By Nick Moorhead
This past week, Anne Glennon celebrated her 105th birthday with her friends at Little Sisters of the Poor in Somerville. Anne has lived there since she was 85. “By now, I should own half of it,” she quips.
Anne was born in Boston on Christmas in 1907, which makes her a little over a hundred and five years old. Given that the average life expectancy of a human living in the United States is in the mid-70s, this degree of longevity is totally astounding. If you want directions to the fountain of eternal life, however, Anne doesn’t have them. What she has are bits and pieces of practical advice for how to take care of yourself. She walks every morning. She has never smoked in her life, but enjoys a glass of wine with dinner. This is all well and good, but what’s the secret? How has she survived so long? “Spaghetti and meatballs,” Anne teases.
Anne’s parents came over from Italy in the early 1900’s and settled in Boston. She grew up in the North End in a family of eight siblings, four sisters and four brothers. One of her favorite aspects of living in the North End was her proximity to the Kennedy’s. They lived just a couple of blocks away from Anne’s childhood home on Hanover Street. Her worst memory of that time was The Great Molasses Flood of 1919. A huge molasses tank exploded, killing 21 people and injuring over 150. There were also numerous animals hurt. Anne is clearly an animal lover, as she seems almost as distraught about the deaths of the horses as she is about the people when recalling the molasses explosion.
Anne’s Italian heritage is a source of pride that she returns to throughout the conversation with emphasis. She says she doesn’t eat as much Italian dishes as you would expect, given her heritage, but that she loves caffe corretto, coffee with liquor. “I don’t eat eggplant, though,” Anne says.
Anne divulges that she’s lasted this long by living a quiet life, not going out on the town much, staying in most nights. These days, she prefers relaxing in her room in front of a Red Sox game to coming down to the auditorium, which serves as the common room at Little Sisters of the Poor. Despite her reticence about socializing, she has many friends and fans among the community.
One friend of hers suggests that Anne is a “bingo nut”, and Anne confirms this. “I play with six cards,” Anne says, which is a lot for someone her age – not that there are many people in that bracket for points of comparison – but Anne is very much with it. “I pay a dollar fifty to play, but a win is only fifty cents.” Though Anne sounds slightly perturbed about this incongruent issue, you get the feeling she’s playing for a love of the game, as opposed to some half-baked, late in life get rich quick scheme. “We like to buy clothes here, but I didn’t buy anything this year,” she says. Her Christmases are simple, but she likes it like that.
Anne has to like the quiet holidays, as she’s the only surviving sibling in her family. Longevity is a recurrent theme in the Glennon clan, however. Her brother, a science professor she recalls fondly, lived until 102. “He was a smart egg,” she says. “To live this long, you have to be really smart, or really stupid.” A friend who was listening to our interview asked how Anne had made it this far, and Anne said she was part of the stupid group. Once the prying acquaintance walked over to the bar for a soda, Anne’s tune changed. “I’m like you,” she said. “I have a good head. Some of these people here, they’re almost as old as me, and they don’t know anything. It’s pitiful.”
After awhile, Anne gives away the secret to her longevity, one that shouldn’t surprise any smart eggs. “Clean living,” she says. Also integral to Anne’s life are her religious beliefs. “God is my boss,” she says. “I talk to God every day.” If I had to make a wager about God’s role in her life, knowing that she has survived well over a century on Earth, during a tumultuous era including The Great Depression and two World Wars? I’d bet that God is talking back to Anne, big time.