Columns and stories of life from the Fredericksburg area.
‘You won’t catch her in a bathrobe’
MILESTONES: 102-YEAR-OLD IS IN THE PINK
By CATHY DYSON
THE FREE LANCE-STAR
Miss Gerry doesn’t understand all the fuss.
People around her are always commenting about how nice she looks and how amazing she is, but Miss Gerry doesn’t get it.
“I’m too old to be of value to anybody,” said the soft-spoken woman, whose full name is Geraldine M. Oden. “That’s the way it is when you’re 102.”
People at Lake Anna Elder Care would say otherwise. Miss Gerry is one of three full-time residents at the small facility, which is set up like a home with bedrooms and a dining area. Her caregivers say she stands out among the senior set because of her physical and mental well-being.
“She is very special,” said facility owner Lorine Brown. “She’s just as coherent as she can be and she wants to meet anybody who comes in. She’s a delight.”
Miss Gerry also takes great pride in her appearance. She wouldn’t consider walking out of her bedroom without a fully accessorized outfit. Pink is often her color of choice, and on a recent day, she was decked out in a pink flowered shirt that matched her jacket and pants, as well as necklace and earrings.
“You won’t catch her in a bathrobe all day long,” said Nancy Lear, her daughter, who lives in Bumpass.
“Not her style,” Brown added.
Miss Gerry moved into the Lake Anna home in April because she needed more care than Nancy and her husband, Dick, could provide. Miss Gerry fell and broke her hip the day after she turned 100 and has had regular spills since then.
“I haven’t fallen for quite a while,” Miss Gerry said defiantly as she maneuvered her walker.
“Not since last week,” her daughter quipped.
Miss Gerry laughed. “That wasn’t fair,” she said.
Miss Gerry spent almost 90 years in and around the Seattle area. She misses the mountains and Puget Sound and has fond memories of rose gardens she cultivated.
“A weed would not dare be in her yard,” her daughter said, remembering the meticulous way her mother tended the rich, black soil.
Miss Gerry was raised in a sawmill town and later moved to a bigger area, about the size of Louisa, in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains. She smiled at the memories of skiing trips and hikes with her younger brother, Jack.
A photo of him, in his late 20s or so, hangs in her room, above her favorite chair. Snow-capped mountains loom in the background.
Jack was killed at the end of World War II, and the mere mention of his name still brings tears to her eyes.
“It’s just like it was yesterday for her,” Lear said. “It always has been.”
Miss Gerry’s parents, Guy and Florence Streeter, weren’t able to get the formal education they desired, but read as much as they could. He preferred Homer and the classics; she prized an institutional-size unabridged dictionary.
Lear has the book on display in her home, atop a stand made by Miss Gerry’s father.
Miss Gerry also keeps a dictionary close by, just as her mother did. If she comes across a word she doesn’t understand in the daily papers or a book, which she totes around in her walker, she refers to the resource.
Another ritual is her evening nightcap.
“She likes her glass of red wine before she lies down in the evening,” said Tracy Plovish, a nursing assistant who’s worked with elderly patients for seven years. “Maybe that’s her secret. From the first day I started working with her, she never forgot my name. I just have this terrible thing with my memory, and I’m in my 40s. Her memory is incredible.”
Miss Gerry’s daughter calls her a “women’s libber” before her time. Miss Gerry did practically any outdoor activity her brother did when they were younger, studied English literature and journalism in college and worked for the Defense Intelligence Agency during World War II.
Later, she was a legal secretary for a prominent Seattle firm and fulfilled her lifelong ambition to travel to the Far East when she retired.
“When I was growing up in Seattle, if someone drove to California, that was a big deal,” her daughter said. “For the average person of her generation, she’s seen a lot.”
Nursing assistant Plovish enjoys listening to Miss Gerry’s stories and says that’s another thing about the well-dressed woman that’s unheard of, as far as she’s concerned.
“Sometimes, you can’t get people in their 70s and 80s to tell you accurate information of things they’ve done,” Plovish said. “A lot of them have this story to tell, but they reach a certain age, and it can never be told.
“I feel like she’s this novel.”
Most people who live to be 100 have some things in common, according to the Centenarian, a website from the United Kingdom.
TEND TO BE TALL and lean, not obese.
HAVE NOT SUFFERED from typical “old-age” issues such as diabetes or cardiovascular disease.
SHOWED NO SIGNS of cognitive difficulties or dementia before age 92.
NEVER SMOKED heavily or abused alcohol.
ARE ABLE to deal with stress.
HAVE CHILDREN who are in their 70s or 80s with few age-related disorders
HAD CHILDREN late in life, after 40.
HAVE AT LEAST one other long-lived close relative.
LIVE IN non-industrial and less-toxic environments.
ARE PROFOUND believers in the spiritual.
How unusual is it to live to be 100 these days? According to the 2010 Census, one of every 5,786 Americans has hit that milestone.
Here’s the data: The census recorded 53,364 people in the United States who were 100 years old and over. The total population was 308,745,538. Divide the total by the number of centenarians to get 5,786.
Cathy Dyson: 540/374-5425