Time to Redefine A Senior Citizen & Hold On To A Moment: A Continuing Journey to Jersey Centenarians by Calvin Schwartz September 27, 2016
I love; tiptoeing through the tulips, having a warm gust of wind carry me back to a red mountain top in Sedona, Arizona, and a synchronistic meeting in a parking lot five years ago that got me an invite to Emily Cook’s 102nd Birthday Party. As an aspiring journalist for NJDiscover back then, I accepted that invitation. Who knew that it would help change the course of relevance and create a better awareness to passages and stages of life.
I went to Emily’s 102nd party and her 103rd and along the way became friends with her, visiting, sometimes randomly, but always managing to talk about her favorite President, Hoover. We didn’t see eye to eye on that. There was something precious about her; a living breathing Google trip back to the Depression. The foundation to seek out other Emily’s was secured. I began a series of interviews with other centenarians like the wondrous William Zimmerman, who told me about WWII, his Navy ship deployed at D-day and later in the Pacific theater. How vibrant and colorful their descriptions; how passionate and eager to contribute. How valuable their experience.
Deep inside my complicated cerebral cellular mechanisms, I began to focus on centenarians, senior citizens, assumptions, stereotypes and Charles Dickens’ Spirit of Christmas yet to be. Not yet a magnificent obsession, but this aging gig is on my mind. Yes, in 1965, I began taking my cocktail of between 40 and 60 supplements a day which I still do; some of which is designed to keep the cerebral faculties bristling with input and output.
There is a careful theme to this opening discussion. A few weeks ago, I spent the afternoon at one of the world’s largest social media companies. When finished, somewhat tongue and cheek, I remarked, “Eureka, there is no one over 30 here!” Not necessarily true, but ball park stuff. I did write a two-page observation about what over 30 people could contribute. I also frequently reference the 1976 movie ‘Logan’s Run.’ In that world, no one over 30 is around. Your hand lights up when you hit that magic age and you are vaporized.
A few months ago, I got involved as a mentor of sorts to a young executive team (no one over 23) at PeduL (pedul.com), a brave new company/ world of crowdfunding college tuition. The involvement reason is that all my years of corporate world (mostly & wonderfully at Luxottica Group/eyewear) with its concentration on communicative (talking) pursuits which ultimately could open doors for this very young team. Their generation texts; mine talks.
I co-host Rock on Radio; a few months ago, our guests were a punk rock band. I noted before broadcasting that I was a half-century older than each band member but the interview flowed seamlessly; perfect bonding. Our NJ Discover LIVE TV Show, which I co-host, was recently added to the lineup of Rutgers University TV; a young audience that is so easy to relate to. There’s never a thought about age. So maybe we have to re-define what a senior citizen is?
With my background of coverage and concern with older folks, my friend, Darci Voight Kennedy, from We Care Adult Care in Middletown, NJ, (http://www.wecareadultcare.com/ ) has invited me for the past two years to be a special guest to interact and interview. Their facility focuses on day care for Alzheimer’s and dementia and what a caring amazing staff of professionals. Of course I found my friend Malcolm Murray (WWII Vet) again and we talked after the musical guest finished. They were honoring Adult Care Week. I also talked to Reese Woods, another Army Veteran who served post WWII in Germany for six years before a career with National Lead; he was just so colorful, expressive with a great sense of humor.
The group sang God Bless America then I asked to say a few words to the group. My theme was simple; how valuable and precious they are and still can give so much back. I mentioned my new career as a novelist and journalist after turning 65 and fielded a few questions like how was I able to do that? The answer is in the paragraphs above.
Now to Malcolm Murray, 95, meticulously dressed, smiling broadly, who waited. Affability consumed his face. He jumped up to shake hands and a photo-op. Malcolm was born in North Carolina. “I didn’t have a father so my mother raised me and my three brothers, Otto, David and Willie. My mother had a laundromat. I helped put them through school.” He spoke proudly about that. It was easy to hear it in his voice. I forgot his age. “You have to respect family.” That resonated with me. It still does.
He mentioned a brother in the Navy, a para-trooper and the last brother was an engineer. He joined the Army in 1942 and was trained at Camp Robinson in Arkansas. In Mid-October, 1942, Malcolm was deployed to England. “In 1944, I went to France as part of D-Day. I didn’t know whether to be scared or not. I was in a tank battalion under General George Patton. We got to within three miles of Berlin. I loved General Patton. I met him. He called me ‘son.’ I loved being in a tank.” Then Malcolm said something profound. “I think everyone should be in the Army to protect the country and learn discipline.”
After the war he came back to North Carolina and worked on a fishing boat. Again Malcolm moved me. “I wanted my kids, Maxine and Malcolm, to have an education so I worked hard. This is what my wife and I talked about.” Eventually Malcolm moved to New Jersey and joined a local labor union out of Matawan. When I asked him what the greatest change he observed in his life, he said, “labor unions.” His favorite President was Franklin Roosevelt. I told him he was in such good shape and so sharp to talk to. “How come?” I asked. “I worked hard all the time.”
Malcolm likes sports but mostly football and baseball and is a Dodgers and Mets fan. I like to probe techniques to longevity. He rarely ever smoked. As far as his favorite food, “Whatever I can get.” We both laughed. He likes Army movies because “I lived it.” “And music?” “I like everything. I like the Blues and Louis Armstrong.” I asked Malcolm if I could come back to talk some more. “I’d like that,” he said with authority. And then our handshake which lingered; it meant we liked each other and looked forward. And I do. This was my second year in a row back with Malcolm. I repeated some of our chat from last year. He was just as vibrant. And yes, maybe we should redefine.