we don't want to discipline her. We also know you all need to stay sober. We have decided that if she went to an inpatient rehab for a full month, she could come back and try again. But we don't want to do that if you two feel like no, no, no, she overdosed, I want her out. We don't want to step on your toes about that." They were both very much, having lived different, you know, addiction lives themselves, they were like, "Yeah, no she just needs love and she has no one sober in her life. If she can go to rehab, that would be awesome. And then she could live through rehab knowing I have a safe place to go after rehab, that would be great and we should love her." And this is like our guests like teaching us, right? They're like, "No, no, no, yeah, you shouldn't asking us, you should be telling us this is how we love someone, you know." I was like, "Oh, okay good idea."
Andrea Martinie Eiler: So that's what I'll say is the beautiful part, is we were able to be like there was an f-ing heroine overdose in our homes and then she went to rehab and then she was able to come back. And we've never been able to offer that before.
Kaity Radde: The guest has since relapsed though. She went missing for over a month. She's not missing anymore, but she doesn't live at the Bloomington Catholic Worker. Ross and Andrea want people to understand that they're not holier than the rest of us. They take personal responsibility for the vulnerable people who no one else is taking care of. But they are the first to admit that it doesn't always end well. And sometimes people are hurt, boundaries are crossed and limits are tested. Even Nicky had to be asked to leave before her year at the Catholic Worker was up.
Ross Martinie Eiler: When you develop the practice of assuming responsibility for other people, when you say I'm not passing the buck, but like I'm going to be the stopgap. I'm going to try to help this person. This person is my responsibility. Your eyes are opened to the way that things are your own fault and the failings that you have, and the failings that we all have, that we all share, that the gravest ills in the world are also inside of me. And the things that I hate and decry and wave my fist at and social injustice in the world, like if I actually take a look inside myself, it's all there. So, there's just like a deep way in which living a life in community and offering hospitality to folks who are facing homelessness, it's a constant schooling in our own limitations, which is a wonderful gift.
Kaity Radde: But there is so much joy too. The result of the work that they do, and the sacrifices they make isn't scare city. In their view, they get to glimpse the Kingdom of God where social hierarchies can be torn down through everyone sharing what they can and taking what they need. All the joy and all the heartbreak of living a life close to people who are cast out by polite society, who live at the margins, it's worth it, even if paradise doesn't wait on the other side of this lifetime.
Andrea Martinie Eiler: Even if like Jesus was a crock and like the things that I'm trying to do were all just made up. Like at the end of my life, I definitely wouldn't regret living this way. Even if it's all like a bunch of bunk. Okay. It was still a good choice.
Kaity Radde: Before I met Ross and Andrea, I had spent a lot of time wondering about the Catholic Worker. I wondered what kind of people it took to live a life of voluntary poverty and radical hospitality. I assumed that it took saints. But I found that it just takes normal people who have the courage to be generous with their time, resources and love. They have a massive, quiet, contemplative dog named Honey. Their kids go to public schools and ask what's for dinner when they get off the bus. The day I was there, it was chili and cornbread, if you're wondering. Their fridge is covered in pictures and kids artwork. A beautiful piano takes up half of the living room. The main thing that sets their life apart, like Andrea said, is that there are so many more people. More support when life goes sideways, more people to cook for, and to break bread with. More heartbreak, but abundantly more joy.
Alex Chambers: That story was produced by Kaity Radde when she was an intern on Inner States. She’ll be an NPR NewsApps and NewsHub intern starting in October. Okay, it's time for a break. After that, we're going to hear about two young geologists who started a personal practice that ripples through their retirement community many decades later. This is Inner States. We'll be right back.
Alex Chambers: It's Inner States. I'm Alex Chambers. Henry and Alice had the kind of marriage that seems perfect. They met in their early 20s, got married, had a couple of kids. They camped all over the country. All over the country they went on walks together and held hands. Henry admired Alice's love of flowers and her knowledge of bird songs. Alice admired Henry’s writing, maybe too much.
Henry Gray: I would write something and hand it to her and say, "What do you think of this?" She said, "You wrote it, it's perfect."
Alex Chambers: They worked their way from living in trailers to a dignified but unpretentious house, before they downsized to a retirement community. They did their camping in tents, until they bought the most modest of RVs. It was the RV equivalent of a high end dorm refrigerator. They were married for 71 years until Alice passed away at close to 93 years old. As I said, they seemed to have a picture perfect marriage, until... actually it was the whole time. Whenever I saw them walking together, this old couple holding hands, I thought that, that looks nice. That looks like a good way to get old. They took care of what they had, they took care of each other. I know this first hand. I've known Henry for over 20 years. When I was in my 20s, he taught me how to build some really nice bookshelves. That was just after I married his granddaughter. We're not married anymore, but I still call him Grandpa, or Gramps if I'm around my kids, who are his great grandchildren. Henry was born in 1922, Alice in 1920. But we're going to start about 20 years later.
