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    Photo by Chris Witzke

    Walk into Louise Grant’s Crestwood home and 1966 — the year she moved in — is clearly imprinted. A couch bears bulky stripes in greens and browns; porcelain and crystal figurines are neatly arranged on walnut end tables and in display cases. Grant, though, defies her age. Yes, she must clutch her daughter’s arm to descend two steps into her living room, but most of the time she gets by with a cane. Her white hairdo stays tidy and classic with appointments every Thursday. She volunteers at her church every week, plays the organ and makes time for bridge games with friends. Like the rest of us, her media diet has ballooned, so fascinated and simmering because of politics lately. This month she’ll turn 101. Grant’s secret? Garlic, onions and a shot of scotch in the evening. 

    “I don’t feel old,” she says, sitting on her couch in the home she shares with her 74-year-old daughter, Barbara Sherer. “She’s always been active,” Sherer says. “She has a hard time sitting.” In her 80s, Grant was still volunteering on construction sites with Habitat for Humanity, one of the few with the patience to paint trim; and she traveled to Southeast Asia for five weeks with relatives, even flying home by herself. She performed in the bell choir at St. Andrews United Church of Christ in Hikes Point until the bells got too heavy for her hands and wrists. She was 98. She sang in the choir until last spring, when the stairs up to the choir loft finally proved too difficult to navigate. (For her decades of volunteer work, St. Andrews named the church library after her.)

    Grant was born in Boston on Jan. 19, 1917. A New England accent still shapes her words. Her father’s family came from a small village in France, and she says her mother’s ancestors were on the Mayflower. At 16, Grant graduated from high school and attended a secretarial school, eventually finding work at Liberty Mutual Insurance. She married Eric Grant, whom she met after church one Sunday. “He walked me home,” she recalls, adding with a laugh: “It was only one block.” They had two daughters and moved to Louisville in the 1940s when her husband’s job with Devoe Paint transferred him. Grant remembers boarding a train from New England to Louisville with her two daughters for their move south. A toilet in their roomette mesmerized the girls.

    In talking with Grant, it’s clear her memories ride a current all their own. Some surface with ease, some have drifted off, either vanished for good or misplaced at the moment. She clearly recalls seeing the first commercial flight from Boston to New York in the 1940s. “The plane flew over our yard,” she says. And she giggles through a story about her two daughters serenading passengers on a Boston subway train. But when Sherer mentions her mother’s bout of breast cancer about 15 years ago, Grant says, shrugging, “I don’t remember that.” Sherer reminds her she had to get a lumpectomy and some radiation. “And she didn’t tell anyone about it,” Sherer says. “She didn’t want anyone to know. She would drive herself to her radiation and continue on with her afternoon.” Other than the cancer, Grant has had no major surgeries. “She’s all the original pieces,” Sherer says with a laugh.

    The grandmother of four and great-grandmother of four more has always been independent. “Prim and proper,” Sherer says. When Grant’s husband died in 1990, just days before their 50th wedding anniversary, she forged into a new chapter of life: taking French classes, becoming pen pals with French relatives and traveling, a passion her late husband shared. She has visited all 50 states and 14 countries, documenting each adventure in individual scrapbooks, some as thick as telephone books. She includes photos, news clippings, menus from restaurants, typed and detailed notes. From Scotland one afternoon: When we went back into the town we found the Cherry Cup Tea Room. 

    In the last few years, she has lost her balance more frequently and much of her hearing is gone. (She won’t wear hearing aids because “she’s afraid they’ll make her look old,” Sherer says. Her cloudy blue eyes focus on faces to read lips.) Ever curious and happy in nature, Grant and Sherer often take day trips to Bernheim Forest and parks, maybe a drive to a nursery. Books, crosswords and jigsaw puzzles ward off the cobwebs. Some may see aging as a slow countdown, a retreat from relevance. Grant marches into it, proud and grateful, pursuing time as possibility. “She’s had a full life,” Sherer says. “And she can be fun, especially after a nip of scotch.”

    This originally appeared in the January 2018 issue of Louisville Magazine. To subscribe to Louisville Magazineclick here. To find us on newsstands, click here.

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