‘Time doesn’t matter much’
He has a handshake that, after 100 years, is strong enough to make young men squirm, and an eye for artistic detail to make art lovers swoon.
His meaty hands hold a paintbrush as deftly as they do the hand of a loved one swapping stories over the decades of Milton Kiefer’s life.
Kiefer, a hardy soul, turned 100 years young Wednesday, surrounded by his extended family and friends at Golden Empire Convalescent Hospital in Grass Valley.
They came to share stories of the San Francisco boy who turned into a Nevada County mainstay, the hardy soul who built a Nevada City home from the ground up, and the man who discovered how a paintbrush enriched his golden years.
Kiefer, whose family moved from San Francisco to Sacramento after the devastating 1906 earthquake, said painting with acrylics, a hobby he took up in his 80s, made him alive.
“I had to have something to do, or I would have gone nuts,” he said to a chorus of laughter. Today, Kiefer’s paintings line the walls of the home. His latest creation, an homage to 2004, shows an old man with a walking stick greeting a baby bathed in light.
Milton Kiefer might be that old man, except he doesn’t feel like him.
Kiefer credits his long life to “hard work and good eats.”
He moved from Sacramento to Nevada City more than 60 years ago, when he married his wife, Helen. They lived in a house he built in 1941 on North Pine Street. They had no children.
“I drove every nail,” he cackled. “It’s still standing, and it will be standing when you’re dead and gone.”
Kiefer left the house less than two years ago, in part, some might say, so he could show off his painting talents to a broader audience at Golden Empire.
To hear him tell it, Kiefer had jobs as rugged as his hands. He worked at the Idaho-Maryland Mine, was a carpenter for Southern Pacific, built homes and worked for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
The details of these jobs, Kiefer admits, are in a series of books and journals, and not easily recalled.
“Can’t keep up with the years,” he said. “After you get as old as I am, the time doesn’t matter much.”
The third oldest of five children, Kiefer enjoyed giving his kid brother, Lavern, a hard time Wednesday.
“I’m better looking than him,” said Milton Kiefer, who was 17 when Lavern was born.
In a lifetime of history, Milton Kiefer said the television was the greatest invention to happen in his lifetime. The response brought a smile from Lavern, who quipped: “I thought you were going to say flush toilets.”
Milton turned around and smiled.
“I was. I was just trying to be polite.”
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