It’s almost impossible to exaggerate how much the world has changed in the last 101 years. Ancient empires still ruled much of Europe, which was being plunged into war. Cars and planes were just getting off to sputtering starts. We didn’t have widespread radio, much less instant messaging. And there were less than 2 billion people on the planet. But, while the world has changed to a staggering degree, some people who have been alive to see it all have remained themselves, with the same passions and joy for living as they’ve always had. One of those people is Maria.
Maria, who turned 101 on March 21st, has seen an enormity of historic events in the time she’s been alive. And through it all, she has kept her love for cooking, for family, and for life. She’s shown us that while health may flicker and the body may age, the spirit doesn’t have to. She demonstrates that a person can be flexible, making gentle concessions to time, but only altering the way you express your love, not changing it altogether. And, Maria is quite certain you are never too old to party.
Extra, Extra: Maria Makes the News at 101
At Institute on Aging, we like to celebrate the lives of our clients when they turn the big 1-0-0. We’ve celebrated centenarian birthdays with Sybilla Mazon (who met Bonnie and Clyde) and Georgy Sobolev (who fought in the Battle
of Sebastopol). It’s our honor to make birthday wishes come true.
Maria, who works with a Spanish-language caregiver through IOA, wished to be interviewed on television, about her past, present, and still bright future. Considering that she was born in El Salvador, well before televisions were ever invented, and was almost 40 when the first color broadcast was transmitted, this was a huge thrill, and an incredible way to highlight her astounding life and personality.
A local TV station, ABC7/KGO, came to the party that her family hosted, with support from IOA. Her guests—more than 70 family members and friends—were treated to three different kinds of “pasteles” (cakes), and the Spanish-speaking newscaster who interviewed Maria got the scoop on why she requested so many sweet treats.
The Food of a Good Life
Maria’s birthday wish for three cakes wasn’t an accident—she just couldn’t choose her favorite. And this wasn’t vacillation or indifference: no, it was the result of the kind of excitement that comes from loving something deeply.
Maria loves food. She loves preparing food, cooking it, and sharing it. She wanted as many different kinds of cake as possible for everyone there, so that they could all share her greatest passion.
Sharing food is at the heart of who Maria is. In her village in El Salvador where she grew up, she made and sold cheese to make a living, a laborious process which connected one with the intensity of where food really comes from. It was hard work, but it was also good exercise, and a way to stay healthy. In fact, when asked how she manages to stay so young at heart, Maria answers, “By making cheese!”
One of her favorite foods to make is pastelitos, or pasteles de carne. Though the term “pastelito” translates as “little cakes,” these are actually savory meat pastries filled with seasoned chicken or with ground beef and potatoes. They’re often served at parties or purchased on the street from sidewalk vendors, who fry them up fresh. Maria describe pastelitos as “party food,” and that is exactly what they are: food to share during happy times, surrounded by friends.
Aging Doesn’t Change How We Love
As we get older, sometimes our ability to do what we love changes. Athletes retire, surgeons hang up their scrubs, and we slow down. As young at heart as she is, the same thing happened to Maria. She is no longer able to cook the food she loves on her own. But that doesn’t mean her heart, and her activities, aren’t still in the kitchen. Their expression has just changed.
Maria can still tell someone how to make almost anything. And while that seems like a concession to age, it isn’t. It’s an accommodation. It’s saying “I might not be able to do everything I used to, but I don’t have to give up what I love.” She is still deeply involved in the preparation of food, the way it brings people together, and the passing down of a heritage that stretches back over 100 years. She is still Maria.
That’s what aging is for so many people. As a society, we’re beginning to understand that we don’t have to stop loving things; we might just love them in a different way. We might find new ways to love things, and to express our inner selves (like, say, taking up painting at 93, while blind). We can still discover new things about who we are. We can even turn up on television, more than 100 years after coming into the world.
Aging isn’t a time of shutting down. It’s a time of exploration. The body may change, but the spirit inside you lives on. Maria shows that spirit with every tip she gives in the kitchen, every time she shares food with someone she loves, or helps create a communal sense of happiness, and every time she decides that, this year, she’s going to be on TV. And why not? In all of human history, in all the last 101 years, she has only happened once. She, and every other older adult, is someone to be celebrated.
At Institute on Aging, we support older adults, their loved ones, and their caregivers through the challenges and promises of their journey into new decades. Please connect with us today to learn more.
Photo credit: Vatsal Dholabhai