Spotted at the 1400 Bar & Grill, Alameda, CA
So I’m idly glancing at the drinks menu in a California pub when I notice a curious offering. “Grandma Cooper,” it says. “$1.05 (Between 5:00pm and 5:15pm only) George Dickel Whiskey and 7-Up.” Naturally I ask the bartender about it, and she explains that one of the bar’s owners had a grandmother who enjoyed a whiskey and 7-Up every afternoon at 5:00 – and lived to be 105. What a legacy: living more than a century and getting a highball named after her. My kind of old lady!
Is whiskey the secret to a longer life? A 90-year-old neighbor once told me his: eating a stalk of celery every day. The folks at Dannon ran a great ad campaign back in the 1970s about people in Soviet Georgia who lived well into their second century on a diet rich in yogurt. But I have another theory.
Also from the 1400 Bar & Grill
I once wrote a magazine article about a research project that divided frail, very elderly residents of a nursing home into two groups. The first remained decision-free, while the second group was given small responsibilities such as caring for a plant and choosing meal menus and movies. The second group stopped deteriorating and began to thrive; they shocked everyone by living significantly longer, better lives.
I remember sitting back in my chair, gobsmacked, when I first read about this study. I mean, if just watering a fern and deciding between My Dinner with Andre and World War Z will give you a new lease on life when you’re 90, what does that suggest about the way we ought to be leading our lives now – and in the years ahead?
This study is one of the many reasons Rich and I moved to Seville. Because when you live abroad, the first thing you give up is your ability to go on automatic pilot. Even the simplest daily activities require plenty of ingenuity and fortitude.
For instance, there was the time, early in our Seville days, when Rich wanted to make a small repair in our apartment. After a quick trip to the dictionary, we set out for the hardware store muttering “destornillador, destornillador, destornillador” (screwdriver, screwdriver, screwdriver) to ourselves. Unfortunately, when we arrived, my mind went blank and Rich blurted out a similar word, ordenador (computer), causing such mutual confusion that we were forced to abandon the attempt and flee the scene without buying either a screwdriver or a computer.
At the time, we were frustrated and annoyed with ourselves, but after we got over our dudgeon, we had a good laugh, and we’ve been telling the story for years. Unlike those of our friends whose retirement goal is a life of untrammeled ease, I like facing up to the challenges of living abroad. It adds a lot of zest to the daily round. When a simple visit to the hardware store becomes a test of skill and wit, I know that even if I walk away without a screwdriver, at least I am acquiring the tools I need to keep my brain — and my sense of humor — ever more finely honed.
Maybe the real secret is just making sure you have a regular dose of fun in your life, something to look forward to every day. A few years ago I had the pleasure of meeting Rich’s Aunt Mary, a cheerful, chatty woman who had recently celebrated her 101st birthday. When I asked for the secret of her longevity, she raised the glass of whiskey she was holding and said, “I have one of these every day.”
So now you know why I’ve decided to return soon – and often – to that California pub, arriving at 5:00 on the dot so I can say, “Make mine a Grandma Cooper. With a stick of celery and a yogurt chaser.” Cheers.
I'm an American writer living in Seville, Spain and traveling the world with my husband, Rich. We've recently completed a five-month Mediterranean Comfort Food Tour, exploring the world's favorite cuisine to discover more about European culture — and our own.
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