Elaine walked to the table relying only slightly on a cane, an honored guest of our host. She wore sensible shoes, a green cardigan and a khaki hat that made her look quite like the Brit she is. At 102-years old–more than twice the age of most people at our lunch table–Elaine garnered a worshipful respect and when she spoke in her clear, clipped British accent, we listened carefully.
It’s not often you get to chat with someone born in 1910. And when’s the last time you spoke with someone who rode her horse to school eight miles–each way? ”I parked my horse at the pub, you see,” said Elaine, her very old, very sharp mind reaching back nine decades for this memory. ”And when school was over, I would go and pick him up.”
Elaine’s parents had one of the first automobiles. The drive to London from her home in Cornwall took three days–during which they often got stuck on muddy roads. It was not, pronounced Elaine, better than riding her beloved horse.
When I asked Elaine if I could take her picture, she readily agreed, patting her hair to make sure she didn’t have hat head and smiling…just a bit. But later, when I snapped some candid shots she gave me a look. ”You don’t want to break the damn thing!” she scolded–and we all had a good laugh.
In her youth, Elaine attended parties at the homes of dukes and duchesses, mingled with royalty, and once spent the night in a haunted castle. The key to a long life, however–especially a life in which your brain and body continues to work quite admirably long past the centennial mark, was remarkably simple. ”Pumpkin seeds,” said Elaine– and I admit I was hoping for something a little more romantic, like true love. ”And garlic,” she added.
I also felt a bit disappointed when Elaine told me her favorite age had been eighteen. Fifty (or 60, 70,80, or 90) would have been nice so I’d have something to look forward to. But Elaine sighed when she remembered her youth. ”Eighteen is a great age because you get rid of the school knickers, you see,” she explained–and it was easy to see how sweet those first years of freedom must have been for a woman coming of age in 1928.
Lunch with Elaine made me happy, but I’m not sure she felt the same. A superb swimmer and equestrian in her time (and a dog lover), with a caring husband who kept her company until he died at the age of 86, for Elaine, life at 102 is lonely. She lives far away from her beloved Cornwall by the sea now, and all her dogs and friends are “under the sod, you see.” Elaine told me she is simply waiting to die. ”When you get to the point where you can’t walk your dog down the beach or jump your horse over a hedgerow, it’s time to go,” she said, quite matter-of-factly. And I can see the wisdom in that too.
But like her body and her mind, Elaine’s spirit is still hanging in there. After eating chocolate cake for dessert with obvious pleasure, she invited me to visit her next summer when she returns to Cornwall on holiday. ”It’s lovely there,” she said. ”We’ll have some fun!” And then this delightful centenarian winked, her hooded grey eyes twinkling, and added, “if I’m still alive.”