ADDY: Do you have any idea why you lived so long?
MARIE: Well I always tell people, the first thing you do, is to select your ancestors.
ADDY: This is Marie.
MARIE: My name is Marie, and I am 110 years old. I was born September 3rd, 1908 in Pennyslvania.
ADDY: Marie is my great aunt. Growing up, I heard many stories about Marie, but I had never really listened to her tell her stories before.
MARIE: Those were the days when things were simpler, haha.
ADDY: Today, Marie and I are sitting in her living room. This house has been her home for over 40 years. Candy dishes dot the room, and on the walls are several of Marie’s paintings, mostly illustrations of flowers and still lifes that she made in her younger years. In the kitchen, there’s a sign above the 70s-style wooden cabinets that reads “Kitchen closed on account of illness. I’m sick of cooking!” Books stack the staircase up to the second floor, and there’s that somewhat musty smell familiar to older people’s homes.
I think for recording, it can just be whatever we want it to be….so
So why don’t you…
Ask some questions?
MARIE: At that time, we lived down on Tredor St in Hartford, and all around where we lived, the soil was sort of a gray-ish color and it was very sandy. I found out afterward that there was a little pond right there. We youngsters used to go out there and dig trenches, because we were hearing all about the world war and so on. We heard about airplanes and what they were doing at that time. I remember at that time, my brother Mal and I were out there in the trench, because we were digging so we could walk around in it…We did a marvelous job of that….As we were out there playing, all of a sudden, we could hear a motor, and we looked up and it was an airplane coming along. We were scared to death; we thought we were going to be bombed. We threw everything down and ran into the house and told my mother all about it. That was the first airplane that I had ever seen, and I’ve never forgotten it.
ADDY: I ask Marie about her parents, her mother.
MARIE: But at that time, I don’t remember women, except the very wealthy women, being involved with a lot of things that I think…the home and the church were probably the two most important things at that time. But she wanted youngsters to behave, and be honest, and so on. She was a really wonderful mother, in every sense of the word…[fade]
ADDY: It can be hard for me to listen to Marie for any long stretch of time. She has an incredible memory, but the memories are lodged far, far back, and can get muddled in the in-between. But every so often, there’s a gem:
MARIE: She made our ice cream. She would get up Sunday mornings, before the rest of us were up, and would be making the ice cream when I got up to get ready for church. When she had that all ready, she’d put it into the big container. My father never got around to going to church, he always had so many other things to do. While we were are church, he would freeze, because those were the days when you had to crank the ice cream and freeze it. And when we came home, why, we were all looking forward to dessert after our dinner. Both of them had made wonderful freezer full, so we’d have a whole gallon of ice cream that we could enjoy.
ADDY: Unlike most women of her time, Marie never married.
MARIE: I’m independent. Too many men had their own ideas, and I did too. And so…it’s a matter of making a choice. And I…well look, even my own father thought that women driving cars was not to be a part of the family. And it was the thing, many many women were not allowed to drive cars.
ADDY: Instead, Marie became a teacher and school psychologist.
She wrote poetry and played piano.
She traveled around the world.
MARIE: England. Egypt. New Zealand.
I’m getting rusty on these names because I don’t use these terms at all.
Want me to answer?
Yes, if you well.
*Riiiiing* [call from…]
Okay, hold on…Pastor Adams wants to know if he can pick you up Friday for lunch, or come over for lunch?
Who is it?
Oh Pastor Adams.
Are you available for Friday lunch?
I think I got…I think Linda has made an appointment for me for something, but I can’t think what it would be.
Ok…Do you want to call him back tomorrow?
Yes I think I better do that.
ADDY: These days, Marie spends almost all her time at home. She follows current politics, manages her affairs, and writes letters. She wants to publish a book of poetry. But like the rest of us, she struggles to find the time.
MARIE: There just hasn’t been the time…to sit and sort that stuff.
ADDY: I’ll admit, sometimes I feel sad sitting in Marie’s house. This place, and her life, haven’t really changed in the last 30 years. Marie is doing miraculously well for 110, but she still has health issues. She can get frustrated with how much time and energy it takes to do the simplest of tasks. She is a beloved member of her small town, but most of her closest friends died more than 30 or 40 years ago.
Whenever I visit her, Marie reminds me acutely of the bittersweetness of aging. Of living so old that you observe more than a century of history, the world changing in ways you could never have imagined. The stream of people entering and then leaving your life. Your body slowing down. Memories getting tangled.
But Marie also demonstrates a vitality I can’t ignore. I will always be in awe of her: her independence, stubbornness, and life.
So if you do want to live a long life, follow Marie’s advice:
MARIE: …Then you just live…moderately. You don’t go into excess at anything. My friends when growing up as teenagers particularly were all smoking. They were after me over and over and over again. All of them have been gone for a long long time. I only smoked part of two cigarettes up at camp to get the mosquitos out of our tents. The only time.
ADDY: And no matter what age you live to:
MARIE: Whatever you do, remember: if it’s worth doing at all, it’s worth doing well…it’s a long time ago.
But you still remember that.