Here is my mother’s family of four brothers and one sister in a farm meadow in the 1940s. They are children of Abram Hernley Metzler and Sadie Landis Metzler, a Mennonite family of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.
Standing in birth order are her brothers Landis, Leroy, Clyde, Abram, Jr., with my mother and her sister Verna. Two of her siblings died in their sixties, the others in their seventies. Only my mother is still alive at age 95.
When Mother turned 90 in 2008, her 94-year-old sister-in-law Cecilia Metzler, married to my Uncle Clyde, said to her: “Ninety’s nothing . . . . You have to live past that to make your mark these days.” (Then I saw a quick smile and heard an I-got-you-there chuckle.) Aunt Cecilia, who calls herself Cece now, has always been energetic and feisty, a farm wife and a pastor’s wife. Up until 2011, she has sent me Christmas cards – always the first week of December. And via her daughter Erma’s account, I would occasionally even get email messages from her.
Mother too has always been strong and hardy all these years. She still lives alone but has watchful neighbors along with my brother Mark who checks in with her regularly. Her mind is still sharp though her hearing, which has always been in a category I’d call bionic, is failing now. When I asked her a few weeks ago, “Do you remember wearing Evening in Paris cologne?” She questioned me back, “Carrots, what do you mean carrots?” This from a woman who most of her life had to hold the telephone receiver away from her ear because the sound was too loud. Oh, my.
I call her often, but she says she likes to get something in the mail, a letter with a stamp on it, she hints. As if to demonstrate how it’s done, last week she sent me a short note with concern about a friend’s health along with a check for special vitamins I send to her. Yes, she still pays her own bills.
* * *
Recently, “60 Minutes” aired a show entitled Living to 90 and Beyond hosted by correspondent Lesley Stahl. The show featured interviews of some of the more than 1600 men and women who participated in a study named “90+” funded by the National Institute of Health. All of the data was collected in the 1980s from residents of a community south of Los Angeles called Leisure World, now re-named Laguna Woods. The study was launched to determine the secrets of longevity and perhaps find clues to preventing diseases like Alzheimer’s often associated with advancing age.
On air, the interviewees, all over 90, were shown undergoing physical testing: reflexes, pace of walking, how quickly they could sit down and stand up again. Their mental acuity was checked as well: Tell me today’s date, spell w-o-r-l-d backwards, remember these words (brown, shirt, charity) – I’ll ask you to repeat them to me in a minute. And so on.
Claudia Kawas, spokesperson for the NIH study, concluded with some statements that weren’t at all surprising. And some that were:
- People who exercise definitely live longer than those who don’t.
- Board games, socializing with friends, working in the garden enhance mental health.
- Taking vitamins doesn’t seem to make much difference.
- It’s not good to be skinny when you are old.
- Drinking 1-3 cups of coffee seems to be beneficial.
- One or two glasses of wine daily is recommended.
My Mother, almost 96, and Aunt Cecilia, now age 99, were part of the “Game Girls” crowd in their prime. They loved playing Uno, Skip-Bo, and Hand & Foot with friends. And they probably both still drink one or two cups of coffee with breakfast.
But rest assured, neither of these good, elderly Mennonite ladies ever imbibes a glass of wine with dinner.
Most of us know one or more friends or family members over 90. Does longevity run in your family?
Do you have a story about a nonagenarian you know?
Coming next: A visit with author Kathleen Pooler and introducing her new book!