I recently went to visit my 102-year-old grandmother. In 1921, at the age of six, Nana emigrated from Russia to Kansas City.
She entertains her living facility with her piano playing and loves to talk all day. She continues to leave sassy messages on my phone. She sends thoughtful gifts to her great grandkids. With such a full life, the following stands out to me.
Always concerned about her shape and weight, at 102 this is still a concern as evidenced by her bathroom in assisted living. Although Nana walks with a walker and now requires some assistance with getting dressed, she still steps on her bathroom scale every day. (How exactly she does this without falling, I don’t know!)
She declared to me, “I weigh x. If I could lose 10 pounds, I’d look younger.”
Two years ago, when she turned 100, I actually did a brief interview with her about dieting. After all, how many 100-year-olds are there who can offer a perspective on dieting in the 1930s and into their centenarian years?
Following is an excerpt from my interview with Nana:
How old were you when you first became concerned about your weight and shape?
At 9 years old people wanted me to start appearing on stage playing the piano. My teacher wanted to speak with my parents and told them he thought I was overweight and should lose some weight. He wanted to groom me for concert piano playing. I remembered how he spoke about my being a little heavy. It didn’t set in right with me. It didn’t bother me. I wasn’t obese, but I was heavy.
When was the first time that you dieted?
On January 2, 1935 (at age 19), I started a strict diet (for me) while at the University of Missouri in Columbia. In 3.5 months I lost 45 pounds. I worked very hard at that. Not only did I have a diet plan, but I also read a great deal. Just before that I also bought a powder that I put in tomato juice and it helped reduce hunger. When I came back to college after Christmas I was told by a friend who was a medical student to stop taking it. He said it was harmful. And then I continued on with the diet plans and that was in 1935. That’s when I really lost the weight. I became ever more popular and I noticed that the weight loss was really helpful.
Do you still worry about your weight?
I’m still concerned about my weight. I watch it very carefully. I get on the scale every single morning because I want to get in the clothes I have. I used to measure myself with a tape measure every day.
Why do you think it is important to be thin?
I think it’s important. I love my clothes and if I don’t hold my weight to the clothing that I’ve bought, I’d feel very sad so I watch my weight carefully and I am able to get into clothing that I’ve had for years. There are some skirts that I can’t fasten at the waist, but I don’t wear skirts anymore. But weight has always been a very important concern. I don’t think you have to be thin but you have to look good in your clothing and for me, I don’t want to have to buy new clothes.
It is sad to me that after all these years, the fear of returning to a bigger size still looms over her. When she eventually passes I doubt many will remember Nana for her shape.
Instead, I expect they will remember her for how friendly and caring she is, how she finds the positive in everything, her desire to make everyone around her happy, the sharp dresser she is, and what a great pianist she is (she makes you FEEL the music).
I know I will always hold dear in my heart her tremendous love for so many people, her years of serving the community as a social worker and volunteer for numerous charitable organizations, her delicious pound cake, her witty jokes (mostly from Readers Digest!), her long stories, her piano playing, and for how she knows (and is loved by) everyone in Kansas City.