The long haul: Nadworny on longevity

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(HOST) Earlier this spring, VPR commentators gathered at Sugarbush Resort to address a common theme, and this week we’re hearing some of their thoughts on "The Long Haul."  Commentator Rich Nadworny found himself pondering the secrets of long life.

(NADWORNY) When I think of the long haul, I think of my grandmother and her siblings. Four first generation Americans who were born at the end of the 1800’s and lasted until the end of the 1900s, from my grandmother living to 95 to Uncle Robbie, who lasted until 104.

104! He looked like George Burns; he had these big, round glasses and always a cigar in his mouth. At 100, he stopped driving. At 99, he confided in me that he was tired of these 80-something year old women who kept chasing him, because they were only interested in one thing – and, at 99, he was done with "that."

My mom, her siblings and her cousins watched in awe as their parents, uncles and aunts grew older and older. They congratulated themselves on having a family with such good genes and started picturing themselves in the long haul.

Except that most of my mom’s generation didn’t make it. While my mom is still around, her siblings and cousins started dropping off in their 60s and 70s, stricken by various ailments. I don’t know whether it was the cigarettes they smoked imitating Bette Davis and Paul Henreid in Now Voyager, or whether it was the drinking water at James Monroe High School in the Bronx, but they didn’t make it as far as their parents did.

It’s ironic, actually. My grandmother’s father, Jacob, landed in America and went from fruit peddler to fruit wholesaler in a decade. And, when he was in his mid 40s, he had a sudden heart attack and died, leaving his young family to run the business themselves.

My grandmother and her siblings took nothing for granted. Their father’s early death gave them an appreciation for the little things. They took care to celebrate every milestone, to stay connected, to take care of themselves, and to not look too far ahead.

Maybe that’s the key for the long haul: an appreciation for the here and now, and celebrating often. We should all be so lucky. And maybe, when we’re 99, some frisky 80 year old will think we’re still "hot."


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