TRUE STORIES — Centenarian countdown

J.T. Knoll
J.T. Knoll

I had a birthday this week. Just 28 more years and I’ll be a hundred.

Don’t laugh. It could happen. Mother Helen is 97. Her sister, Jo, 101. Such are my Fowler genes.

One of the reasons I selected Mark Carlson as my physician was that I saw his patient, Frank Bozick, dance the polka in the Republic of Frontenac on his 100th birthday.

Presently there are 90,000 centenarians in the U.S. By the time I get there it’s estimated that there will be half a million.

No doubt I’ll have to get some aftermarket replacement parts installed along the way to 100. But, after seeing how well Linda’s titanium and ceramic hip replacement worked out, I’m not too concerned.

Right now I have a touch of rheumatism in my back, knees and thumbs, occasional vertigo, and sporadic gaps in memory, none of which require invasive surgery — or prevent me from dancing a polka. Or rock and roll, for that matter. Something Linda and I are eager to do now that the vaccine is allowing us to mingle again.

Although I don’t plan to go back to a 9 to 5 job there’s no reason to believe I can’t start a new creative endeavor. Renowned folk artist Grandma Moses didn’t start painting until she was 78 years old. At the age of 100, she admitted, “I have a lot of boyfriends. That’s the way to stay young.”

Sounds like Grandma had some twinkles in her wrinkles.

Centenarian George Burns, who was still doing standup, said in a Vegas appearance, “It’s good to be here. At 100 years old it’s good to be anywhere.”

Queen Elizabeth’s mother, aka the Queen Mother, was 101 years old when she passed away. And while she spent her years fulfilling her duties as a royal, she also had a zest for life. Here’s a quote from an interview in her 90s.

"Wouldn't it be terrible if you'd spent all your life doing everything you were supposed to do, didn't drink, didn't smoke, didn't eat things, took lots of exercise, and suddenly, one day, you were run over by a big red bus and, as the wheels were crunching into you, you'd say, 'Oh my God, I could have got so drunk last night. That's the way you should live your life, as if tomorrow you'll be run over by a big red bus."

Mother Helen aligns well with the Queen Mother school of life as she was known to enjoy a few cocktails, smoked like a chimney most of her life, and abhorred exercise.

As for my Knoll genes, dad lived to be 88, which is 10 years past the current average for an American male. But he didn’t have Dr. Carlson as his physician and smoked well into his 80s.

After his triple bypass, he told his heart doctor, who was concerned about his smoking risk to his heart, lungs and overall health, “I’ve been smoking since I was 11 and it hasn’t killed me yet.” The doctor replied, “Yeah, you’re lucky. You probably got the Marlboro gene, John.”

So, given the fact that I don’t smoke, watch my intake of cholesterol, exercise, and half my genes come from the Fowler side, I figure I’ve got a decent shot at 100.

No doubt by then I’ll be bald as cue ball. From the 1970s to the mid-1980s I had a head of thick, wavy, red hair that fell nearly to my shoulders. Then it happened. A small, faint spot showed up in the back.

The spot has grew a little each year — and my hairline receded in front to meet it — so I was forced to accept the reality that I was going to end up bald like my father and both grandfathers.

I tried to counter it by pulling my hair into a small ponytail. Sure I was losing my hair, it proclaimed, but I was still cool. I eventually cut it off because, rather than hip, I came to see that a ponytail on a balding, middle-aged man looks more like a subtle cry for help.

These days I force myself look at my threadbare crown in the mirror a little more often and be mindful of the paradox of it all — as expressed by my favorite curmudgeon, Andy Rooney.

“The idea of living a long life appeals to everyone,” Rooney said. “But the idea of getting old doesn’t appeal to anyone.”

J.T. Knoll is a writer, speaker and eulogist. He also operates Knoll Training & Consulting in Pittsburg. He can be reached at 620-704-1309 or jtknoll@swbell.net