I went to a special birthday party over the weekend.
My grandmother, Eva Reader, turned 103.
It was an interesting party. After all, I’ve never met, yet alone known, a 103-year-old before.
Too often, people my grandmother’s age are not as mentally sharp as they once were, even though their bodies have managed to hang on.
Not so with Grandma.
Grandma is sharp.
She loves to recite poetry, reads constantly and hasn’t voted for a Democrat since Franklin Roosevelt in 1932. (She didn’t like the New Deal, but thought it was high time to get rid of Prohibition.)
She is also the oldest resident at the Knox County Nursing Home.
Whenever I visit her, I’m struck by the fact that most of her fellow residents are a full generation younger. Before she was admitted to the home, I never considered nursing home to be multigenerational spots. Now I know.
She was born into a nation much different from today’s America:
The American flag had 46 stars — New Mexico, Arizona, Hawaii and Alaska hadn’t been admitted to the Union yet.
Like 95 percent of the babies born in 1910, she was delivered at home.
The average life expectancy in the United States was 47.
There were only 8,000 cars in the United States and only 144 miles of paved roads.
Only 14 percent of the homes in the United States had a bathtub.
That final point was brought home for me when I helped my grandmother clean out her basement a few years ago and came across a small galvanized wash tub.
Grandma explained that she heated the tub filled with water atop a wood stove to bathe my newborn father. Dad turns 82 this year.
She learned to cook on a woodstove, and was still cooking on one well into middle age.
Back in the 1970s, when my older brother bought a bright red Camaro, she shared with me how teenage boys, when she was growing up, would pick up their dates not in a sports car, but in a carriage with a matching team of horses. (Apparently that was the essence of cool in the early 1900s.)
So what is the secret to living to be 103?
Grandma had a long, loving marriage — 74 years — to my Grandpa Ralph, who died at age 99 in 2004.
She exercised regularly, walking at least a mile daily with Grandpa.
Fruits and vegetables were part of every meal.
Grandma never smoked or drank.
When one passes 100, memories become more important.
Grandma spends far more time today remembering and almost no time planning.
But by far the most important historical event to shape her life was the Great Depression.
Her riches are stored in her heart, in her love for God, her family and her country.
Happy birthday, Grandma.
Scott Reeder is a veteran statehouse reporter and the journalist in residence at the Illinois Policy Institute.