For fifty-five years, Older Americans Month (OAM) has been observed to recognize older Americans and their contributions to our communities. Led by the Administration for Community Living’s Administration on Aging, every May offers opportunity to hear from, support, and celebrate our nation’s elders.
This year’s OAM theme “Engage at Every Age,” emphasizes the importance of being active and involved, no matter where or when you are in life. You are never too old (or too young) to participate in activities that can enrich your physical, mental, and emotional well-being.
One such elder who is engaged in aging is Salem’s Clarina (Clara) Ellis.
In February of this year, Clara reached her 100th birthday. The self-described “tough bird” celebrated with her daughter Claire’s family at a favorite restaurant. Everyone at the restaurant was aware of the fact that she was 100. All were wishing her a happy birthday. “It was like I knew all these people. It was wonderful. I really enjoyed my 100th birthday.”
Clara still lives in the Salem home she grew up in along with her daughter Claire and Claire’s husband. They love the home and the neighborhood. Many of the neighbors have remained the same.
Clara was one of eight. She attributes her good health to being active as a young girl, playing outside, running, and climbing trees. “I was always moving. I was petite but I was tough. They called me a tomboy.”
Clara is proud of the flexibility she has maintained all these years. She demonstrates her leg kicks in the air while seated. She knows she has impressed her audience!
“I always walked everywhere. My husband and I walked every day. We liked to walk the beach and to walk hills.”
Today, Clara has the use of a walker as a precaution because of having episodes of vertigo. She gave up driving in 2009 for fear of the vertigo. “It was really hard giving up driving. I was not too happy about it but knew it was not safe to be driving.”
Claire gets Clara out every day. Somedays it is for rehab or doctor’s appointments and other days it is to go shopping – a favorite past time of Clara’s. Wherever they go, they incorporate walking into their day. “We park a distance so that we have to walk further.”
Clara’s advice to aging well is to keep pushing yourself and to use every opportunity to move. “You have to take advantage of wherever you are to make good use of moving. And you have to start early in life.”
Claire laughs over her mother’s observations of how people walk. Clara will express opinions on how someone (including Claire herself) can improve their walking style. “Why are people looking down? Hold your head up.”
They often hear from people who learn Clara is 100 that “I want to be like you when I get to 100.” Clara’s response out of earshot is sometimes, “They’re not there NOW. It is impossible to be “there” at 100 if you haven’t started by now.”
Clara enjoyed sewing and fashion and cooking and of course, walking, for many years. She was close to family and loved doing for them and others. “The part of living to 100 that is so hard though is that everyone is gone. You have outlived family and friends.”
Along with the difficulty of giving up her freedom of driving, Clara gave up wearing high heels for sneakers in her mid-90s. “I love shoes and I even cooked wearing heels. I always had good feet and good legs, so why not?”
Although there are activities and hobbies Clara no longer participates in, she finds purpose in the things she can do.
Clara still enjoys helping her daughter prepare a meal and she contributes to the household by folding all the laundry. It gives her much pleasure to watch her daughter garden.
At age 100, she is only just beginning to receive a few weekly hours of services through North Shore Elder Services, which will allow her primary caregiver Claire an opportunity to go out on her own for errands etc.
North Shore Elder Services strives to help our elders maintain their independence, take charge of their lives, maintain wellness and advocate for themselves and others.
Now is the time to recognize and celebrate what getting older looks like today. It is an opportunity to celebrate our treasured older generation and show our gratitude for their wisdom and the life they have passed on to us.
Happy 100th Clara!