December 6, 2009

USA: Formula for longevity no longer a mystery

. AUGUSTA, Georgia / The Augusta Chronicle / Columnists / December 6, 2009 Formula for longevity no longer a mystery By Bill Kirby | Columnist
Live your life and forget your age. -- Norman Vincent Peale
My great-uncle celebrated his 100th birthday Thanksgiving week, and many in my family made the trip to his Kentucky hometown to mark the centennial. His church opened up the basketball gymnasium to handle the crowd, which shared the hospitality of cake and punch. The mayor had a proclamation. And the local newspaper did a front-page story. For his part, Uncle Edgar played the engaging center of attention. Dapperly dressed in a dark suit and tie, he greeted most everyone with a firm handshake and the almost perpetual smile that has been his trademark for 10 decades. He has a cane, but I didn't notice him use it. He stood up straight, and his hair is still thick and gray, not white. He still drives, too. The only noticeable infirmity that we could blame on the century's wear and tear was a hearing challenge. This was apparent after we had marched him to the big cake, where he blew out some token candles while we sang Happy Birthday . That's when someone asked, "What's the secret to living to be 100?" The question had to be repeated -- shouted, actually -- because he didn't seem to hear it. By then, we were all quiet because we wanted to know the answer. My uncle paused a moment, grinned at the audience and said, "Just hang on." And we all burst out in laughter, clapped for a bit, then returned to our seats to eat cake, visit with cousins and ponder this simple truth of longevity. As far as anyone can tell, my uncle is the first in our family to reach 100. He has outlived his wife, a daughter, both younger brothers and several sisters, including my grandmother. There have been disappointments and illnesses and even a bad car wreck many years ago, but still he made it to an age where you attend more funerals than weddings and peer pressure is not much of a problem. How? We all want to know, but I don't think it's something you can tell others so much as you can show them. For a century, that is what my uncle has done, and I could probably get it down to this: - Be active in your church. Those buildings with steeples are not just places for holidays. Believe, stay involved, serve others for 100 years, and they're likely to throw you a party. - Keep up. I hate to admit it, but my 100-year-old uncle can do things with a computer that I cannot. When you start out as a railroad telegraph operator tapping out Morse code, the technology must seem easier. - Don't listen to your critics. This becomes increasingly easy as you outlive past naysayers and can turn down the hearing aid volume on the current crop. - Be optimistic. I don't ever remember him being grumpy. He was always smiling, and there was always a twinkle to it -- like he was about to share some important yet humorous secret. "Hang on," indeed. The second hundred years is officially under way. [rc] Bill Kirby is the Metro Editor for The Augusta Chronicle. E-Mail: © 2009 The Augusta Chronicle