Centenarian Interview with Homer Lee Hawkins, a 90-Year-Old WWII Veteran on the Meaning of Life

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t’s a Sunday afternoon after church, I arrive at Melina’s apartment to interview her grandfather Homer Lee Hawkins, who is 90 years old. Melina is a new friend of mine who is also a co-worker. One day she invited me for lunch at her apartment and within that hour, we had learned much about each other. She’s been to Paris, speaks French and is a writer as well, that’s all I needed to know in other to kick off this friendship to blossom. Of course, I love Paris but yet to visit, and as for French I was taught that in primary school so I dabble with honestly not so much of it, but I’m a writer too and we shared a thought of probably visiting Paris together someday on a writing assignment perhaps. Anyway I guess those are more than enough reasons to establish our acquaintance.

I soon learned about Melina’s grandfather who just recently celebrated his 90th birthday and I was blown away by that fact. “I must interview your grandfather to share his life journey and story for this series because what else depicts the ART OF BEING ALIVE morethan someone who has experienced life in so many ways up to this point?” I said, and she instantly agreed, before I knew it, this interview was becoming a reality.

(Image: Mr. Hawkins and myself on the day of the interview)

I am so honored to have the opportunity to interview a 90-year-old centenarian, if I could use that term already, who is a WWII veteran. Mr. Hawkins was born on June 2, 1925. He was extremely graceful to conduct this interview with me on a beautiful Sunday afternoon. This might be one of my most treasured pieces yet because such an honor, as a millennial to interview someone from an entirely different generation known as The Greatest Generation, and such a privilege to write out some of what might be part of Homer’s Legacy and to publish it.

(Homer Lee Hawkins)

The Art of Being Alive is the essence of our existence and the hope that we carry into aging gracefully, to be happy while at it, feeling alive, embracing longevity with vibrant health and wellness. The future of this project feels so bright to me because of this interview, the inclusion of a rare voice full with experience and ageless wisdom adds so much value to this collection and even if its one lesson anyone picks from his words, it should be treasured and taken to heart because this is not an everyday find to hear from a a real life book of experiences.

According to this article , “The majority of centenarians do not feel their chronological age; on average, they report feeling 20 years younger.” The article suggest that centenarians tend to have positive attitudes, optimism, and a zest for life and it questions if it could be that personality characteristics and world views play a more significant role than genetics, diet, or exercise?

One way this article suggests to determine this is to ask centenarians questions about how they see the world, what they value, and to what they attribute their own longevity. What are their secrets to aging well? These individuals according to the research represent centuries of wisdom that should not be overlooked. So that’s what researchers are now doing the article says — mining the minds of centenarians for nuggets of wisdom. Regardless of which interviews you read, this is where patterns really DO emerge. In interviews and surveys with centenarians, the following themes come up time and time again when asked to explain why they’ve lived so long, they said keeping a positive attitude, eating good food, exercising moderately (most report basic activities, like walking, biking, gardening, swimming, etc.), clean living (not smoking or drinking excessively, etc.), living independently, family, good genes, friends, staying mentally active and always learning something new, faith/spirituality.

The article says that some jokingly said they attribute their longevity to “avoiding dying.” Others give hints to their life philosophy, such as “find your passion and live it,” “make time to cry,” and “practice forgiveness.” Centenarians overwhelmingly cite stress as the most important thing to avoid. Their lives are marked by as many stressful events as the rest of us, but they differ in how well they manage their stress. Rather than dwelling on it, they let it go. And they are very happy people!”

Originally published on Huffpost as a two part series, we have combined both parts of this interview I had with Mr. Homer Lee Hawkins for this piece. It was recorded on audio, this is a transcription of the conversation we had over lunch in Melina’s apartment about Homer’s life story and wisdom words he dishes.

Melina Maloukis begins by introducing her granddad Homer Lee Hawkins, who just turned 90 on June 2, 2015, he was born in 1925. So just so you get the picture of Homer’s era, Melina asks him about if there were televisions when Homer was born, there was none of course Homer replied and said, the bathrooms where outside behind the barn. Homer said his mom had one of the first cars in Atoka, Oklahoma, which his mom bought in 1932 that cost $650, a 1932 Chevrolet which he took some long trips with then.

