Beadie Lewis is not your average senior citizen. Unlike many others her age, she lives alone. She is a voracious reader. She plays a mean game of Scrabble, holds her own on a dance floor, and is famous for her good figure. Up until recently, she also drove herself around and audited college courses for fun. Did I mention she’s 97 years old? She was born in 1917—the same year as the Russian Revolution. Back then, World War I wasn’t even over yet. During the ensuing decades, she dedicated her time to her 60-year marriage and to her family. She was also a teacher and still harbors a natural thirst for knowledge. We talked recently about her secrets to a long life, her party advice, and the one thing you should tell your partner every day. A condensed and edited version of our conversation follows:
KP: Hi Beadie, thanks for chatting with me today. Can you tell me a little about yourself and your life?
BL: I have a wonderful, wonderful loving family, the best in the world. I’ve been lucky that the people I’ve been surrounded with, my friends have been genuine wonderful people, not just run of the mill. And I’ve always been interested in education. I took courses for many years after I graduated from college. I was a substitute teacher and later I helped my husband manage his store.
KP: What’s a typical day like for you now?
BL: Things have changed considerably in the last few months. I’ve been in and out of the hospital. Other than that, just taking care of myself, driving myself, not depending on anyone else. I love playing Scrabble. I play with my sister [aged 90] when she’s available.
KP: I love Scrabble too. What else do you like to do?
BL: I’m interested in what’s going on in the world. I like to listen to people who are very bright and listen to their ideas, see what I can learn. I listen. (Laughs.) I do a lot of listening. I also loved ballroom dancing when I was young.
KP: I heard that you recently closed down the dance floor at a relative’s wedding!
BL: (laughs) I love doing that, I was just dancing to the music. I think it’s important if someone invites you to something, to make a point of enjoying it and getting into the spirit of it.
KP: Were you big into exercise your whole life?
BL: No, I didn’t do a lot. I’m not a competitor. But I do know now how important it is to keep active. Until recently, I did try to walk 30 minutes in my house in the morning.
BL: More recently, I’ve read more about a healthy diet so I’m trying to do more of that—watching my salt intake. Eating more vegetables, fruit, fish. I don’t care about beef anymore. Years ago, we ate a lot of beef. When I was younger, I just wasn’t aware of how important a healthy diet was.
KP: What about a healthy marriage? How did you keep yours going for sixty years?
BL: It’s very important to express your feelings. If you have a misunderstanding with your husband, instead of accusing the other person, say, “I was hurt by what you said.” Validate their emotions. Never say you. When you say you, you’re accusing him. If you receive five positives and one negative, you just hear the negative. So every day, say to your husband something about how you appreciate him.
BL: I don’t hold grudges. I always try to give someone the benefit of the doubt. If someone does something, I try not to take it negatively and try to understand what the motive was. I had a very angelic mother, so I’ve been pretty accepting of what comes along in life.
KP: It sounds like you’ve figured out how to minimize stress--something I wish I could do better.
BL: I do worry about my grandchildren and great grandchildren, probably more than I should, and I need to try to do something about that.
KP: Do you have any advice to younger folks who want to reach your age one day?
BL: The more you give of yourself, the happier you’ll be. It’s very important to smile, even if it’s just at a stranger. You can always find something positive to say to make someone feel better—“That blouse is so attractive, or your hairstyle is very becoming.” My son tells a story: he was down at the beach many years ago with his 3-year-old daughter. They were walking on the sand past an older woman trudging by, her head down, looking like the weight of world was on her. Then his daughter looked up at her and said, “Are you a princess?” This woman straightened up, and it just made all the difference in the world. Everybody is walking around with a lot of baggage weighing them down. If you can do something to lighten that, it’s critical.
KP: That’s a beautiful story. Finally, what do you think the meaning of life is in a few words?
BL: Love is the key. You have to love. Love and be loved.
Kira Peikoff, a journalist and novelist based in New York, has written for The New York Times, Slate, Salon, the Orange County Register, among others. She is the author of two works of fiction.