The thing about turning 105, ya gotta have some luck on your side.
You can live the good, clean life — everything in moderation, as they say. But luck, preferably the good kind, has to be involved.
Henry Naruszewicz knows this. He has survived the Spanish flu pandemic, had a couple of close calls in World War II, and is weathering the coronavirus storm. Heck, he even survived a blind date — not only survived it but turned it into a nice little family of wife, daughter, two grandchildren and a great-grandchild.
Sure, Henry knows there is luck involved. And as we all awaken into a new year — and good riddance to 2020, don’t let the door hit you! — so does Henry. The difference is, Henry turns 105 today, New Year’s Day 2021.
So it can’t all be luck, right?
Henry was born Jan. 1, 1916. And as he begins his 106th orbit around the sun, he doesn’t give too much thought to what it is that keeps him going. He’s too busy for that anyway. He has meals to make, errands to run, Jumble puzzles to solve.
No use asking why or how. It just is. Henry is here, at the home he built (literally — he bought the land for $200, designed the home, then built it) — on Boylston Street in the Belvidere section of Lowell, and while his body may be a little slower, a little wearier, a little less willing, his mind is sharp as ever. He hasn’t lost a step when it comes to his wits.
Henry’s daughter, Dorothy Flanagan, says she and her dad both do the Jumble puzzle that appears daily in The Sun. Only sometimes, Dorothy can’t figure it out. “Sometimes I’ll have to call him to get the answer.”
At 105, why bother wondering why? Besides, as Henry himself says, “It’s partly luck. I never expected to come back from the war.”
About that. Henry was stationed with Gen. George Patton’s 3rd Army in northern France when the Germans launched an offensive on Dec. 16, 1944, that would become known as the Battle of the Bulge. You may have heard of it. Henry’s unit was sent and arrived on Dec. 23 in Luxembourg, where they remained until mid-February 1945.
“At one of our reunions, this was years later, a colonel said Patton once told him we were one of the best artillery units he had ever seen,” Henry recalls proudly.
“One day at the Bulge,” Henry says, as if he’s talking about a trip to the market, “a shell hit the back of the half-track I was riding in. I didn’t even hear it coming in.”
From there, it was on to Germany.
“We were under sniper fire one day,” Henry recalls. “I had one whiz past my head. I didn’t see it coming, but I saw it going. Another time, a fighter plane was strafing us. They came down low, and I happened to be in the path of the strafing. There were bullets hitting the ground all around me, but I never got a scratch. Talk about luck.”
Talk about luck? In 1940, age 24, Henry, who lived in North Andover at the time, had a cousin who was dating a young lady from Lowell. She had a friend, Stella Kasprzyk. He liked her — and not only because her name was even harder to pronounce than his own. Two years later, Henry and Stella were married. A year after that, Dorothy was born, their only child. Stella passed in 1979 at age 66.
The war, as it did with so many thousands of lives, interrupted the Naruszewiczes’ lives. And unlike so many thousands of other soldiers, Henry returned to his family and went to work as a mechanic for 1400 Motors in Lowell, retiring in 1980.
All the while, the world, and Henry, continued to revolve — and evolve.
He watched as airplanes evolved from a curiosity to a fact of life that nobody thinks twice about. “It used to be when an airplane flew by, it was something to see. Folks would come out and watch it. Now it’s old hat.”
He watched as television evolved from a luxury item to a staple in every home — if not every room of every home. “Our first TV was seven inches wide. Who would ever think you’d see a picture in your home?”).
He watched as cooking — once a necessity, now an art form — evolved from bulky stoves to microwave ovens. “I wouldn’t be without one.”
Henry still cuts his own lawn (though he admits it’s on a riding mower now — no more pulling a cord and pushing a bulky mower around).
He still drives, runs his own errands (though he promised Dorothy he won’t renew his license when it comes around again — in 2024).
He still makes his own meals, whether it’s as simple as a bowl of Cheerios or Crispix or as involved as salmon (his own recipe). Every Saturday, it’s bean soup and hot dogs.
He still votes — and has voted — in every election. The first president he voted for was FDR. And if you’re wondering, he has been alive for 18 presidents — Woodrow Wilson to Donald Trump. And unless the current president is right, Joe Biden will be president No. 19 in Henry’s lifetime.
Oh, and then there is the coronavirus. It has affected Henry as it has everyone else on the planet.
“It hinders my movement,” Henry says. “It prevents people from coming to see me. Both my grandchildren don’t want to come to my home because they don’t want to give me the virus.”
Henry continues to live the credo of most of those who make it to the century mark: everything in moderation.
“No drinking to excess. No eating to excess. No working to excess. None of that helps.”
“We’re very, very proud of him,” Dorothy says of her dad. “He has a very strong work ethic. He always said to work hard and always try your best.”
She took that advice to heart. Dorothy taught for 37 years, the first three in Shirley, the rest in Lowell.
It’s not that Henry has never been sick. Of course, he has. As a child, he had measles, chickenpox, scarlet fever. As an adult, he always seems to come down with a cold. He has had health issues. In fact, an abscessed tonsil prevented him from taking the exam to get into West Point before the war. “That might have been a good thing. I would have come out an officer just in time for the war.” As it was, he retired from the service with a rating of staff sergeant.
The body may be slower, but the mind is sharper than the knife he took from a dead German soldier and still uses every day.
Last January, just after turning 104, Henry was invited to speak about his WWII experiences at an event at the Patton Homestead in South Hamilton. As Dorothy describes it, Henry was one of three people at the head table, along with a Patton family representative and James Kelly Morningstar, author of “Patton’s Way.”
“After the author spoke, he said, ‘Now let’s hear from one of the real heroes,’” Dorothy says. “And Dad gets up and he had the audience in the palm of his hand. He spoke of how it was, what he went through. He was fabulous!”
At 105, Henry Naruszewicz continues to be fabulous. At the request of a friend of Dorothy, Staples presented Henry on Wednesday with a brand-new, comfortable chair to replace the old and well-worn one he has sat in for decades.
Today, the city is planning a drive-by — that coronavirus-era way of saluting someone special — today, complete with police cars, firefighters and an official proclamation from the city.
As Dorothy says, “We’re starting 2021 on a high note, and hope the rest of the year will go as well.”
For Henry Naruszewicz, whatever happens, happens. Just as long as there’s a Jumble to figure out today. Here’s one for you, Henry: pyaph dirbhyat.
Dan Phelps’ email address is [email protected]