Last week I read a story in the newspaper about Bertha Vickers, a hunter from Morgantown, Mississippi, who was having a lousy season. She hadn’t gotten a single deer in months and had been reduced to firing at squirrels. But earlier this month, she made the shot of her life, dropping two deer at once with a single pull on the trigger. I know next to nothing about hunting, but even I can tell that’s an impressive feat. Then I read the kicker.
Bertha Vickers is 101.
Her grandson skinned the two deer, but Bertha cooked the meat herself. She also gardens, does laundry and mows her own lawn. She can no longer go fishing by herself, but she told “The Mississippi Clarion Ledger” that she’s hoping to get back to the lake soon.
And I sometimes get winded just walking to the mailbox.
You hear about people in their 90s who do incredible things, like hanging out with parachutes.ThelateGeorgeH.W.Bushwas one, and so is my aunt’s mother, who passed the century mark herself last November and who has enjoyed an occasional bit of parasailing. And while Queen Elizabeth didn’t actually jump from an airplane to land in the middle of the 2012 Olympics in London, it wouldn’t have shocked me to learn that she had.
Right here in Searcy, our own Dr. Clifton L. Ganus — soon approaching 97 — not long ago went trout fishing in Alaska and has made almost yearly trips to Uganda and the Caribbean. He can be seen at just about every sporting event on campus and watches them with an eagle eye. The referees should occasionally consult with him on calls.
The oldest woman I ever knew was my cousin’s grandmother, who lived to be 109. She stopped driving her 1953 Chevrolet in her 90s but didn’t start using a walker until past 100. She lived on a farm in Red Boiling Springs, Tennessee, and up until the last four years of her life, was still buying and selling cattle. I talked with her when she was a mere 105 and learned that she had spent several years in my hometown of Conyers, Georgia, as a schoolteacher, beginning in 1912. She took out a scrapbook of pictures from that era and started rattling off her students’ names.
Forgive me, but I can’t remember some names from last semester.
Andrew Baker tells the story of an old- timer in town who once asked him, “Do you want to know how to make love to your wife at 90?” I can just picture Andrew’s discomfort. In fact, imagining Andrew ill at ease is sort of a hobby among some people around here, and I could have sold tickets to that conversation just to watch him squirm. As it turns out, the punch line was harmless — sweet advice on being kind and thoughtful and remembering the little things.
But we can’t help asking our most active seniors: what is your secret? The iconic American comedian Bob Hope — who lived from 1903 to 2003 — was once being honored on a television special. Jerry Seinfeld spoke for many when he asked, “Sir, what do you eat?” As if there were a magic menu. But diet can hardly account for longevity. Some people do everything right — munching on locally sourced flaxseed and conflict-free kale chips — and still die at 50, while others subsist on bacon and lard for nine straight decades.
Not smoking is no guarantee, either. Another legend who made it to 100 was George Burns. Once asked how his doctor felt about his daily cigars, Burns replied, “He’s dead.”
The modern record for longevity was held by a French woman named Jeanne Calment, whose diet included braised beef, fried foods, bananas and chocolate. There’s a great story that when she turned 90 in 1965, she had no heirs, so she signed a contract to sell her apartment to a lawyer. He would give her 2500 francs per month until her death. He no doubt assumed it would be a steal. But by the time the lawyer died in 1995, he had already paid double the value of the property. Mrs. Calment lived to be 122. Asked about the situation, she said, “In life, you sometimes make bad deals.”
I think I’ll go have some braised beef and a Hershey bar.