|Photo by fallenpegasus via Flickr, used|
under the Creative Commons License.
2011 AANP Physician of the Year
I recently returned from a family trip one with an interesting juxtaposition of rites of passage. The first and last part of the trip was spent taking my high school senior daughter on college tours. Sandwiched in between these tours was a celebration of my aunt's 100th birthday.
My Aunt Dot is my mother's oldest sister. My mother is 88 and you would never believe it if you saw her, but she doesn't get much attention or credit for that because she is the baby in the family and her sister is 100! Aunt Dot is in great shape; her mind is 100%. I still can't beat her at Scrabble, which I guess is a reflection on both of us. My aunt used to be a gardener, the first person I ever heard of who had a compost pile – actually 3 bins, each about 7 feet long by 3 feet wide by 4 feet deep. I remember digging in the compost pile and finding worms the size of my thumbs, big thick, pink wiggly things. Local newspapers would write stories about the Queen of Compost as they thought it was interesting, if unusual, back then.
My aunt was also famous around her town for her flower gardens. She had a rock garden, a formal rose garden and flowerbeds surrounding her lawn. She took hundreds of thousands of cuttings that she would seed and give to family members or sell to raise money for charity for local causes. All my cousins have cuttings from her garden, transplanted as far away as California.
My aunt had a wonderful vegetable garden as well. I grew up in Manhattan so she was the only person I knew with a vegetable garden. She raised many of the vegetables that she served during the summer. She lived in New Jersey, the home of the Tomato and to this day I have never tasted better tomatoes than the Beefsteak and Cherry Tomatoes she grew in her garden. She also had a wonderful row of raspberry bushes, certainly worth the price of the prickles to pick them. She would send us kids out with a bucket to bring some berries in for lunch, although I'm not sure how many berries actually made it back to the kitchen. My aunt was not an organic farmer, but rather a low-pesticide farmer. And she could outwork anybody! She would stay in the garden for hours, digging and shoveling, transplanting. Her love of plants and flowers was an inspiration to many of those around her and she was definitely ahead of her time.
Sounds like a bucolic life. But that was just one side of my aunt. She went to college in NYC during the depression and was a three sport athlete: field hockey, tennis and basketball. She had intelligence and drive. Had she been transported to this era, you could easily have seen her as a senator or a CEO. She was the social matriarch of our family and her house was where we gathered for the holidays. My dear Aunt Dot, now 100 years old and counting. It’s clear that all of these factors – contact with nature, nutrient dense and healthy food, physical labor and exercise, stature in her “tribe” and good genetic stock – have all contributed to her longevity.
My dear daughter, Amelia is 18 years old and counting. Doesn't have quite the bio of Aunt Dot, yet. She is trying to figure out what is next. She has been accepted by all of her colleges and is now trying to figure out where to accept. She doesn't really know what she wants to focus on in school but she is leaning towards environmental sciences. She is interested in organic farming – coincidence? I told her that she could of course pursue it, but I wasn't going to spend the King's Fortune to send her to college for that. So she has decided that she wants to take a year off before going to school. I'm all for that – take one, take two. There's no hurry as she's been in school since she was three. Once she figures out what she wants to do, school will be easy. My daughter has a great combination of traits: warmth, smarts, beauty and focus, but not obsession. She has the traits to lead a successful and happy life, which is what any parent is hoping for. In the meantime she can travel and work and explore – maybe even do some organic gardening – and start working on what her bio will look like 50 years from now.
Me, I'm somewhere in the middle of the two, turning 60 (!!!) on Earth Day. Do I hope that I live to one hundred? Not really. I just hope that I have a good health span and that when I die it’s quick. Do I wish that I were a teenager? Not really. That said, I think my “bio” will turn out OK. All I really care about is that my kids are healthy and happy and are able to contribute to society in many ways that make this world a better place.