Celebrating the New Year at 90? You bet

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Story highlights

  • Val Lauder: When the ball drops New Year's Eve and cries of "Happy New Year" ring out, I have a lot to look forward to
  • As much as I cherish my memories, they surely pale by comparison with others my age

Val Lauder, a former reporter for the Chicago Daily News and lecturer at the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, is the author of "The Back Page: The Personal Face of History." The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely hers.

(CNN)New Year's Eve takes on new meaning when you're 90.

Are New Year's resolutions in order? Are you going to change -- improve, modify, invigorate your life with anything you resolve to do?
What could slow the aging process? Make your lower back hurt less? Pep up your step?
Granted, it's great to see the ball drop in Times Square, hear Frank Sinatra's "New York, New York" in the background, carrying over the crowd's cries of "Happy New Year!"
Val Lauder
And it's great to discover, as I did when I checked to see how many other Americans are 90 or older, that ... Hey! 90 is the new 85.
The "Oldest Old" Population is Expanding Rapidly, according to an NPR story based on the last census. "From 700,000 in the year 1980 to more than 1.9 million in 2010, the number of Americans who are 90 years of age or older has nearly tripled, the Census Bureau reports today in its first comprehensive look at the over-90 population."
Still, when I was renewing my lapsed membership in AARP and asked what the fee was, and the guy said, "It's $16 for one year, and two years is ..."I didn't let him finish. I said, "One year." Adding that I'm 90, and while I hope to see many more years, I think that's the practical thing.
It just came out. Naturally. No real pre-thought.
A growing awareness of my age.
For years, I didn't think about it. As my mother put it shortly before she died at 83, "I don't feel old." I didn't either.
Then, a couple of years ago, I became aware of the number. 87. 88. 89.
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I think it was when I turned 90 -- friends gathered to mark the occasion at a luncheon -- that I recognized my days, make that years, are numbered.
When it came up at a dinner with friends not long ago, one of them said, "But it's been a rich life."
And it has.
Through my years at the Chicago Daily News, then as a freelance writer, and a lecturer in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, I've met a significant number of historical figures and a veritable cornucopia of boldface names. Frank Sinatra. Dean Martin. Dean Smith. Jack Nicklaus. Andy Williams. Esther Williams. Jane Powell. Dick Powell and June Allyson. Danny Thomas. Danny Kaye. Debbie Reynolds. Donald O'Connor. Burt Lancaster. Carol Burnett. Johnny Carson. Bob Newhart.
And Tony Bennett. He's 90 now, too. "Tony Bennett Celebrates 90: The Best Is Yet to Come" was the title of a star-studded, two-hour TV Special last week.
Alas, not Kirk Douglas, who just celebrated his 100th birthday.
Speaking of which, a friend of mine attended the 100th birthday party of a friend at a retirement home some years ago. As the guests were leaving, the birthday girl moved from table to table, gathering up the little candy/nut cups at each place. When someone asked what she was doing she replied: "Saving them for next year."
She lived to be 104.
David Rockefeller, youngest of the sons of John D. Rockefeller Jr., turned 101 this past June.
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Olivia de Havilland, perhaps best remembered for her role as "Melanie" in Gone With the Wind, celebrated her 100th birthday this past July.
The famed architect I. M. Pei will be 100 in April.
Not there yet, but ....
The Rev. Billy Graham is 98.
Prince Philip is 95.
Turning on the TV the other day, I saw the smiling face of Betty White talking about her next project. This January she will be 95.
With the years, come memories.
One of the best for me: the morning President Harry S. Truman met 109 high school and college newspaper editors in the Greater Chicago area, members of the press club I'd proposed and directed and the Daily News sponsored -- a formal presidential press conference. Before turning to leave, the president congratulated me on the excellent questions they'd asked, and extended his hand -- a warm, firm handshake. The moment he was out of earshot, students rushed up, gushing, "How can you ever bear to wash it?!"
Or the afternoon Vice President Alben Barkley pointed out in answer to a student's question the correct names of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations and the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. He said members of Congress never had any trouble keeping them straight because they knew only too well that when they were in the House they were still young enough to have affairs but by the time they got to the Senate they had to settle for relations.
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As much as I cherish my memories, they surely pale by comparison with others my age.
Henry Kissinger, for instance. He's 93.
Or Jimmy Carter, the 39th President of the United States, who is 92.
As is the 41st President, George Herbert Walker Bush.
But memories are memories. An album of events for which I turn the pages in my mind.
A favorite: the evening Charles Kuralt was inducted into the North Carolina Journalism Hall of Fame. Kuralt, known for his "On the Road" reports, recalled the time the CBS bus, colorfully painted with the CBS eye/logo and program name, took a short cut through a small town. Turning onto a residential street, a woman spotted them, appeared in the front door, waving for them to stop, then hurried down the porch steps and out to the street.
As Kuralt told it, he thought that was a real testament to the program. It was reaching people, touching their lives in a way that made this woman want to run out and tell them. When she reached the bus and the driver lowered the window she said, "I want a loaf of white bread, a loaf of whole wheat bread, a box of glazed doughnuts, and a box of chocolate chip cookies."
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Queen Elizabeth II is 90.
And the Queen Mother, remember, lived to be 101.
When the ball drops New Year's Eve, Frank Sinatra sings, and cries of "Happy New Year" ring out, I have a lot to look forward to.
January 8 -- The Golden Globe Awards. Meryl Streep will receive the Cecil B. DeMille Award. He was one of the most, most interesting of all the celebrities. He said (this was 1952) that the studio publicity department told him one of his silent films, "The King of Kings," had been shown in a theatre somewhere in the world every day since its release in 1927. Indeed, a studio aide spotted it playing in Cairo when they were there a year or two before. They went. Midway through the film, the screen went dark -- not a break in the old film -- the call to prayers. The lights came up, members of the audience slipped out of their seats, knelt, and said their prayers. Then they slipped back into their seats, the lights dimmed, and the film resumed.
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January 20 -- The inauguration of the 45th President of the United States. When I stopped by the Chicago Daily News Washington Bureau during a visit to Washington the summer of 1948, Paul R. Leach, the bureau chief, reminisced about being a young reporter. And the first inauguration he'd covered. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, March 4, 1933. He was sitting directly behind Col. Robert McCormick, the colorful owner and publisher of the Chicago Tribune. When Roosevelt said, "... the only thing we have to fear ... is fear itself." Col. McCormick turned to his aide and said: "He won't do."
February 5 -- The Super Bowl. My father was still with us for the first four Super Bowls. My mother didn't like football, so I watched with him. I watch alone now.
March 1 -- My birthday. Happy 91st! And more memories.