Alex Chambers: It's 1942. There's a war on but the red buds and dogwoods have blossomed as always. The trees have finished flowering and their leaves are full and green, ready to catch those longest days just around the corner. A bus has arrived in Chicago. College students are meeting up to caravan out to Jacksonville, Wyoming, for a summer geology program. Henry’s a Haverford student, but he took the train from his parents place in Terre Haute.
Henry Gray: Stayed overnight in Chicago and was to meet the caravan on the campus of University of Chicago. So, I was there with one of the Chicago profs and two girls from Chicago, who were going to join the caravan. And they immediately stuffed me and my baggage in the back of a station wagon, and I looked out and I could see this very vivacious girl making sure that all the girls in the group knew each other. And I thought there's a girl I'd like to know. Well, it was several days on the road before I got to meet her.
Alex Chambers: Once they did meet, they had plenty to talk about. Henry and Alice had both gone into geology because they loved being outside. Mountains, lakes, forests, rocks and plants, called them both out to explore. Alice was from upstate New York. Her interest in the natural world came at least in part by way of her father.
Henry Gray: Her dad was a really good outdoors man. Among other things he built canoes. And he several times canoed across Lake Ontario to Canada, I guess just for the heck of it.
Alex Chambers: Alice wasn't afraid to get her hands dirty. Once, she and her family were picnicking on the shores of Seneca lake. The kids finished their sandwiches and licking the mayonnaise off their fingers, they went to explore the woods. One of them shouted, "Look!" The others came over and saw a dead raccoon, flies buzzing around it. They all agreed they had to bring it over to show dad.
Henry Gray: Well Alice had three brotrers who were two years older, two years younger and five years younger than she. And none of them would touch it. Well, she gingerly picked up the tip end of the tail and the tail came right off. [LAUGHS] So, I don't think dad got to see the dead raccoon.
Alex Chambers: Henry had also been going out into the woods as long as he could remember. At seven years old, growing up on the outskirts of Terre Haute, he delighted himself.
Henry Gray: Prowling in the woods and the hills and the ravines and gathering frogs legs and turtles and things like that to bring home. Never hatched the frogs. And of course we had to turn the turtles back out in the wild. But that probably had a lot to do with why I became a geologist, because I did start right then collecting a few rocks here and there.
Alex Chambers: And so about 15 years later, he and Alice found themselves camping and studying geology in Wyoming. It was summer, so there was still a lot of light left in the evenings. And they decided to go sit on the bridge of the Hoback River for a while. They wanted to watch the water rush down on its way to the snake. They were still discovering things about each other. Henry’s not the kind of person to say he was falling in love. Here's what he did say.
Henry Gray: She knew when and where the moon was going to rise and she knew the constellations which you could see out there and so forth. So just one thing led to another.
Alex Chambers: That evening, as the sun hung low in the sky, they started something that would ripple through their retirement community almost 70 years later.
Henry Gray: We just started up by holding hands on our walk and we held hands all the rest of our lives. So when we moved to Meadowood and lived in one of the garden homes and had to walk down the road a couple of blocks to dinner, we walked holding hands and we set off a new thing in Meadowood. Other people decided it was nice to hold hands too.
Alex Chambers: They started holding hands in Wyoming, but it would be a few years before they could do it every day. Among other things, there was a war. Henry was in college so he was deferred from the draft for about a year. Then he went to work for the US Geological Survey. That got him deferred again, because they were discovering oil, part of the war effort. The draft did catch up with him eventually, sort of.
Henry Gray: In 1945, I was called. That was the time that Roosevelt said, "Work or fight." I thought I was working [LAUGHS] but I was called. And by that time, they were scraping the bottom of the barrel and they wanted only prime invasion material, and the 25 or so young fellow who went with me to be looked at, I think we were all rejected for, well for instance I have a bad back, a knee that was torn up in a skiing accident, and several reasons I was rejected. I remember another man on the bus, as we were coming back to the point where we gathered in Terre Haute, he had no teeth in his mouth. And he said, "What did they want me to do, bite the army?" [LAUGHS] I think we were all rejected.
Alex Chambers: How did that feel?
