My Novels

Tuesday, May 17, 2005


Every now and then a news article appears about "the oldest living woman." I have a collection of these, and thought I'd post them as evidence it is indeed a "mad, mad world."


IN A tiny cottage in the Belorussian village of Kuravsovshina, the world's oldest living person is recalling some of her most significant memories.

Hanna Barysevich turned 116 last week. She was born in the same year that Jack the Ripper began his notorious killing spree and she was already 13 by the time Queen Victoria died.

She cannot read or write, has spent most of her life enduring poverty and hardship and has survived famines, two World Wars and ruthless dictators.

All this on a diet of raw pig fat, gherkins, mushrooms and fried potato.

Lost in her thoughts, events which have long been assigned to school history lessons come cascading into the present when she speaks.

Hanna vividly recalls the hunger her family suffered during the Great War, the news that the Tsar had been executed by the Bolsheviks, the day Stalin's men came to take her husband away to be shot and the moment the Red Army shot her German lover.

She remembers the first time she saw a car and the day her grandson arrived in one to take her for a ride. Hanna smiles when she remembers hearing of Yuri Gagarin's space mission.

"I've seen everything," she says. "I've lived through the wars and under every type of government - the Tsar, then the Communists and then the end of the Soviet Union.

"I've seen the arrival of telephones, cars and planes. I even saw pictures of the planes that go into space."

BUT Hanna says life is the same. "It doesn't matter what people invent to help them communicate or move from one country to another, people are the same.

"I can't understand why, having seen it all, God doesn't come for me now."

At her home, 10 miles south of the capital Minsk, she celebrated her landmark birthday last week with her 87-year-old daughter, Nina, and 55-year-old grandson Yevgeni, who share her home and sell roses and tulips from the garden to supplement her £30-a-month pension.

She has two other children, her 82-year-old son, also named Yevgeni and youngest daughter, Valentina, 80. Hannah is also a grandmother of six, great-grandmother of 13 and great-great-grandmother of four.

Today began as normal, with a slice of salted raw pork fat - salo - and a cup of strong, sweet milky tea, two staples she believes have helped her reach her record-breaking age.

Then she retired to her tiny dark bedroom, to listen to the radio and gaze out of the window at the fruit trees.

"When I was a child, my dream was to live to be 100 but I couldn't imagine it would be possible to live so long," she says.

Hanna didn't retire until the age of 95, when she stopped work on the village's state-owned collective farm. "I've never been ill in my life," she says. "The worst I've suffered is childbirth."

There are no medicines on the table next to her bed, aside from paracetamol, which she takes for the occasional headache.

Born on May 5, 1888, into an impoverished peasant family, her grandparents Josef and Hanna were Polish emigres and her earliest memories are of the small Belorussian village of Buda, where she grew up.

Her mother, Jesefa, died when Hanna was just 18 weeks old and she was raised by her father, Adam, and stepmother, Olga.

The village was destroyed long ago but Hanna still recalls having to help with the housework and carry water from the river from the age of four.

Listening to her recount the past is like taking a lesson in Russian history. She recalls the day that Tsar Nikolai and his family were shot dead in Yekaterinburg by the Bolsheviks in July, 1918. Hanna was already 30.

"We celebrated with dances and songs," she says. "We were so happy. The Tsar was a very bad man. He didn't care about the peasants, so thank God the Bolsheviks murdered him.

"The only pity was that they also shot the Tsarina and the children...

"One of my granddaughters started arguing with me about it some time ago, saying it was a crime to kill him. But people don't know what it was like to live under such a ruler."

For Vladimir Lenin, Russia's first Communist dictator, she has nothing but praise.

"He was wonderful," she says smiling. "He took the land away from our landlords and gave it to us. He looked after the peasants."

But if Hanna and her family believed that Communism was the answer to their prayers, they soon changed their minds when Josef Stalin succeeded as ruler after Lenin's death in 1924.

Like millions of other peasant farmers, Hanna's family were forced into state collective farms and ordered to hand over their harvests to the government.

"It was like slavery," she recalls. "We had to work for 'workday' units, not for money."

It was under Stalin, that her husband, Ippolit, was executed. "He was chief of our collective," she explains. "One day, men from the People's Commissariat Of Internal Affairs came to our village and wanted to buy all our pork at a low price. He refused to sell it because we could get a better price in the market."

HER husband was seized. "They arrested Ippolit and then shot him in the forest and I was left alone with our three children.

"For about 20 years we were branded as 'the family of an enemy of the government'.

"It meant we couldn't leave the village. My children couldn't apply to study at any Soviet institutions. It was only when the government officially forgave us in the 50s that we got the chance to live like ordinary people.

"Stalin's rule was a time of fear, when people had to give police information on their relatives just to save their own lives."

During the Second World War, Hanna fell in love again, this time with a German soldier stationed nearby.

"There are two things I remember about the war," she says, "Permanent hunger and a German soldier named Damian. He courted me and desperately wanted to marry me.

"He was so sweet. He came to our house with mushrooms and meat to help feed us. I nearly said yes to his proposal but then the Red Army troops came back and they shot him. It was a terrible shame."

