if only we could choose our jeans … err, genes

Last night Hubby and I attended our friend Ann’s annual cookout. She sets up tables and chairs on the small lawn outside, fires up the gas grill, and guests arrive with a dish to share plus whatever they’d like to have cooked on the grill. People of all ages attend, all friends of Ann’s, and they’re from her hiking clubs or Osher classes (where we met her) or they share a common work background. Last night, our second time, there was a young woman who may or may not have been in her 20’s and there were several who had probably reached the point where the most expensive creams and ointments in the world would be lost in all the wrinkles. I felt right at home.

Ann usually holds this cookout in August, but this year she moved it up to June because she’ll be leaving sometime in August for what will probably be a six-month around the world cruise (on a program called Semester-at-Sea), this after returning in May from a four-month cruise on the same program. When the tour ship docked in Chennai (formerly Madras) for a few days, it was December and, not surprisingly, quite warm for a westerner so she was not impressed with the extreme poverty, dirt and stench she witnessed,. We, Hubby and I, assured her that indeed India was a beautiful country and gave her our opinion about places she should try to visit on her own. Now she’s planning to go to India sometime on her own, and with her own travel agenda. Oh, did I mention that Ann turned 89 years old a couple of weeks ago?

She still hikes with her adventure club, but hasn’t been kayaking since last summer. I said to her, “Ann! You must bottle it! And I’ll buy a bottle.” referring of course to how great it would be if you could bottle whatever aging secrets people like her–whose 89 is like 65 for most people–have. She didn’t launch into a lecture about clean living or only eating healthful foods or even about staying active as a secret to successful aging.

“It’s the genes,” she admitted. “I inherited my father’s good genes.”

I couldn’t help thinking of all the things I seem to have inherited from my family genes. The women is my mother’s family were generally in the 80’s and 90’s when they died; my mother was 10 days shy of her 85th birthday. So the odds were (are?) good that I can look forward to the same, except that now I must factor in the cancer with the lower-case c. It’s too early to tell how that will change things. I say it’s just too bad that–before we’re born–we can’t go to a gene’s store and choose our own for a perfect fit like Ann’s.

It turns out Ann’s father died when he was 98 years old while he was on a cruise. He was about half way into finishing a book he was writing. I didn’t think to ask what he died of. Later on when we were talking about it, Hubby wondered if he’d been shot by a jealous husband.

16 thoughts on “if only we could choose our jeans … err, genes

  1. What a wonderful lady she is. I love folks like her. My grandfather took yearly trips into his 90’s, but his cousin lived to be 114 or 115 and moved from Cleveland to Florida back and forth every year. Maybe we would like that too if we could keep on learning. πŸ™‚

    • Wow, some people not only know how to live but have the money to do it well, too! I shouldn’t complain as we’re living quite well compared to many people in retirement. Our lifestyle is pretty simple and that helps, too, as long as the health holds out for a little more travel before we get too decrepit to move around.

  2. This Ann is remarkable! One of so many women in that age group that I admire. I do feel genes have a lot to do with our longevity, health, etc. But I think I differ with her on the “staying active” part……from what I saw in my many years of nursing, staying active (be it physical, mental or social) seemed to be the number one factor in keeping people young in mind, spirit and body.
    Nice to see you’re doing okay, Alice and I enjoy your posts.
    A very HAPPY FATHER’S DAY to hubby! And hugs to you.

    • I agree to that, Terri. Mental–even social–we’ve covered pretty well so far. It’s the physical that concerns me a little. I just read in our Sunday PARADE magazine that research shows cancer survivors have one thing in common: they never consider themselves “cured”–even oncologists are careful not to use the word. NED is the buzz word. No Evidence of Disease. I guess I need to be thankful and hope that old NED stays around for a long time. Being 98 and on a cruise writing a book wouldn’t be a bad way to go, would it?

  3. Ahhhh! Yes! The genes. The good, the bad and the ugly. I never knew I had a family history of breast cancer on my father’s said because people in that generation didn’t even SAY the word “Breast”. After my diagnosis I learned that 4 females on my fathers side, two of his aunts in their 40s and two cousins in their 60s got breast cancer and the two aunts each died in their 40’s of the disease. Yet, when tested for the 2 breast cancer genes we know about (BRCA1 & 2), I was negative. My geneticist is convinced that there are other breast cancer genes yet unidentified, that I COULD be carrying, but there is not a test for them right now. Let’s pray there will be a test in a couple of years. I have a 17 year old daughter for whom I never want to go through what I’ve been through. Knowing your family history is critical from an early age. Learn what your ancestors died from and at what age. If I had been armed with this knowledge, maybe my doctors would have not been so quick to put me on 15 years of birth control pills which gave me an increased risk to one I already carried with me. That said, all of my immediate grandparents lived to 87-97 years of age. I pray you and I will do the same!

