Comments & Curiosities: A very old and exclusive club

Are you old? I am, sometimes. Depends on how I feel.

But if you should ever stress about your age and decide to throw a pity party for yourself, try inviting Eunice Sanborn of Jacksonville, Texas. She'll make you feel like a toddler. Eunice is 114 years old and was given the first-place trophy for "oldest person in the world" last Thursday when Eugenie Blanchard, most recently of the Isle of St. Barts, left the island, so to speak.

Eugenie , whose nickname was "Sweets" — not because she liked Snickers but because she was really nice — was 5 months older than Eunice. Both rolled off the assembly line in 1896, Eugenie in February and Eunice in July.

I have long thought that people who got to see both the year 1900 and the year 2000 come and go lived through the most interesting century in the history of centuries. Their lives went from horses and buggies at one end to the Internet and deep space probes at the other. I'm also fascinated by the 100-Plus Club, not that I will ever get in.

Do you know what the fastest growing age group in the world is? Holy cannoli, you are so smart. That's right — centenarians. There are more than 50,000 peeps who are 100 years old or more in the United States, 5,000 in California alone. How fast the 100-Plus Club is growing — by a factor of ten since 1960 — is also impressive. The 110-Plus Club, however, is much smaller.

There are less than 100 people around the world who have blown out the candles on the cake 110 times or more. What are your odds of making it into that club? Not good. I'll spare you all the zeros, but the odds of living to 110 are about the same as tossing "heads" ten times in a row.

Oh, and here is a very encouraging number for all the male-type people out there. According to the Gerontology Research Group in Los Angeles, which studies people who are old enough to remember carbon paper, of the 74 super-centenarians in the world — i.e., people 110 years old or older — 71 are women. Any explanation needed there? Nope, I'm good, thanks.

By the way, not only does 114 years old seem to be about as ripe as ripe old age gets, but for an even number, 114 is really odd.

Check this out: Elena Proctor Slough of New Jersey was the oldest living American when she passed in October 2003 at the age of 114. She handed the baton to Charlotte Benkner of Peekskill, N.Y., who died in May 2004 at the age of 114. That gave the title to Verona Johnston of Worthington, Ohio, who passed away in December of 2004, at the age of 114, which left the title to Elizabeth "Lizzie" Bolden of Memphis, Tenn., at the age of — wait for it — 114.

Lizzie broke the string however, passing away in December 2006 at 116. She must have had better genes than all those 114-year-old kids. But there is an important lesson to be learned in all that. If you make it to 114, you should probably pass on those extended warranties or green bananas.

But my favorite super-centenarian of all time is still a French woman named Jeanne Calment, who died in 1997 at the age of 122, the longest-lived, officially certified old person on record. And no, when someone is 122, you don't need to bother with euphemisms like "senior" or "122 years young." They are way, way past getting their feelings hurt by "old."

Madame Calment's 120th birthday was a national event in France, culminating in an outdoor ceremony, which she attended, as did President Jacques Chirac, who gave the keynote speech and presented her with a number of honors. Madame Calment, who was sitting beside the podium with her grandson, was apparently very hard of hearing.

Just moments into Chirac's speech, she asked her grandson in a very loud voice, "Who is that?" which got a big laugh from both the audience and Chirac. Monsieur Le President soldiered on, but a moment later, Madame Calment leaned over to her grandson again and asked in an even louder voice, "How long is he going to talk?" which brought the house down and Chirac's speech to a close. That's the nice thing about being 122. You get to say whatever you want, whenever you want.

I think that's it. "Sweets" Blanchard, Eunice Sanborn and Madame Calment.

If you'd like to have someone like those girls at the birthday party for your 100-year old aunt, they would tell you, "Please. Let me know when she's 110 and I'll think about it."

And to everyone out there who is 114, be careful, take your meds, go easy on the salt. Yeah. Like you need advice from me. I gotta go.

PETER BUFFA is a former Costa Mesa mayor. His column runs Sundays. He may be reached at

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