At my 91-year-old aunt’s table in the assisted living facility sit four women. Sometimes I join them for lunch. Old age has turned all four women into quiet companions, but my aunt looks forward to their company. When my aunt and I eat at a separate table, she keeps looking over to see how her companions are doing.
Genevieve is a mild woman who raised her three children in a home less than five minutes away from where she sits now. She is interested in me and my book. Irene is a former international lawyer who prefers to be called “Doctor.” In the last few years she has suffered two broken legs, two bouts of pneumonia, and the loss of her son, but she has an old-school stoicism and suffers her pain with grace. The last, besides my aunt, is Georgie. She is 102 years old, which means she was born before the First World War, in 1912.
When epidemics rage, Georgie is untouched. Sometimes she sits alone at the table while her three table mates fight off the latest bug to rage through the facility. Every day she plays backgammon with laughter but no trace of competitiveness. She is ambulatory and fully with it. The only deficit I have ever noted is her memory, but not in the way you would think.
I am curious about the world she grew up in. What music did she dance to? Does she remember the first time she saw a moving picture? An airplane? A television set? What was her wedding like? She might remember Armistice Day in 1918. My late mother, who was born in 1910, remembered it.
But Georgie floats like a cork on life. She says, “I don’t remember any of those things. I just get up every morning and say my prayers to thank God that I am here. I take one day at a time. I don’t worry.” That’s as deep as it gets.
Maybe Georgie knows the secret of life. If so, I am not going to survive to 102.