By Stephen Harris
July 7, 2014
My buddy in the church choir here in the hometown leaned over and remarked in awe: “100 years old. Wasn’t that something?”
We had been pressed into service for the funeral of a neighbor and distant cousin of mine. In fact, Flora Tucker was just a month shy of 101 when she passed a month ago.
I had a great-grandmother who made it to 99 and an aunt who made it to 97. But Flora was the first in the extended family to break the century mark.
In case you think 100 is not such a big deal, I once worked for a newspaper down in the city that thought 100 was a big deal. The newspaper, out of respect, had a policy of having a three-deck headline for the obituary of anyone 100 years old or older. That meant three lines in the obituary column instead of the usual one-line headline consisting simply of a name.
It surprised me just how many of those triple-deckers I wrote over the years. And it wasn’t easy coming up with only a word or two per line in a narrow newspaper column. There were only so many ways to write, for instance:
dies at 100
I was visiting a church one time in another town many years ago, and the lady with whom I was keeping company that day whispered to me: “You see that man down there (near the front). He’s 104.”
Really, I marveled. He didn’t look a day over 90.
So in subsequent services I began noticing little things about the centenarian, like his loose-fitting clothes. Another time it was loose-fitting dentures.
I never heard the gentleman speak. He kept his eyes, shielded behind thick horn-rimmed glasses, staring straight ahead. I looked for hearing aids but never saw any. I never saw much reaction from him.
I don’t know how much he was able to take in from the church services as he sat alone in his weekly spot on the far end of the second row. His family had brought him, the lady told me.
But despite such an advanced age and limited capacities he wanted to be in church and there he sat, decked out in his Sunday finery including fedora beside him.
I regret never wrangling an introduction. He would have been the oldest person I have ever met.
Three years later I wrote his triple-decker. With particular admiration.
Every once in a while you hear from some futurist who predicts that modern science is on the brink of dramatically extending the human lifespan. The futurist will say something like modern medicine or research or organ transplants or tissue regeneration or stem cells or some such will make 100 years old common. He or she will predict that normal lifespans will reach 120 years or more.
The preacher at Flora’s funeral described the advancements she saw during her century of life, like automobiles and airplanes and men on the moon. Electricity didn’t come to the ridge until Flora was well into her 20s. The preacher counted six generations that she had known.
If the futurists are correct, and someday soon people will commonly be able to connect with six, or seven or eight generations or more, think of what we could learn. Our great-great grandchildren will be able to ask us about the first man on the moon. Or the Middle East wars. Or the first black president.
I would’ve loved to have had a chance ask my forebears for their eyewitness accounts of Civil War times. But that generation was long gone by the time I came up. All I have is what is recounted in history books and a handful of family stories passed down.
Flora once loaned me an old photo taken at my great-grandparents’ family reunion circa 1920. But she was a little girl at the time and couldn’t identify anybody in the big crowd in the portrait. That knowledge is lost.
And now Flora, the last on the ridge from my grandparents’ generation, is gone.
The Bible prophesies that someday “men and women of ripe old age will sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each with cane in hand because of his age. The city streets will be filled with boys and girls playing there.” (Zechariah 8:4-5)
What a wonderful mixture, what a connection of the generations. May it happen soon.
So my buddy in the choir at Flora’s funeral added, “I’ll never get that far (old).”
My buddy’s about two years older than I. I replied, “When you’re 101, I’m going to remind you of that.”
I mean it. I look forward to making him eat those words. Forty years from now. And I’m going to remind him in a “Hometown” column. Be sure to read it.
Stephen Harris returned home to live in State Road.