Paul Mobley is an award-winning photographer. He is known for portraits of celebrities and everyday Americans. Also, the author of American Farmer, his black and white pictures capture the soul of his subjects. Allison Milionis interviewed the subjects and wrote the short biographies that accompany each picture.
If I Live to Be 100 features centenarians from all 50 states. There is a married couple, a set of twins, a brother-sister pair, a man who maintains his own Facebook page, and a woman who is still working in the store she started with her husband when they were newlyweds. Several people endured the hardships of segregation in the American South. Others fled Europe ahead of WWII. Almost all were affected by the Great Depression.
All the subjects have endured loss and hardship of some kind. Joe Joly has outlived three wives and a son and yet he he says, "If I had to do it all over again it would be the same way. Some of the things that happened I wish hadn't happened. But I'm happy - happy to be here and happy to have what I have."
All were asked what their secret to longevity is. The answers were varied - "choose a good partner," "be happy and eat well," "never stop to think about dying," "work hard, play and laugh often, eat healthy (most of the time), keep busy, and be kind to others," and "I forgot to die." However, about half-way through the book I noticed a theme that Mr. Mobley touches on in his afterward. All the centenarians were still active and interested in the world around them. Irving Olsen still experiments with photography techniques. Lucy Hamm enjoys an active social life as well as a beer and an apple every day. Clara Anderson plays the piano for residents of her care facility and advocates for improvements to the facility on behalf of her fellow residents. Margaret Wachs rediscovered swimming at 90 years old and swims twenty laps most days. Wilson Pierpont bought a BMW as a 100th birthday present to himself. Margot Lerner took her first selfie at age 107!
I loved reading about these extraordinary individuals. Their long lives are a window to a time in history that for me only lives in books and movies. But their present is just as interesting. They were, without exception, optimistic. They looked to the past with fondness, but also were enjoying everyday. Ellis Gusky says, "The best is yet to come." I think the theme of the book is summed up with this poem, quoted by Anne Scott (born March 26, 1915):
Life is a book in volumes three
The past, the present, and the yet-to-be.
The past is written and laid away,
The present we're writing every day,
And the last and best of volumes three
Is locked from sight - God keeps the key.