I asked Homer about his background. Homer was born in Enid Oklahoma and Homer says his dad was in WWI and is buried there in Enid, Oklahoma.

As a very curious millennial whose entire generation is being shaped with the influence of technology, I ask Homer on his thoughts about technology today…

Homer: “It is advanced from what it was back then. CB radios was something else. I had one in my car and a base station at the house. I talked all over the country on this thing because I had a linear amplifier which was illegal at that time, instead of 5band, i was shooting out 500 band at that time. I talked to Australia one time, that was pretty good. You have to have it at a particular level and that determines where you are going to be able to talk to, they call it skip talking. I guess I talked to nearly every state in the union over the years. I have been out of it for quite some time now. They are not as prominent. They used to have jamborees and I used to attend jamborees in St. Louis, Missouri; Dallas, Texas; Memphis, Tennessee; and Minnesota.

Melinda stated that he is always on top of the current technology from when cars, TVs, radios, CBs and Internet… they got one and he sees it as a way to communicate, she added that he loves to communicate. Anything that will help him to communicate with the world better was always an interest for him even up till now.

When you are in your 20s today and you get an opportunity to interview someone many decades older than you, one of the questions that rings is the question on work. I was interested in what Mr. Hawkins’ earlier work days felt like.

Homer: “In WWII, I was in Georgia Patty Jr III army, he was old blood and guts they called him (your blood and his guts) — they made a movie of him. I ran that movie in the Diane theater about 12 or 15 times. Melina, added that he was a projectionist when it used to be an art form. It used to be an art form to be a projectionist, she said and you needed a lot of training; he started doing that as a kid. When he went to the war, that was something he did during the war, he would go get the English movies from England when he was stationed in France. Homer said he landed in England and was there for about 10 days and landed in France.

“D-Day was on June 6, 1944 and I landed on June 14, 8 days after the D-day as they call it. I learned to be a projectionist in Oklahoma when i was like 14 or 15 years old. Edmond Phillips was a projectionist in the theater who taught me how to run the projectors. I have done that off and on all my life. I worked at the Fort sill sale service and worked at the audio visual center.

I am in my 20s and trying to consciously create pleasant and memorable experiences for my self, so I wondered about what Mr. Hawkins’ most memorable experience of his 20s was?

Homer: “WWII. He said, I turned 18 on June 2 1944 and I was in Fortsill October that same day. I took basic training in Fort-sill., and there was a 7-day delaying route, stop over at home, went to Boston and in 10 days I was there in England then I went to route. Most memorable day/experience of my life so far in my youth is definitely combat WWII. That is something I think about a lot and I even dream about sometimes, but of of course I dream about other things too (chuckles). I have had a good life and i have no regrets.”

Family, according to the earlier stated article. is one of the key things for why centenarians live so long, so I ask Mr. Hawkins about his family…

Homer: “I have three daughters, Kathy, Jana and Robbin who lives in Dallas. I am living with one of my daughters and the other one Jana lives in Oklahoma too. How important is your relationship with your grand children from this younger generation, I ask and he says, “I have a good relationship with them, it helps to keep me young. If I didn’t have the younger generation to keep up with, I wouldn’t have anybody. There is only three or four peers that I know of and two of them are in the nursing home. Are you in contact with anybody from Nigeria, Homer asks me and I reply Yes, I am. I keep up with them very often thanks to technology I said, while we laughed together.

(Image: Homer and his granddaughter Melina Maloukis)

(Image: Homer and his granddaughter on the day of his interview)

Romance, love, marriage and relationships are areas everyone hopes to find great success with, if you are lucky to find any one of the above in your lifetime, I think its beautiful. Great relationships, romance and marriage is all rooted in love and I am finding that for my self as I grow older, that these are the things worth having because it keeps you connected and I am sure helps with longevity and vitality. I was curious as to what Homer’s love story is…