Hanna is always happiest when revisiting her girlhood. "It was a wonderful time even though we had to work hard. What you don't see today in villages is people working and living as one big family. We used to wake up at 5am, all sisters together, and go to work in the field. We cut the grass and made hayricks and we always sang songs.

"If you were ill, somebody would always help. You were never alone. Today, people are left alone to face their problems."

Sitting in her bedroom, looking back on her long life, Hanna has few regrets, though sometimes she thinks it's a pity she didn't learn to read or write.

"At the end of 19th century, it was costly for peasants to hire a teacher. I did begin to study the alphabet but my father said that a girl only needs to know how to cook and please her husband.

"It was my grandchildren who taught me to sign my name for documents," she says. Hanna believes there is nothing left for her to achieve now.

"I have fulfilled all my ambitions. I wanted to have my own house and have children, and I've done that."

But for those who wonder just how she has reached such a remarkable age, Hanna has her own words of wisdom.

"There's nothing in this life which is worth worrying about," she says. "Don't be nervous, whatever happens. Don't sit near your TV sets and wait till sickness finds you. Work, walk, meet people, do something but don't stop moving.

"Love people and forgive people, whatever they do. Eat good meals - eat pork fat, gherkins and potato, drink good vodka and wine. That's my recipe.

"And meet every morning as if it's the last morning of your life."


Chechnya claims 'oldest living person'

The world's oldest living person is believed to have been discovered in war-torn Chechnya - beating by nine years the current record holder.

Health officials in the separatist Russian republic say great-great grandmother Zabani Khakimova is 124 years old.

If her age is authenticated, Mrs Khakimova would beat the current record-holder - Japanese woman Kamato Hongo.

Mrs Khakimova, a devout Muslim from the south-western Achkoi-Martan district, is said to remain energetic and be in comparatively good health despite impaired hearing.

Chechnya's Deputy Health Minister, Sultan Alimkhadzhiyev, said she has 24 grandchildren, 38 great-grandchildren and seven great-great-grandchildren.

He told Interfax news agency that doctors believed she might be even older than the age on her passport.

"Despite her advanced age, she still works around the house, looks after her numerous grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren, and prays five times a day," said the agency report.

Mr Alimkhadzhiyev said she had outlived her oldest son, who died two years ago, but her youngest son was still alive and had 10 children.

'No worries'

The current world record holder is Kamato Hongo - born in 1887 on Tokunoshima Island in southern Japan - who is due to celebrate her 116th birthday in September.

She took the title in March 2002 after the death of the former title holder Maude Farris-Luse, from the United States.

Bed-ridden and needing continuous care, Mrs Hongo sleeps for two days and stays awake for two days. She enjoys a tipple of sake, Japanese rice wine, and uses her arms to perform the traditional dances of her native island.

Her recipe for long life is "not to worry too much".

The world's oldest man is also Japanese. Retired silkworm breeder Yukichi Chuganji, from the island of Kyushu, took the title in January 2002 aged 112.

He is said to hate vegetables but loves to eat meat and drink milk.


Chechen woman may be oldest person

MOSCOW, Russia (Reuters) -- A Chechen great-great-grandmother born in 1881 could be the oldest woman in the world, Russian state television reported.

Pasikhat Dzhukalayeva has nine grandchildren, 18 great-grandchildren, and seven great-great-grandchildren who call her 'Granny Asi'.

"I do not know why I have lived so long. I have buried five brothers and sisters, and four children," the wrinkled Dzhukalayeva, who moves around in a wheelchair, told Rossiya television. She showed off a passport giving her year of birth.

If 122 as claimed, Dzhukalayeva would have been in her thirties during World War One and Russia's 1917 revolution, and already in her sixties when Soviet dictator Josef Stalin deported most of the Chechen people to Central Asia in 1944.

The most long-lived person with reliable documentation is believed to have been France's Jeanne-Louise Calment, who died at 122. According to the Guinness Book of Records, the world's oldest living woman is U.S. citizen Charlotte Benkner, who was born in Germany in late 1889 -- a mere 113 years ago.

According to Guinness, the oldest living man is from Spain and was born less than a month after Benkner in 1889, the year Adolf Hitler was born.


World's oldest woman voted for Putin

Russian woman Maria Strelnikova was born on March 15th, 1890 in the village of Ukrainka of the Samara region

According to the Guinness Book of Records, a Brazilian woman had been reported to be oldest human being on Earth. Maria Olivia da Silva, a native of the state of Sao Paulo, has a birth certificate that says that she was born on February 28th, 1880. However, a recent statement by the Guinness Book of Records company indicates that the Brazilian woman has not enough evidence to prove her phenomenal longevity. There is a good chance that Maria Strelnikova will be found eligible for the Guinness Book of Records as the oldest woman on the planet provided that her next of kin file an application.