Henry Gray: Oh, mixed. Yeah, it meant I could continue on with my education as planned. As I say, I felt I was serving when I was working for the US Geological Survey. And there's no doubt in my mind that I would have washed out of basic training right away. I couldn't stand at attention more than a couple of minutes. My back and my knee would let me down.
Alex Chambers: So, Henry stayed in the Mid West, as he would for the rest of his life. He and Alice got married, she followed him to Ohio and then back to Ann Arbor so that he could work on a Masters degree in geology. She ended up with a Masters too.
Henry Gray: That was kind of an accident. I started at Michigan. I had an assistantship. And she started working for the department at Michigan. She was sorting mineral specimens for class use and so forth. But when summer came and I went to do my thesis out to the summer camp again, the director of the summer camp said, "Well, you're going to be out in Jackson all summer, why don't you do a thesis too?" [LAUGHS] So she did. She put it together a very nice. Mine was on stratigraphy. Hers was on physiography.
Alex Chambers: And what was she looking at specially?
Henry Gray: She was looking at the terraces in Hoback basin, the basin of Hoback River. And on looking at it now, I'd say her thesis was better than mine.
Alex Chambers: Quick side note for any geology nerds out there. Her thesis was about stream terraces in the Hoback river basin. They were from the Pleistocene era and they had not been formed by glaciers, which is apparently how terraces are often formed. These came about because changes in the climate changed the stream behavior. Alice's thesis involved mapping them out.
Henry Gray: And as I say, she did a very nice job of it. But, when we went to Penn State and David came along, that was the end of her intentions for that, they had to be deferred.
Alex Chambers: I wondered what it meant to me deferring her intentions on the arrival of their first child. What would her plans have been? How do we make peace with the choices we make? Alice seemed to be at peace in the years I knew her, more so than most people. What do you have to let go of to get there? In any case, she was letting go of some things and gaining others as she went with Henry through his career. He taught college level geology, then went for a PHD at Ohio State, and ended up with a job at the Indiana Geological Survey in Bloomington. Remember what I said about their modesty. For their first few years together, they lived in trailers. Henry was still working for the US Geological Survey.
Henry Gray: I was sent out to Wyoming where there was no place to live and it was obvious that I was going to get moved around. So we bought what was then called a trailer house. It was supposed to be 21 feet long, but that was from the tip of the tongue to the back of the bumper. And the box was actually about 18 feet. So, it was really compact living.
Alex Chambers: That tiny house would have been pretty stylish among a certain set in the 21st century. They took it with them to DuBois and Laramie and Ann Arbor, and then to State College Pennsylvania.
Henry Gray: But it came time that our son David was coming alone when we were in the State college. We had to buy a bigger trailer house, which was all of 24 feet long. It was more up-to-date. The first one had had a genuine ice box. This one had a refrigerator, but it had no other plumbing. I had to haul a tank of water. We have pictures of Dave getting his bath in the kitchen sink, which was the only place we had such a device, and no toilet, no wash room in the trailer.
Alex Chambers: They moved again to Kent, Ohio, and they were finally able to buy a house that was built on the ground. It was brand new, 20 feet by 30. Also tiny.
Henry Gray: But we survived in it.
Alex Chambers: Then they moved to Bloomington. They got hold of an antique house that they could fix up together. Life unfolded according to plan. Alice with one Masters degree so far, took care of the kids and the house. Henry with his Doctorate worked at the Geological Survey. They had two kids at this point. Dave was a first grader, Bonnie was four.
Henry Gray: And Alice heard Bon talking to her new friendly neighbor, "My dad's a doctor, but not the kind that does anybody any good." [LAUGHS]
Alex Chambers: All those years, they kept getting called outdoors. They took the kids and camped all over the country. Camping with kids took some getting used to. When Dave was about three, they went to the Door Peninsula in Eastern Wisconsin.
Henry Gray: We slept in the car. We had a camp stove and a camp ice box. So we had very minimal equipment, but we spent the better part of a week in Door County, in the fall, not when the spring flowers were out. And so that was Dave age three maybe. That was his first experience camping. I particularly remember we took our Coleman lantern and we were walking to go to the bathroom before we went to bed, and Dave enjoyed the monstrous shadows ahead of us, because I was carrying a lantern down about my knee level. And all of a sudden he raised his arms and said "woof." [LAUGHS] Scared me half to death. [LAUGHS] But it didn't scare him.
Alex Chambers: As Henry said, they didn't have a lot of camping equipment at the beginning there. They spent their first vacation away from Bloomington in the Black Hills with a very minimal tent.
