Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Art White, 99

Art White changed my life last week.  How?  By replacing my mom as my primary role model for aging.

As loyal readers of this blog know, my mom is now 88.  She still lives alone, still walks every day, still reads voraciously (she just finished Ann Patchett’s newest book State of Wonder), still laughs at the slightest provocation and still has a killer wink that melts me every time I see it.  She sounds amazing, right?

But that’s only part of the picture.  Besides fighting breast cancer and a brain tumor, she’s also increasingly frail and unsure on her feet.  Everywhere we go, I hold her hand to keep her from toppling over.  Oh, and did I mention that she’s almost totally deaf?  I see her practically every day and invariably think to myself, “Is this what I’m going to be like in 30 years?"

So when I interviewed Art White last Monday for my TV show, he gave me needed hope.  Yes, I might end up being as deaf and frail as my mom, but it's also possible that I could remain as active as Art.

Here's a sampling of Art's responses, some given on-air, some in the Green Room before the show. I’m doing this from memory rather than from the video, so except for the first two replies, these aren't direct quotes.  I've tried in any event to stay true to both the content and flavor of his answers.

PB:  What (still) excites you? 

AW:  Naked women.  (Said with a chuckle)

PB:  (Trying again)  What still surprises you?

AW:  Not much.  (Said with another chuckle.)

PB:  Do you have any idea what the secret to your longevity is?

AW:  (Shakes his head.)  I don’t do anything special.  I eat salt and sugar—anything that doesn’t move on the plate (said with another chuckle).  I don’t exercise.

PB:  Yes you do.  You bowl twice a week and do Tai Chi.

AW:  I do those things for fun.

PB:  So then what is the secret?  Genetics?

AW:  My father died at 66, and once I made it to 67, I figured I’d live a long time.

PB:  Over your 99 years, what invention most changed your day-to-day life?

AW:  The computer chip.

PB:  Really, the computer chip?  I thought you’d say “the airplane” or “the automobile” or “the refrigerator”—that’s what the mother of a girlfriend of mine said when she was asked this question.  

AW:  Well, the automobile came out in 1908, a few years before I was born.  My dad bought me a Model T when I was 16.  I can see why a woman would think the refrigerator was the most important invention, but for me it was the computer chip.  The chip has changed everything. 

PB:  Speaking of computers, I heard you were on Facebook for a while.

AW:  I was, but it was a huge drain on my time.  I didn’t stay for long.

PB:  On the subject of Facebook, one of my FB friends wanted me to ask you how you still manage to live fully and with joy--without wondering every minute how much longer you’ve got and without being focused on the losses?

AW:  (Pauses for a moment.)  I keep looking forward, not back.  I’m aiming to be 110.  I’ve lost a lot of friends, but I don’t dwell on it.

PB:  Another FB friend wants to know who your heroes were growing up?

AW:  My father.  He worked hard.  Also Roy Rogers—do you remember him?  We went to the movies on Saturdays and watched a lot of spaghetti Westerns.

PB:  What’s one of your favorite memories?

AW:  I remember VJ-Day.  When I heard the news on the radio, I grabbed some flags and gave one to each of my seven children.  Then I led them down the street.  Before I knew it, 200 people were following us.  I felt like the Pied Piper.

PB:  You’ve lived through the Twenties, the Depression, WWII, the Sixties.  Nine eras altogether.  What’s your favorite one?

AW:  The Twenties.  I loved the music! 

As I said above, this is just a sampling of our Q and A.  Some of Art's more interesting replies were too long to paraphrase.  If you want to hear more and don't want to wait for me to post some clips from the interview, click here to read an article about Art that came out last year on Father's Day in the Milford-Orange Bulletin.


  1. What a wonderful and precious interview... and naughty too-- just loved his answer to the first question- GO FIGURE!!

  2. I know, Barbara. The guy just cracks me up.