Yesterday was my Aunt Hilda’s hundredth birthday.
I couldn’t reach her in the morning (her 8:45 am in Seattle, my 11:45 in New York). When I caught up with her at noon Pacific Time, she said she’d been at a dance exercise class, where they celebrated her birthday with flowers. She was about to go out for lunch with her son, with more festivities planned for later in the day. “Maybe I'll get a free glass of wine at dinner,” she said. “I’m enjoying the fuss. It certainly isn’t going to come around again.”
I asked if she’d gotten a phone call from President Obama—not that I really expected it, since a lot more people seem to be living to a hundred these days than ever before. “No, but he sent me a very nice letter,” she said, “well written.” Among my aunt’s many talents are editorial skills. She also has political opinions. Luckily, her milestone birthday came during an administration that she didn’t mind getting a letter from. “I also got a letter from André Agassi, the tennis star,” she said. “I don’t know who spilled the beans to him that I still play tennis, but someone must have.”
On her last birthday, or maybe it was the one before, when I asked Aunt Hilda the secret of doing well at an advanced age, she said, “Resilience!” I thought it was an astute comment and have repeated it many times. So yesterday, I asked her if she had any words of wisdom for all the people who consider her an inspiration. “I’m wondering why I don’t know more than I know,” she said. I thought that was kind of a Zen response, indicative of humility in the spiritual sense, intellectual curiosity, and openness to learning, though she would have laughed dismissively if I had said so.
While she has less energy than she used to, she’s in good health, and she certainly has all her marbles. “You have the genes,” she said. “You’ll get there too.” “If the planet doesn’t fall apart before then,” I said, and we talked for a while about what a terrible world it is. “We had such high hopes,” she said. I didn’t know if she was talking about the last Presidential election or the 20th century. “People are no damn good,” she said. But she laughed when she said it.