On second thought, 117 is not a bad age

Thanks to centenarians' luncheon, a life span of 117 doesn't sound so bad

May 11, 2007|By JEAN MARBELLA

One of Sara Frances Lewis Faidley's former students visited her recently. The first-grader is now a grandmother.

Sadie Page remembers seeing a parade of soldiers returning from war. World War I.

Carl Heinz worked as a boy at his father's grocery store, which delivered to regular customers. By horse and wagon.

I went to the annual luncheon for the state's centenarians yesterday, a lovely if loud event - the organizers thoughtfully turned the sound system way up for its audience - to honor those in the state who are at least 100 years old. It's not quite my year yet - and I fear how loud they'll have to turn up the sound system for my rock-damaged generation - but the chance to spend a couple of hours with a group of people about twice my age was pretty appealing. I've been obsessing on age this week, ever since picking up Sunday's New York Times magazine, which devoted the entire issue to baby boomers confronting their creeping decrepitude.

It was a pretty frightful issue, let me tell you, starting with the picture of writer Nora Ephron - not a good poster woman for facial work, although she was pretty funny in the accompanying Q & A on the subject of those chirpy books about the joys of getting old and exactly what they are ("all garbage") and explaining why it's no longer possible to lie about your age (Google).

Then there was the usually erudite William Safire trying to come up with a new term for the dreaded "middle-aged," and only managing to come up with "midlifer," which strikes me as a little Department of Correction-ish. And a two-page spread on middle-agers talking about sex.

As I said, frightful.

But perhaps most alarming was the piece in which researchers talked about extending life spans. One biologist spoke about a gene that when activated in rodents allowed them to live 50 percent longer.

"So in a perfect world," said Lenny Guarente, an M.I.T. professor, "one would hope that we could live 50 percent longer than the current expected life span."

Speak for yourself, Lenny.

By my calculations, that would extend our current life expectancy to almost 117 years old. Good Lord, is there enough ibuprofen in the world for that? And how will I ever remember where I put it?

This gene, incidentally, is activated by a calorie-restricted diet. Isn't that always the case? Can't these really smart scientists ever discover a life-extending gene that's activated by massive amounts of really good French cheese and daily dirty martinis?

No, the path to a long life is always an abstemious one.

"I don't drink, I don't smoke," Sadie Page told me yesterday, at the luncheon at Martin's West. "But I do like to gamble a little."

And one more thing, she noted: "You can't say hard work will kill you. Because it won't."

Page - a mother of three, grandmother of eight and great-grandmother of 10, plus one more due in July - has outlived her six siblings, her husband and one of her daughters. She grew up in a house in the East Baltimore area where the main post office is now - without indoor plumbing - and now lives in an assisted living facility in Pikesville.

I asked her if it's fun living so long.

"Sometimes," she said. "It's fun because I'm a survivor. I enjoy my grandchildren. Every one of them graduated from college. I enjoy life as a whole. I take every day as it comes.

"As you get older, you lose some of your senses. I can't hardly see anymore, but I play bingo. People help me, but by now, I know where the numbers are.

"When I was 95 years old, I broke my hip. The doctor told my daughter, `She might not walk again.' My daughter said, `You don't know my mom.'

"Not only do I walk, I dance," Page, who turns 100 in September, said. "The other day, I did the electric slide."

Still, Page won't take all the credit for her longevity - it's also the genes, she said.

If that's the case, you might want to try marrying into the family of Carl A. Heinz, who is 101 and lives in Towson. His sister, Kathryn "Kitty" Loane, almost 100, was also at the luncheon.

There was another Kitty at the luncheon, Kathryn "Kitty" Burch, 108 years old. Emcee Stan Stovall, the WBAL-TV anchor, noted she was the oldest person in the room, but then first one and then another attendee quickly corrected him, sending emissaries to inform him that they, too, were 108. Tough crowd.

Along with the Kittys, there was a Verna, two Isabellas, two Sadies, an Ida, a Dora and all sorts of other charming old-fashioned names among the 65 centenarians who RSVP'd to attend the event. (The Social Security Administration said there are 660 of them in the state.) It'll be funny, years from now, to see a luncheon of Hannahs, Dylans, Madisons and other now-trendy names.

But who will be their Willard Scott, the former Today show weatherman who still pops up on occasion to wish a happy birthday to centenarians and the keynote speaker at yesterday's luncheon? Maybe the research to extend life expectancy to 117 years isn't such a bad thing after all.jean.marbella@baltsun.com


Find Jean Marbella's column archive at baltimoresun.com/marbella

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