Papa Ricardo’s Longevity Plan
By Eileen Z. Fuentes
Two years ago, my 85-year-old grandfather, who we call Papá, was coming from the Dominican Republic. When he arrived we enjoyed a nice traditional meal consisting of fish, rice, beans, and an avocado, tomato and watercress salad. After dinner I thought it would be interesting to introduce him to youtube to see if we could find videos of his favorite childhood musicians. He totally got a kick out of the fact that we could go back in time and wondered how in the world this could be done with a simple click of a few buttons. I then made an attempt to explain how facebook works but much to my surprise, he told me that he had heard of it on the news and he was not interested because it was dangerous. One conversation led to the other and I figured, who better to ask about healthy living and longevity, than my family’s patriarch. After all he stubbornly told me that all my practices are nonsense and that illness is just a matter of fate and bad luck.
His arrival in the United States dates back to 1960 where he first lived in the Bronx. He then moved to the Washington Heights neighborhood in Manhattan. He worked in construction for many years, ultimately going up the ranks to Supervising Manager for the City of New York. There are still 2 businesses in the neighborhood that my grandfather built. Well into his 80′s, he was still making repairs and renovations to his home (and mine). We began to talk about his daily life and some of the day-to-day routines that kept him thin, strong, resilient and sharp. For the most part, this man did not forget a birthday and that’s pretty good for a man who had 5 kids, 17 grandchildren, and 24 great grandchildren. He also had 80…yes 80, Godchildren due to his loyal and active participation in a mason lodge group for over 60 years.
After Papá retired in 1988, he moved back to his native country and started a new way of life with his second wife. His life consisted of a set of rituals that didn’t really change. Every morning, he woke up to his morning café con leche, toast and fresh eggs and juices. He fed his dog named Lucky, a chicken and the hen he had for over a decade at 6am and 6pm. He read 2 newspapers daily, and watched a series of Spanish talk shows, some comedy and baseball. He used to tend to his tropical garden where he grew mango, guava, bitter orange, guanábana, and cherries. He spoke about a coconut tree that he cut himself when the roots began causing structural issues in his home. I asked him if he uses pesticides to keep the insects away and he just looked at me confused. He walked every Sunday to church and took the bus weekly to the market. He got a haircut every 3 weeks and on the weekends used to visit his 90-year-old sister until she passed away from Alzheimer’s disease. He also visited his 94-year-old brother from time-to-time but preferred their frequent talks on the phone. He enjoyed his midday meal consisting of large green salad with olive oil, rice, beans and meat. At 3pm, he has a sweet cup of espresso and ends his meals in the early evening with a small serving of boiled root vegetables or fried plantains and meat. He loves all hearty soups but said his favorite is cocido, which consists mostly of stewed chickpeas and vegetables.
After this informal but insightful discussion, he went to go play dominoes with my mom and I went to Bluezones.com, this is the one place I knew I could use as a tool to prove my point. The book Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer From the People Who’ve Lived the Longest, travels to the places in the world where higher percentages of people enjoy remarkably long, full lives in large clusters. As an attempt to show my grandfather that I was right and he was indeed contributing to his good health, we went back to youtube and found the video below. All he could do was laugh because he was too hardheaded to admit that I was right. When I asked him what’s next, he simply said it warms his heart to watch his family grow and evolve. He feels very blessed and content with his life.
Thank you Papá for planting the seed and inspiring me to follow my dreams. This month marks a year since you passed away and while I miss you, I am grateful for our rich time together. Your legacy will be with me forever.
“It would be hard to overestimate the importance of family in the Blue Zone. . . Grandparents provide love, childcare, financial help, wisdom, expectations and motivations to perpetuate traditions and push children to succeed.” — Dan Buettner, The Blue Zones, 2008