Homer: I was married the first time in 1948. My first wife’s name was Mary. We lived in Oklahoma city at that time, and I was running a couple of theaters there and we moved to Washington state and I went to work there when she got sick because she had a brain tumor and then we went to Seattle. It was in the right frontal lobe of her head and she had surgery, after then we moved back to Oklahoma City and she had one or two more operations in Oklahoma City and unfortunately, she finally passed away. She was only 24 when she passed away. That was my first wife. My daughters Jana, Kathy, and Robbin are my three daughters and I have three granddaughters and a grandson. Melina is my second granddaughter from my second wife. I was married to my second wife Martha in 1948, and she passed away in 2007. We were married for 55years until she passed away. All my children and grandchildren come from that relationship. 55 YEARS!!? I exclaimed! I asked Homer what the secret is to staying married for 55 years and he laughs and says “keep your nose clean and stay home”

(Homer and his second granddaughter, Melina Maloukis.) (Picture credit, Adedayo)

What was the ‘Biggest Challenge of your life experiences’? I inquired…

Homer: “Well, I have done a bit of everything in my life. started out with a little concession stand at the theater, from there learned to be a projectionist and later got to be a manager of couple of theatres in Oklahoma city. My second wife Martha was really sick five years after we got married, that was a very big challenge because she was really sick. She had shock treatments which messed up her head. Melina contributed that her grandmother suffered from Post traumatic stress disorder from her father dying young whom she was very attached to. Melina contributed that she thinks that was the biggest challenge for her grandfather and that the mental health establishment at that time admitted her, some of that were from the family too. “I met Martha at an open theater, she took her shoes off to dance and I noticed that.” Homer said. Melina remembers her granddad telling her the story of how her grandmother and grandfather met, she said her grandmother took her shoes off to dance…Homer added, I had taken her in my car to an open theater that day, when she took off her shoes to dance which was very attractive. Mellina describes her grandmother as the belle of the ball and Rodeo queen. she could barrel race and race horses, her family had the first trucking business in Oklahoma and she describes her as being quite a catch, being a free spirit and full of love and sensitive and being beautiful. Melina also describes her grandfather as the look alike of Rock Hudson which he jokes that none of that money rubbed off on him.

Homer’s One Advice to Millennials On Living…

Homer: “Stay clean and get the best education they can afford.”

The purpose of this project is to explore the meaning of life, what would you say the meaning of life is to you?

Homer: You just Try to do the best you can and live the best you can. Of course I have lived longer than most of my friends. I don’t have very many friends that I know of that are left there is a couple that I know who are in the nursing home but you loose track of people over time.

How does being 90 years old feel like?

Homer: Well, It feels like I am heading for the last round of it. I don’t know, I just live a day at a time and I don’t plan over 10 years ahead. (laughs) If I can live to be a 100 years old, I will be thankful.

When you were growing up and you look back on your life now, is it what you hoped it would be? or do wish you had done more things differently? Do you have any regrets on life?

Homer: “Like most of the people in 20’s and 30’s, the country was in a recession and everybody was poor and had no money, but I had a good life; I was in the country, I had a good well of water, we will drop a bucket down in the open well and draw the water up. I had to walk up a mile to the school bus and my mother and some neighbor built a shed for us to sit down while waiting on the school bus. It was about six of us that went to school together. I honestly don’t sit down to think of if I have any regrets, I just see that I have had a good life.

We all desire Happiness, how will you define Happiness?

Homer: Having good friends, good relationship with your family and living a good straight life. That is about it.

One life principle that has guided you so far in life?

Homer: “Try to treat people like you’ll like to be treated as well”

Health is a huge thing to grow in vitality and have longevity, so I ask Homer about how he has managed his health to this stage.

Homer: “I have 100% disability from service connected being in combat Homer stated, I am thankful that I have lived as long as I have with a 100% disability. Melina added that her granddad keeps up with his medicine. She said that homer said some of his peers had problems because they didn’t keep up with their medicine. She said he did have heart problem at some point which was a major health issue. He also doesn’t eat after 4pm she said, and she thinks that the reason is because of nature, in his time they did a lot of things before the sun went down and so he says, he just got used to eating with the nature time. Also, he reminds that a shot of bourbon a day doesn’t hurt. (we all laugh) A way to relax and just relieve stress. little pleasures go a long way, he concluded.

I congratulate Homer and tell him that I am doing this interview to tap into a bit of his wisdom to share with younger generation. Homer said, “I am thankful to be 90. I never thought I will make it here”

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