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Do Mothers Over 100 Still Give Advice? Of Course!

Here's the best part of having a mom who's 100 or older.

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photo illustration of phone with speech bubbles, advice, talking
Miguel Porlan
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Vivien Yellin, aka my mom, was a champion advice giver. Maybe too much of a champion. But ever since she died, at 92, I’ve missed all that loving input — from “Never be financially dependent on a man” to “Always serve salmon patties with applesauce.”   

When my college roommate Stacy wasn’t sure what to wear to her 70th-birthday party, she knew that her mom, Shirley Dean, 102, would advise her. Or, as Stacy says, “Tell me what to do.” Get some sleep; pull your hair back; wear the striped dress.   

As of 2020, there are 90,000 centenarians in the United States — up from 50,000 at the beginning of the century — and 80 percent of them are women. Which must mean that a lot of “children” in their 70s and 80s are still getting maternal advice.   

“Do you ever stop feeling like a mom?” Stacy asked her mom.   

“No,” Shirley said. “A mother always feels like a mother.”      

My friend JoAnn was marrying for the first time at age 65. Her mom, Pearl Hirsh Tansman, had waited a long time to see JoAnn walk down that aisle. When her fiancé, Robert, encouraged moving the wedding up to January from the summer — “After all, your mother is 100…” — JoAnn worried about the weather.   

“You’ll see,” Pearl told her, “the weather will be beautiful!”   

Pearl was right. Jan. 11, 2020, was sunny and 65 degrees in New York. Pearl sat in a front-row seat, wearing a sparkly cardigan and big corsage. The last advice she gave JoAnn was right after the ceremony, when she said, “Stack your rings.”   

Six days later, Pearl died in her sleep.   

“My mother was razor-sharp until her last day on earth,” JoAnn says. “Our biggest pleasures were the simplest ones — girlie lunches or just doing our nails together. She often said, ‘Here I am 100 and I feel like I'm 75!’ She did not believe in the word retirement, and said ‘Retirement means retiring from life.’ I hold that advice dearly.”      

Brent Barrett, who starred on Broadway in Phantom of the Opera and Chicago, grew up in Quinter, Kansas (population 800). Brent’s mother, Edith, baked pies for the only café in town. “She was a fantastic baker,” Brent says. Her specialty: gooseberry pie. 

Edith broke her hip washing her car in the middle of a cold December. She was tossing out a bucket of water and slipped on ice. She was 98 at the time. At 101, she moved to an assisted living residence in Hays, Kansas (population 14,000). At 102, to a standing ovation, she walked Brent down his wedding aisle. When the question was asked, “Who gives this man to be married?” Edith, who didn’t hear well, remained silent. So Brent turned and mouthed to her, “Now!” Edith smiled and called out, “I do!”   

During the rise of COVID-19, Edith moved to Las Vegas to live with the couple. Now 104, Edith broke her other hip last November and is in a wheelchair.   

“She’s never been one to question,” Brent says. “She takes whatever is dealt to her and moves forward. The only real advice she ever gives me is, ‘Just don’t expect much — then you won’t be too disappointed.’ ”  

Another quality he points to as the ticket for her longevity: “Kansas prairie living.”   

When I was in seventh grade, my best friend’s mother, Lea Beletz, was the fun, glamorous mom, with her bouffant hairdos, tight skirts and (always) high heels. Lea was 72 when Marcia’s dad passed away 35 years ago. Yes. Do the math. Lea is 107 and lives alone in her own apartment, with no aides, and because over the years her hamstrings have tightened so much, she can only wear high heels.   

“Her doctors have a little heart attack every time they see her walking in her heels and wobbles a bit,” Marcia says. “But she tells them, ‘Oh, no worries, I’m just dancing a little!’ ”   

Lea stopped driving at 100 because of poor eyesight. “She was sad about that for ages,” Marcia says. “And she ran over one too many toes and terrorized too many people with the motorized shopping cart at Costco, so they took away the keys. She’ll tell me it’s not fun being this old, but the minute I think she’s down for the count, she’s back! Feisty and motivated.”   

Lea still gives Marcia cooking tips and shares her daily political thoughts. “Don’t even mention a medical issue,” Marcia says. “Because she’ll drive you crazy trying to fix it with her limited Google search abilities.”   

So, what’s the best part about having a mom who is over 100? Marcia responds quickly: “It’s hearing her voice first thing in the morning, calling to say, ‘I’m still alive.’ ”   

The other day I was debating what to serve at a baby shower, and my first instinct was to reach for the phone. Mom will know.     

My mother would be close to 100 now. Oh, how I wish I could call her and ask for advice.

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