The signature centennial event of 2012 is, in most circles, the untimely sinking of the great mail ship halfway through her maiden voyage. For me, this year marks the centennial of my parents' births. They outlasted the Titanic by many decades, obviously, but they both expired well before they hit 100. People of their generation, as best as I can tell, rarely lived to that age. I look for clues in their lives—in Mom's 70 years, Pop's 88—as I try to estimate my own future.
One could argue that my parents were victims of the times in which they lived. They were both longtime cigarette smokers, for example, before tobacco's danger to a person's health was accepted wisdom. For Pop, no meal was complete until he'd had dessert. His mid-morning coffee was always paired with a sweet roll. The loss of his mother to diabetes during the Great Depression offered a warning that he ignored. Kenny Rogers might sing a song about my old man, about how he sat down at the table, gambled and lost. But this wasn't the poker table. Diabetes found him at around age 70; it ended his life 18 years later, right about the time everyone began to hear the very first warnings about America's over-consumption of sugar.
They had to make their own way, without the nutrition information we find on the sides of most food packaging nowadays. Would they have lived longer lives had they had some government guidance concerning their consumption of salt, sugar, butter—the good stuff? I don't know.
By contrast, I'm the guy blocking the aisle at Harris Teeter, holding three different brands of breakfast cereal, comparing grams, percentages and ingredients on their respective side panels. For my folks, a carb was an air-and-fuel-metering device atop an automobile engine. For me, a carb is the deadliest thing in the world. "Your glucose is too high," my doctor warns. I put the three boxes back on the shelf, pick out two others and continue searching for numbers which, if not guaranteeing eternity, will at least guide me in that direction. The quest and comparison slows my shopping. Longevity takes time, I speculate.
Indeed, now it's my turn at the table, a table upon which, for the past couple of decades, my wife has not served red meat, white meat, the other white meat or desserts or much of anything else of substance.
If salads were horses, this bugger could ride.
I'm mindful that with heredity and DNA and chromosomes and all that being what they are and what they mean about my future, I, too, likely won't have to attend my 100th birthday party. But at least I know enough to try, and I can live with that.