By William Thomas
Hendrikje van Andel-Schipper, formerly the oldest woman in the world, once claimed there were three secrets to living a long life: eating one serving of herring every day, drinking orange juice and breathing. Replace the herring with BBQ’d chipotle steak, substitute the orange juice for Single Malt, and I fully expect to match, indeed exceed, Hendrikje’s 115-year record of longevity.
“Henny,” as she was known to her friends who all pre-deceased her by three decades, is now the subject of a medical study by Dutch scientists at the VU University Medical Center in Amsterdam who are trying to unlock the mysteries of her amazing age. Studying her blood and tissue samples, they believe the answers lie in the stem cells that helped her fight off infections later in life.
Scientists noted that Henny, who died in 2005, did not smoke or drink, which helped boost her immune system, but did not get her invited to many parties. She also perfected the automatic stress-relieving habit used by many old people when she opened her front door each morning and yelled: “Get the hell off my lawn.” She shouted in Dutch, of course, and to no one in particular.
Another tip for those younger than her, which up until 2005 has included 6,491,935,429 people on the planet, was to stay active. Like all senior citizens, Henny kept busy by standing on a street corner in the afternoon and showing pictures of her grandchildren to perfect strangers. She spent mornings rooting through her purse trying to locate the photos of her grandchildren.
No, the truth is Henny did not have children, which as every young mother knows, has to double your chances of living past 100 years. Henny lived with her parents until she was 47 years of age, and remained unmarried until she was 49, so scientists are looking into the absence of bickering in that first half century, with no bickering as a possible longevity enhancer.
Henny was different than most senior citizens, in that she rode a bicycle her whole life and never had a driver’s licence. So she gradually got smaller behind the handle bars of a bike instead of the steering wheel of a car. She was the same as most seniors in that she sat on her glasses a lot, mixed her sleeping pills up with her laxatives, cursed whenever she entered a room and couldn’t remember why, kept her hearing aid in her purse for safe keeping and opened childproof caps with a hammer. On the day she passed away, they found almost 20 lbs. of balled-up Kleenex in her pockets.
The reigning world’s oldest man, Arturo Licata of Italy, just passed away a month ago on April 24. He died one week short of his 112th birthday As An Italian, Arturo was dating a 22-year-old girl from Morocco named Ruby and fighting 100-year-old charges of tax evasion.
So now the oldest man is an American from New York City who is 111 years old. At 111, he would have been just a little too young to date Henny and a little too old to be a Walmart greeter. It’s what 12½-year-old kids call that pesky “in between” age.
As a New Yorker, this man never followed the standard rules of clean air, exercise, no smoking, no drinking.He still eats and drinks whatever he wants, noting that the only problem these days is that when he sinks his teeth into a great steak … they stay there. His name is Larry King.
Henny van Andel-Schipper did not move into a retirement home until she was 106, the age at which most people have spent several decades in a cemetery. Most amazing to the scientists was the fact that the autopsy of the world’s oldest woman showed no traces of dementia, long believed to be inevitable with a person her age. Henny never looked her age. Physically, she always felt like she was only 104.
The real key to Henny’s very long life may have been as simple as her nationality. From personal experience, I know the Dutch to be the most stubborn people on earth. You don’t steal land from the ocean by being meek and mild in temperament. Maybe there were a lot of opportunities for her to pass away in her younger years and she simply refused to go.
In the final days of her life, she was resigned to moving on.
“It’s been nice,” she said shortly before she passed away, “but the man upstairs says it’s time to go.”
How awful that the world’s oldest woman had to die because the superintendant of the nursing home was kicking her out of her apartment. That just doesn’t seem fair to me.
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