Even though I know a number of women who are well over 90, I had never met a centenarian until I visited Bruce's amazing Aunt Edna on the occasion of her 100th birthday.
We had missed out on the official party because of the 6-day flu. However, we were fine to travel a few days later, so off we went --two hours there, two hours back--to help out with the left-overs and deliver birthday wishes.
I don't know Edna very well, but arriving just for lunch and not for a big celebration, I had a bit more time to visit and talk with the birthday girl.
Edna lives with her daughter and that may account for her excellent health. She is mobile and sharp-witted, an inspiration to those of us who have a few more years to cover before we reach that auspicious milestone. Most women her age would be getting about with a cane at the very least, but no assistance was required as she cut us pieces of angel-food birthday cake (her favourite), put them on china plates with silver dessert forks, and delivered them to where we were seated.
The care with which she served that cake is no accident. For 23 years, Edna worked at Birks Jewellers, a job she adored. Surrounded by beautiful china, crystal and silver, she was in her element. Her job provided an outlet for her artistic interests and talents, and she still talks about this experience with pride and pleasure.
I was amazed that at 100 years, she still considers her work-life so significant -- a defining part of her life story. Then I began to think about the other older women that I know, and I realized that many of them are just like Edna. In spite of all they have experienced over a lifetime, when they tell you about themselves they are very likely to say-- within the first five minutes -- "I was the office manager at So and So", or "I was a legal secretary until I retired" or "I was a high school English teacher" even though it has been as many as 30 years since they last drew a paycheck.
I don't know what to think about this. Will I reach my nineties still looking fondly back on my career as a librarian? I don't doubt it. Or are there other identities I could be cultivating in the years that remain? (That was my intention when I first retired!) I remind myself of what else I might become: Volunteer. Traveller. Gardener. Grandmother. The first days of a new year are a perfect time to have this interior conversation.
And it is not as if I (and my age-mates) don't have a good chance of reaching 90 or even 100 -- especially if the array of cards on Edna's sideboard has any significance. When I bought our card, it was one of two 100th-birthday cards in the shop. I picked the nicest, prepared to discover that Edna already had several duplicates. But ours was the only one of that design. In fact, with exception of a couple of twins, all her cards were unique. Some were garden-variety birthday cards, but most enthusiastically trumpeted 100! 100! 100! In other words, Edna may be my only 100-year-old celebrant, but there are obviously quite few others out there.
Oh my. Consider the implications. If I am fortunate enough, healthy enough, to survive that long, I will probably have lots of company. And if that is the case, I figure we all need to start thinking now about what we want to talk about as we dig into that angel food cake.