    • You know, Koryn, one of the things that makes me know how lucky I am in spite of going through all this is seeing all the younger women going through treatment before they’ve even decided what they want to do with their lives. I was 67, and mine was caught in the early stage 1. I’m glad to see genetic counseling is becoming a bigger part of the whole picture of health care. For you daughter and mine and my granddaughter (4), it’s so important to know your family’s health history like you say.

  4. Times were hard when the Anns of this world were born, it was survival of the fittest,no wonder they are still going strong. I hope I manage to live as long as my mother and grandmother before her 82 & 84 years of age. I might have to slow up on the toyboys! πŸ˜‰
    I hope hubby is enjoying a Happy father’s Day!

    • I wonder if the world was more stressful then–when some people struggled to find enough food & proper shelter with no frills between–or now–as the world,its politics and religion, get more complicated every day. For this reason alone, Grannymar, I do hope you’ll be easy on the tomboys. Remember this line from the movie From Here To Eternity (did you see it in Ireland?) where Deborah Kerr says to Montgomery Cliff, her young lover, as they lie together on the beach, something on the lines of “years from now when you think of this…and you will…be kind.” Don’t know why that popped into my head but it did. ( πŸ˜€ you and your tomboys!) Great to hear from you. Btw, Hubby says “thanks.”

  5. I’ve written about the women in their 90s living here on the bayou – the recipe for their longevity – they live on the bayou, they walk every day, one of them is still active as a volunteer at 95 years old – she had the card table out on her porch the other day as she was going through a list of names she was organizing and she has a hand painted sign on her front lawn that says PEACE and another on her gate that says, Peace in Darfur. I watch these women every day and I think they have less stress but Ms. Marie, the one on the right who is the younger at 94 told me that she remembers during the Great Depression that five members of her family lost their job in one week – we were talking about this in early 2009 and I thought holy cow!

    Actually not to be simple but I think better to tally the quality of one’s life than the quantity – at that number, I could die today at 51 and know that I have lived and loved a full life and to think there might be more to come? Imagine.

    • Great point, Dangermond! Quality not quantity. I’ll vote for that any day of the week. That’s how I hope to spend the rest of my days regardless of how many there are left.

  6. My mother’s family are known to “live long” so my sis and I have made a joke out of that, turning it into “long livers” saying we will probably live to a ripe old age because of our “long livers”. My father’s family, on the other hand have turned out to “live short”. We are hoping we have inherited our mother’s liver.

  7. As a friend of mine once told me, life is a crap shoot. While I have good genes on my mother’s side and sorta good genes on my father’s, I realize that I could be hit my a meteor while biking in the park next weekend. So, I’ve made a conscious decision to live my life without (too many) regrets, keep the guilt to a minimum, forgive myself for being imperfect, abide by the Golden Rule even when taking the low road might make me feel better at the moment, and eat ice cream regularly.

  8. Hello,
    Ann sounds delightful. Not so much for genes but for her spirit. Love your blog, by the way, it’s inspiring to read it.


  9. Markandeya, an ancient chronicler and sage who was always young in outlook, said that for every new stage in one’s career, one had to undergo fresh training. He pointed out that there were three ways for social ascent. The commoners obtained certain benefits from the generosity of the nobles and some benefits by strenuous and persistent exercise. Some other benefits they got by their own good deeds.

    These were not the only three options available to the commoners for social ascent, Markandeya counseled. He deemed the comforts of life one had as a member of the social world of the commonalty as the best.

    One may lead a comfortable life at present but may not do so later or one may undergo sufferings now but lead a happy life later. Some may be happy now and also later and some others may not be happy now or later either. Choose what you want.

  10. PS: Dear Aunt Ellen spent the money. Her brother made a lot, and when he died we all found that he had left his money in trust for her to live on. It was to stay in trust until his youngest niece died. I think Aunt Ellen spent most of it living well. We who are still part of the trust just received notice that one check was returned. My grandmother, who died in 1928, inherited the trust as did my mother and I. I told my kids that the darn thing would probably come to them when I died…but something has happened. There was no disbursement this quarter. No one got anything. It’s going to be interesting to see what happens next.

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