Henry Gray: The kids slept in the car. And in the middle of the night, I was awakened with the horn going off. Bonnie was sleeping in the front seat and she'd got her feet tangled in the horn ring. [LAUGHS] So I had to make an emergency run. And they were both good campers. We got bigger and better tents that would hold the four of us and so forth. And went as far as the Canadian Rockies. Yeah, we went clear to the west coast with them. And I once kind of had a map that had all the national parks, national monuments, national historic sites etc, and I looked at that and found that Alice and I had been to 200 of them for at least a lunch stop and hike around.
Alex Chambers: Was there a particular trip that really stands out in your mind?
Henry Gray: Well, it's hard to say because I find things to do, things to learn in every corner of this country. We've camped in Florida, we've camped in Maine, we've camped in Newfoundland, we've camped in Alaska, we camped in California and places in between, and I just love the whole country. Could go any place right now and enjoy myself, but I can't.
Alex Chambers: But maybe you can right now. As long as you're back after the break. This is Inner States.
Alex Chambers: Inner States, Alex Chambers. Henry turns 100 this week. He's spent about 70% of his life with his wife, Alice. She passed away in 2013. Now he lives in Meadowood, a retirement community here in Bloomington. Alice and Henry both had Master’s degrees in geology, which they got around the middle of the century, the 20th century. She'd been planning to do graduate work and library science. That plan went on hold when their son David was born, and it stayed on hole while Dave and Bonnie were young. But once the kids were in high school.
Henry Gray: She decided to go after a degree in library science. And she would be bouncing down the walk feeling like a co-ed when some kid would go by and say "Hi mom". [LAUGHS] And there went the illusion.
Alex Chambers: Alice finished her library degree and worked for the Package Library on campus.
Henry Gray: You could write in with a question and the Package Library would put together a bunch of articles - I should say a group of articles - from magazines, newspapers on that subject. And I guess maybe school teachers or maybe high school students did that sort of thing, preparing for term papers maybe or something like that. Or maybe preparing for a whole course, high school course, I don't know.
Alex Chambers: It earned them some extra money, helped to pay for the kids college and all. But it probably also felt good to do something she'd been planning on for years, even if she only wanted to do it part time. As Alice and Henry’s horizons expanded, so did their houses. They went from that 18 foot trailer to the 500 square foot house and eventually to their last, a farmhouse on the outskirts of town. I'm actually not sure why the houses are turning out to be such a big part of this story. I guess it's part of how you make a life together, sharing that space, that structure. I think, as much as they loved traveling around the country, home was also really important to them. Both their adult children settled in Bloomington. They still celebrate holidays and four generations of birthdays together. Also, I think Henry and Alice both liked taking care of their houses. So, when they came across one on the outskirts of town, surrounded by trees, Alice thought it was worth a visit.
Henry Gray: The house was advertised in the paper and I was reading the ad to her. She was doing something in the kitchen, I think. And she said "I know that house. Let's go see it." So, we went out right away to see it and I think we were the first ones to look at it, ten o'clock in the morning. When we were back in our house in Park Ridge, the lady phoned and said they wanted us to have the house. And they lowered the price a little bit and I was trying to think where are we going to get that money, when Alice turned to the phone and said "We'll buy it." [LAUGHS] And so we were out there on King Road where she counted 120 species of birds that were in the yard, in the trees, that we saw fly over, that we heard. She was good at that. I never. Now I can identify a few of the birds that I see.
Alex Chambers: They lived there until their early 80s and then it was time to downsize. They packed up their books and paintings, some went to their family, they donated others and they kept some for their new smaller space. They walked hand in hand down the road to dinner, set off a trend. They got visits from their children, grandchildren, great grandchildren. And then in 2010, Alice got a diagnosis, lung cancer.
Henry Gray: She never smoked, but there are about 17 other ways you can get lung cancer. Radon being one. We probably lived in at least three houses that may have been strong on radon, before anybody knew about it. Anyway, when she was diagnosed and given the probability, I forget what the probability was, she said, "Well we all have to die of something." And she planned to live to be the age of her parents, which was 92. And she lived till almost 93. But aside from the cancer, she was programmed to live longer than that.
Henry Gray: My mother was, well, a complainer. She always had to see the doctor about this or that. And she was complaining about stomach problems. And the doctor was giving her this and that and the other. Finally, a doctor decided that he just had to operate and take a look. And she was just all gone with cancer, ovarian cancer, that they've got a better handle on it now, but at that time everybody with ovarian cancer got diagnosed too late. Yes at my age, I think about a lot of the ways people die. Alice just ran down and she fought it as long as she could. And we continued traveling in our little motor home up till 2011 when we finally sold it. Our last trip was a short trip up to Delphi, where we did some walking and enjoyed the history of the place. And on the way home she said she thought she would take her turn at driving, so I said, "Okay." Ten minutes later she said, "No." She just didn't have the strength for it.
