My grandmother Inez lived to the age of 93. We called her “Mamoo,” because my older sister couldn’t say “Grandma” as a little kid. I remember being embarrassed as a teenager calling my grandmother that. It sounded silly—but somehow it suited her.
I am thinking of Mamoo today, on this turn of the new year, because she would be 110 now. There are plenty of people on the list of verified oldest women at that age—I am actually surprised she didn’t live to be a centenarian. She was a tiny little thing, only five feet tall, but she had incredible gumption and optimism. She survived two husbands—my grandfather drowned in the Pacific Ocean when my mother was only 10 years old. Mamoo’s second husband, George, died of cancer in the 1960s. Eventually, she even outlived all of her best friends.
A friend of mine once asked Mamoo how she managed to live such a long, healthy life. She responded, “Simple. I do everything in moderation.”
My friend gasped, and raised his hands in the air. “Oh no! I do everything to excess!”
Inez knew what it was like to be a single parent, back when women were rarely single parents. She ran a boutique shop to make ends meet, and painted with oils for fun—somehow she pieced it all together. She read mass market paperbacks, but also read the Marin Independent Journal. She played Scrabble, and dominoes, and wrote letters to friends in big, scrawling ink. She had a glass of Scotch on the rocks every evening before dinner. Mamoo also traveled the world—and much of United States, too. She went out to lunch with friends, and family—and ate a lot of boysenberry pie. Every year on our birthdays, she sent us each a card with a check in it—dollars matching how many years old we were.
By the time Mamoo was almost 90, my mother finally insisted she stop driving her big Cadillac around northern California and move to the East Coast so we could take care of her.
Mamoo attributed her health to the fact that she went on a walk just about every day. By the end of her life, she wasn’t seeing so well, and she’d tell us she sometimes got scared when out walking in New Hampshire because she would think she saw a big brown bear in a neighbor’s yard. But it always turned out to be a dog, and afterwards, we would all laugh.
On my brother’s birthday one year, our family had gathered for a party. Mamoo was sitting on the couch in the sunroom. She was surrounded by her five great-grandchildren, watching them play on the rug, and she asked for some root beer. I poured IBC into a short glass, she took a sip, and she simply died. Her breathing became raspy for a few minutes, the kids called all of the adults into the room, and she just died.
Looking back on it now, I think, that is the way to go. Make sure your family is around you. Have it be in the middle of a party, even. Doesn’t really matter what you are celebrating, but ask for your favorite drink. And as one of your grandchildren pours it for you, reflect for a brief moment on your 93 years of life. And then, while they are all playing and talking and being silly, just simply stop breathing.
Your family won’t suffer too much, because you’ve been healthy your whole life. You’ve seen the world, and everyone has seen the world in you. You’ve lived, and loved—a lot. Sure, your family will miss you deeply, but what can they do? They’ll simply talk about what a great life you’ve had, and stretch you out on your bed. Then, they’ll hug each other, wipe their eyes, and put a pot of blooming daffodils on your bedside table.
Photo: Mamoo, Inez Mary Sollom Purser, with one of her great-granddaughters.