One of the perks of teaching senior fitness is all the parties we have. Yesterday we got to celebrate a student’s 100th birthday. Truthfully, Anne stopped coming to class at around age 97 after having moved into a housing complex that offered fitness right at home. We’ve never lost touch with her, however, and in fact she came to my birthday party last November. (Photo: Anne flanked by Doreen and me)
One of my students, a master baker, is the de facto social secretary of the class. Doreen invites all 30 class members to annual tea parties (8 or 10 at a time) at her home. These elegant and intimate gatherings have helped to cement friendships among classmates and those connections have served all of us well – both when it’s time to boogie and when it’s time to console. (Photo: Doreen, late 80s, and just some of her baked goodies)
It was Doreen’s idea to have this party for Anne and the planning started months ago. Many of the forty invitees kicked in with food and drink and help to pull it all together. We had 30s and 40s music in the background, sandwiches and cheese platters and then about a dozen types of cookies from Doreen’s prolific and incomparable oven. One couple brought a giant inscribed birthday cake, photographers were engaged, speeches were made and there was really something to celebrate.
Anne uses a walker, her hearing on the left side isn’t what one would wish, and her eyesight is dimming. That doesn’t stop her from remembering everyone’s name and where they have recently moved to or what wedding or funeral just happened in their family. She was a gracious guest of honor and after her daughter and I made tribute speeches, she added a few sentences of her own, not the least the value she felt she derived by working out. Her hair, as always, was impeccably done and her outfit was immaculate. (Photo: Anne gets her hand kissed by Sheldon, a young 94)
Most of my students are in their 80s – some older and some younger. Working with them gives me a unique perspective. I am generally the baby of the group, although we have had students sign up who were younger than me. This gives me many benefits, two of which are especially useful. If my knees have a new ache or I’m skeptical about a bone strengthener my doctor wants to give me, I have 60 students (there are actually two groups) to consult. “Who’s had rotator cuff problems?” I ask and I’ll have ten people raising their hands, a font of personal wisdom for all that ails me.
Being with my students also gives me a really special wide-lens view into the future. I see their capabilities, their activism, their continued and changing cultural interests, their spontaneous mutual support arrangements and I know that things can be okay twenty years hence, or thirty-seven years forward in Anne’s case. This was my first 100th birthday party and it has pushed the goal posts of my imagination. Maybe I will have time to write all those books clawing at my overcrowded datebook to get out.
Postscript: Doreen spoke to Anne this morning who said that Saturday was the greatest day of her life. When you’ve already got 100 years of days, of parties, of celebrations under your belt, that’s high praise indeed.