Henry Gray: She, of course, got to the point where she had to use a walker and her cancer was inoperable. She got some radiation treatment, but it got away. But still, she would get on a walker and we lived over in a little house on 1101 Lindon, and she'd say, "Let's walk down that way" and she'd say. "No, let's turn around." [LAUGHS] She kept fighting it all the way. The night before she died, we had a pretty good day. She was in a wheelchair, but I found I could get her wheelchair out on the little patio where we had our afternoon tea. And we watched a little TV after dinner and she took a rest in her recliner, I think. And when I took her in to put her to bed, she just suddenly flopped on the bed and was unconscious, I couldn't move her, I had to get my daughter-in-law who's an RN, and between the two of us, we got her in bed. I could have got the nurses from Meadowood to do that, but thought I'd keep it in the family. And Susie stayed that night. And the next morning, she just gradually slowed down and died. Very quietly. We had gathered the whole family, I think you were there. She just never recovered consciousness.
Alex Chambers: Henry has a picture of her from a few years before.
Henry Gray: She's standing on a trail looking down a ravine, down a valley. And the thing that impresses me about her is that she's so connected, she's so alert. She's got her binoculars in her hand and she's just looking for anything, just looking for a bird to identify or something like that. She was just so thoroughly connected to everything around her. And that way she was alert to everything. She didn't miss anything. If a bird flew over, she just glanced up and looked at it, then she'd tell me what kind of bird it was. She thought we ought some time to get a bug eye lens for the camera and then just go lie down at some place in a field and take a picture of clouds. She was just so observant. She just was aware of, incredibly aware of everything.
Alex Chambers: Along with being a geologist, Henry’s also a poet. That picture is at the beginning of the collection he dedicated to her.
Henry Gray: Alice had said that I should put my poems in a little book, and I said okay. And I worked on it very hard. I worked on it too hard when she was dying and I didn't make it. And I should have just say hold the presses and finished it because this is bigger and better than the first edition. We can try this one. Goes with the picture. Called [PHONETIC: Tree side] Reverie. Pause and take in the silences. Silences that surround you. Silences that arrive unannounced. Silences that are hard to find. Silences of eternity. While all around you life springs ever anew.
Alex Chambers: If you live long enough, the silences expand. When he was younger, Henry wrote another poem about how his horizons enlarged from his mother's arms to his bedroom, to when he finally got out of the house and found infinity.
Henry Gray: Well, my horizons are closing in now and I haven't found a good way to express that in my poetry.
Alex Chambers: But, as he says, you have to play the hand you're dealt.
Henry Gray: And that's just the way it is. Some of the poems that I write now are a little darker.
Alex Chambers: What keeps you going now? What do you look forward to?
Henry Gray: [LAUGHS] Somebody at dinner the other night asked me if I was looking forward to reaching 100. And I said, "No, I'm looking forward to dessert." One step at a time.
Alex Chambers: Henry’s horizons are narrow now. But on some level, he's always known how to go forward through his days. I think that's what got him this far.
Henry Gray: I put this shirt on this morning saying, that's my Tuesday, Wednesday shirt. That's the end of that.
Alex Chambers: That is the end of that. That was Henry Gray, a retired geologist, a parent, grandparent and great grandparent and the husband of Alice Gray for 72 years before she passed away at almost 93. Henry’s 100th birthday is March 18th. I want to wish him a good one.
Alex Chambers: You've been listening to Inner States from WFIU in Bloomington Indiana. If you have a story for us, or you've got some sound we should hear, let us know at wfiu.org/innerstates. Speaking of found sound, we've got you a quick moment of slow radio coming up. But first the credits. Inner States is produced and edited by me, Alex Chambers, with support from Eoban Binder, Aaron Cain, Mark Chilla, Michael Paskash, Payton Whaley and Kayte Young. Our executive producer is John Bailey. Special thanks this week to Andrea and Ross Martinie Eilerand their guest Nicky, Kaity Radde for making the story, and Henry Gray. Our theme music is by Amy Oelsner and Justin Vollmar. We have additional music from the artists at Universal Production Music and Ramon Monrás-Sender. Alright, time to take a minute and listen.
Alex Chambers: We've been listening to a drain pipe emptying into a partially frozen creek on the campus of Indiana University, Bloomington. Until next week, I'm Alex Chambers. Thanks for listening.