One Hundred Spunky Years

By Carrie Luger Slayback

One Hundred Spunky Years

My mom, who died at 98, would have been 100 this July. I miss her and cherish time with her friend, Miriam. Their friendship originated at La Conte Junior High, Hollywood High, and continued through UCLA in 1939.

Now approaching 100, Miriam lives in an art-filled Los Angeles bungalow, attends the opera and hosts yearly poetry readings. Miriam is well under 5 feet tall now. Her periwinkle blue eyes sparkle, blond hair curls around her face, and she wears little 2 inch heels with smart suits. This lady is well put together.

My mom, Harriet Luger, was a writer. She is not here for me to tell, “I have a new health/fitness column in my local newspaper.” However, I sent Miriam some examples of my column. She wrote back, “I preferred your former articles with their daily musings. At least your fitness articles aren’t preachy, but my negative is that I dislike fitness…diets, prohibitions.”

Then she explained that the only nutritional advice she’d ever handed out was recommending her doctor drink scotch.

Anyone living to 100 would want to be like Miriam: Independent, authentically herself, master of her domain. What’s the reason for Miriam’s autonomy and good health? Don’t look to genetics. Miriam’s close relatives were not long-lived. Exercise? Never walked around the block. Diet? Vitamins and vegetable are a bore.

However, Miriam lives a life of moderation and passion. She likes her scotch, one shot. She cooks herself chicken and chops, small portions. She enjoys her own company, but dresses beautifully and gathers friends at the best steakhouse in Los Angeles.

When she had pneumonia, she hunkered down at home with the New York Times, her favorite poetry books, and read herself back to health. She accepted assistance from friends and neighbors, but when her closest friend showed up at her door with a full-time care-giver, Miriam kicked her out along with the help.

Her friend made the mistake of challenging Miriam’s independence. “I told her I wasn’t afraid to die alone in my house,” said Miriam in a fit of pique. 

Yet, on another occasion Miriam hired a nurse to assist her through recovery after hernia surgery. She met the nurse at the transitional facility where she took physical therapy. “He treats me like a person, not patronizing,” she told me.

Courage is Miriam’s outstanding quality. She’s lost her closest relatives including the love of her life. She mourns her husband, a sail boat enthusiast, by telling his stories, like the time he keeled the boat over so far she wouldn’t get back in it for a month. “I never trusted him with my money,” she says, “He was profligate, but charming.”

Miriam’s friends delight her. Until recently she flew to San Francisco with pals to attend the opera. When those same friends had their engagement party at her house, neglecting to order enough food and drink, she rushed to fill in for them but, after the party, she didn’t want to see them for some time. Then she cooled off, and picked up the friendship later.

She takes direction from her trusted doctor, Robert, who respects her outlook. Once he sent her to a cardiac specialist, an arrogant guy who ignored the information she gave him. “If you send me back to that man, I’ll kick him in the balls,” she told Robert.

Miriam is an exemplar of the advice given by University of Minnesota’s Dr James Pacala, President of the American Geriatrics Society, “Refuse to take it slow. There’s a sort of societal expectation that you’re supposed to slow down as you get old, and I think you should fight against that.”

Shortly before we lost my mom, Miriam hired a limo for a final visit. Over scotch she told my mom:

It’s not stamina that makes someone young.
It’s the willingness to do something different.
We’re old, that’s not a definition of who we are.
Of course we’re old.
That’s our claim to fame.

Courage, natural moderation, lively interest in the world: One recipe for living to 100.

About this writer

  • Carrie Luger Slayback Carrie Luger Slayback is an award winning teacher and marathon runner. She writes on fitness and family matters. Her articles appear in the Los Angeles Times, and her series on preparing for the L.A. Marathon, 2014 was published in The Daily Pilot. Carrie lives in Newport Beach, California, with her husband and Chihuahuas.

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