Centenarians are rare. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, there were just 53,364 people 100 or older living in the United States. Nine years later, nearly all of them have left this earthly plain. A new, and probably larger group of centenarians has replaced them. In the period 1980 to 2010, the centenarian population experienced a larger percentage increase than did the total population, meaning more Americans than ever are living to this triple-digit age.
I found these and other facts in Centenarians: 2010, a publication of the U.S. Census, and I bothered to look them up in honor of my grandmother, who turns 104 today.
One-hundred-and-four! Can you imagine? Even she can’t imagine. She has said more than once she doesn’t know why she has lived this long.
As a white woman living these past four years in an elder care facility in north-central Minnesota, Grandma typifies what a centenarian looks like in the United States; 82.8 percent of American centenarians are female, and 82.5 percent of centenarians were white. Almost unbelievably, about a third of centenarians live alone in their household; the rest live with others in the household, in a nursing home or in other group quarters.
Minnesota is No. 10 among states with the highest number of centenarians as a percentage of the population, at least back in 2010. The states with the most as a percentage of the population? North Dakota is No. 1, South Dakota is No. 2, Iowa is No. 3 and Nebraska is No. 4. Go Midwest! The states with the most in raw numbers? Not surprisingly, it’s some of the states with the highest overall populations: California, New York and Florida.
When Grandma turned 100, I wrote a blog post with 100 pieces of trivia about her and her life (click here to read it). In summary, she’s a 100% German American farmer’s wife with four children and a host of grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren. She’s got a great sense of humor, is a gracious host and has just enough vanity to have kept her in good shape for ten and half decades. The most impressive fact about her this time of year is that she has lived through 104 Minnesota winters; other Minnesotans impressed with their own toughness might tell you frozen storage is why she’s lived so long.
I exchanged letters with Grandma for many years, and I inherited 25 years worth of her daily diaries. She rarely wrote anything emotional or introspective. Mostly, she stuck to the transactional events of her day. Here’s an example from her diary 10 years ago when she turned 94:
Happy Birthday to myself. Woke up in plenty of time to go to church; rode with [a friend] Harley. Got home at 9:20 so took a nap as we left for [daughter] Mary’s at 12 for my birthday party. Very nice. All three [grand]babies born in ’08 were there. … Big gifts. Was home again at 6:30. Was hyper so couldn’t relax but really tired when I went to bed. [Son] Bob called from Hawaii to wish me a happy birthday.
Not sure what “big gifts” meant, but I’m guessing it was gourmet jams, stationery and postage stamps. This sort of encapsulates her formula for longevity: Spirituality, lots of sleep including a daily nap, loving family and gratitude.
Happy birthday, dear Grandma!
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In observance of Ash Wednesday, I was asking big questions about life and death this week on Minnesota Transplant. Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent, a six-week season during which Christians focus on the life and, in particular, the death of Jesus Christ. Check out my entries on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Tomorrow, I write about repentance–or the lack of it–on my Monica Lee author blog.