Don’t bother looking for it. You won’t find this course listed in any university across the nation. The world, even. Tessie is an acquaintance of mine at a nursing home in Newton, North Carolina. I learned more chatting with her over the course of a few minutes than in an entire 3 credit semester. Without the cost.
Tessie celebrated her 101st birthday on February 25th of this year. She is mentally sharp, hearing excellent. It got me wondering what contributed to her longevity. I joined her in the dining hall one evening and made myself a student of her life.
She was served a carefully portioned bowl of cornflakes and a glass of milk.
Intestinal issues I supposed. Maybe couldn’t handle the sloppy joe they offered for dinner.
Uh uh. This was her daily routine. Cornflakes, always cornflakes. All three meals. After she spooned the last of the cereal into her mouth she pushed the bowl forward. Content. Goodbye Food Guide Pyramid. So much for the USDA’s daily recommended allowance. And it took me four years to acquire a BS in Nutrition, another three for my Master’s when all along the secret to longevity could be hiding in a box of cereal.
Tessie’s father directed the choir at their church. Passed his gift of music to Tessie who taught piano for over 30 years until arthritis gnarled her fingers. She found joy using her God-given talent.
Medical research has suggested that stress can shave years off one’s life. Well, Tessie was quiet, non obtrusive. No idle chatter or grumbling. Her countenance radiated contagious contentment. She claimed to have never gotten in a fuss with her late husband, Ernest. The two courted for ten years before they married.
Woah! Ten years! I scribbled mental notes. “Alright, so the woman is…PATIENT.”
And she married once. After Ernest passed that was it. I assumed Tessie may have had eyes for another at some point. I was wrong. In fact, years after Ernest died there’d been a gentleman who waited for her outside the church one Sunday, pacing. He wanted to court her. Tessie wasn’t interested. She turned to her daddy. “Daddy, I think I’ll wait here for you to walk me out.” He did. And the man never gave her any more trouble. Tessie knew where to find refuge.
During another visit I found Tessie in her room. She’d been dozing, propped upright in her chair. Her delicate shoulders were draped in a red sweater over a white shirt. The room was quiet. Blessedly quiet. No blaring Family Feud, not even a radio. Immediately, a sadness washed over me at what I perceived to be lonely confinement. But her prominent cheekbones beneath dancing, cloudy eyes (magnified by reading glasses) still spoke of a contented soul. I asked if she’d had her cornflakes that morning. She nodded.
This time I learned that Ernest and Tessie had only one child. A girl named Ernestine. But the child lived only four days. Tessie never knew the reason why. I waited for it, but grumbling never tainted her speech.
My eyes were drawn to a hefty, worn black Holy Bible that sat on her nightstand. It was illuminated by soft lamp light. I pointed to it. “Is that yours?”
“Yes. I read it every day.”
I returned her smile. “What’s your favorite book of the Bible?”
“Oh, I like the Psalms.”
Yes, Tessie, so do I.
Having been a honored student of Tessie 101 I concluded either Kellogg’s had it right or Tessie had learned the secret to cultivating a quiet heart. Something worth pondering as I fix myself a bowl of cornflakes and peruse the Psalms.
“I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me. But I have stilled and quieted my soul; like a weaned child with its mother, like a weaned child is my soul within me.”