Dear Nana

Happy Birthday to a 117-Year Old Woman

Dear Nana,

You would have been 117 today, a possibility which wouldn’t have crossed my mind had I not read Neenah Ellis’ If I Live to be 100 – Lessons from the Centenarians, a series of interviews with men, women, and couples between the ages of 100 and 117.

While some of the interviewees were bed-bound or under the care of others, many still lived at home. One woman had feisty red hair that made me think of your stylish cut and color, and this woman got up every day and rowed across the lake behind her house unless the weather got in her way.

Another woman got up every morning and made breakfast for herself and her husband, also 100. “Sadie can’t sleep past six o’clock,” he said and, having timed his wife on the morning of the interview, was able to boast that they had sat down to eat only twelve minutes after he and his wife got out of bed.

I picture you at 117, making your way downstairs to feed the dogs before stepping outside to ponder your gardens. I imagine you sitting in the shade of your plum tree, your fingers idly resting on a canine, or napping in your green chair, the latest copy of Newsweek spread across your lap and the sun spilling from the picture window over your left shoulder. In my mind’s eye, I see you gather a hunk of chives and clip them with your kitchen scissors to snip into a bowl of potato salad.

If I live to be 100, I am reasonably sure that my day will pulse with purpose much the same as yours did. You taught me how to keep everything moving along, high and tight, loosely organized, and comfortable.

Yesterday I met three individuals and my friend, Linda, in her living room. We were there to discuss strategies for Drawdown, a direct line of attack on climate disruption formerly known as climate change or global warming. However you frame it, we desperately need to stop spewing greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere and encourage carbon sequestering, or Drawdown. I know you would be front and center regarding this movement, cheering for Time Magazine’s Person of the Year, Greta Thunberg, and encouraging your grandchildren to take action.

As Linda prepared hibiscus tea in the other room, I enjoyed some light, pre-meeting conversation. Talk of tea led to talk of Kool-Aid, which led to mention of Jim Jones’ cult massacre. Emboldened by how quickly we had skidded onto this deliciously thin ice, I noted the absence of Kool-Aid and new sneakers. “I think we’re probably not going to get beamed up today.”

The younger woman in Linda’s living room raised a quizzical eyebrow, and someone explained how the members of Heaven’s Gate in San Diego, dressed in new shoes, swallowed applesauce laced with fatal levels of phenobarbital and left this world in the spring of 1997. We paused, and I peered out Linda’s ceiling-to-floor windows at the pines, imagining the approach of that spaceship, the light growing more intense until we were all suddenly whisked away into the ether.

“Would you be ready if this was the day?” I asked, turning the question over in my mind. In my 30’s I wanted to live forever, but now I’m not so sure. Someone answered, “No, I still have things I need to take care of, so I don’t leave too much of a mess.”

But I could see myself letting go, staunching the flow of my newsfeed with stories of melting glaciers, coastal flooding, war, protests, and political upheaval. But, as long as I’m here, I know my To-Do ticker tape will keep pushing me out of bed every morning. There will be articles to read, letters to write, chives to snip, and in the spring — because summer is coming, there will be garlic to harvest.

By Camille Armantrout

Camille lives with her soul mate Bob in the back woods of central North Carolina where she hikes, gardens, cooks, and writes.

Don't be shy - leave a comment!