Mrs. Strelnikova doesn't look like a happy record-holder. Local medical emergency service has stopped sending an ambulance to her address a long time ago. "The old lady lived long enough, it is about time she..." must be the reasoning behind the paramedics' attitude. Mrs. Strelnikova has been bedridden after breaking her hip joint bone two years ago. "My mom had not even turned 100 years old when the doctors refused to provide medical help to her," says Alexanda, her 80-year-old daughter. "So I have to take care of her myself. You know, buying medicines at the drugstore or giving her a shot," says she.

Maria Strelnikova was born on March 15th, 1890 in the village of Ukrainka of the Samara region, the Volga area. All the ancestors within her recollection were very healthy and hard-working people. Her father, grandfather, and great-grandfather all lived till 100 years. By conventional standards, her family was considered well-to-do, they kept a small livestock consisting of a few cows, goats and a camel. All the family members worked hard. They would rise at dawn and would spend the whole day plowing, sowing or harvesting. "I remember the old saying 'Early to bed and early to rise, makes you healthy, wealthy and wise' since I was a kid," says Mrs. Strelnikova.

At the beginning of the 1930s her family lost everything even though they never belonged to the rich. The Bolshevists broke into her house one night. "They must have thought we were living in clover so they took almost everything we owned including our chickens which they threw into a huge canvas bag," says Mr. Strelnikova. Then somebody reported to the authorities on "the lack of cooperation" allegedly displayed by the Strelnikovs toward the Soviet power. The arrest seemed imminent. The family had to flee the village and take shelter in a village close to Leningrad.

Nazis put Maria Strelnikova and her two children to a concentration camp in the August of 1941. The camp was located near the town of Pskov. They spent there three long years before being sent to Konigsberg, East Prussia. The freight train packed with prisoners got blown up with a land mine. Only seven people survived including her children and herself. Her children had to climb the car's roof and take a jump to safety. She followed suit despite her injuries sustained in the explosion. But their journey was far from over. They spent another year in captivity and were finally set free by the Red Army on January 27th, 1945. They set off on their trip to Leningrad walking barefoot in the snow. They arrived home on March 5th.

Mrs. Strelnikova had lived in a tiny room of the communal apartment until she turned 81 years old. Then she was granted a one-room apartment by the authorities of the town Vyborg, near Leningrad. "That is when her real life began," says Valentina, her 84-year-old daughter. "She had a definite run of luck about a year ago. Some kind people in Norway sent her a TV set. Then Alexander Nevzorov, a Duma deputy, put pressure on the authorities and her apartment was finally hooked up to the telephone line. Mr. Nevzorov also paid 1,000 rubles for her future telephone bills. He sent a money order for 300 rubles to my mom on her birthday last year so that we might bake a curd pie," says she.

"I want to live till Easter, that is my only dream at the moment," says Mrs. Strelnikova.

"I have a good pension - 4,000 rubles - thanks a lot, Mr. Putin, for making my life good at the end of the road, with money like that I can save up for my funeral arrangements while staying on my magic diet that kept me fit for the last 115 years," says she.

"Are you afraid of death?"

"No, I am not. The purpose of dying is not heaven high above where you should go to. It is heaven that you should find inside yourself."


Jeanne Louise Calment
August 4, 1997
122 years 164 days

Oldest Woman Ever

The oldest fully authenticated age to which any human has ever lived is 122 years and 164 days, by Jeanne-Louise Calment. She was born in France on February 21, 1875, and died at a nursing home in Arles, southern France on August 4, 1997. President Jacques Chirac once said Jean Calment was a little bit like a grandmother to everyone in France. She was 14 when the Eiffel Tower was completed in 1889. She led an extremely active life, taking up fencing at 85 years old, and was still riding a bicycle at 100. She portrayed herself at the age of 114 in the film Vincent And Me, to become the oldest actress in film.

Jeanne Louise Calment

Jeanne Louise Calment was born in Arles, France on February 21, 1875. She once met Vincent Van Gogh in her father's shop. Her genes may have contributed to her longevity as her father lived to the age of 94 and her mother to the age of 86. She married a distant cousin at the age of 21. Her only grandson died in 1963. She rode a bicycle to the age of 100.

In October of 1995, much press coverage announced that Jeanne had exceeded the lifespan of Shigechiyo (Chigechiyo) Izumi, who until then had held the claim to the longest lived human. In fact, work by John Wilmoth indicates that Izumi may have only been 105 when he died, meaning that Jeanne may have outlived Izumi in 1980. If that is accurate, Jeanne would have become the longest lived human in 1991 when she exceeded the longevity of Carrie White, who died at the age of 116.

Quotes attributed to Jeanne Calment:

* In life, one sometimes makes bad deals.

Comments on the notary public, Andre-Francois Raffray, who purchased her apartment, promising to pay $500 per month until Jeanne died. He paid twice the market value for the apartment before dying in December of 1995.

Comments on her vision of the future on her 120th birthday.

* I've been forgotten by a good God. (or L'Oubliée de Dieu?)
* I've only got one wrinkle and I'm sitting on it. (Je n'ai jamai eu qu'une seule ride et je suis assise dessus.)
* I'm a normal woman.
* I am very brave and I'm afraid of nothing.
* I took pleasure when I could. I acted clearly and morally and without regret. I'm very lucky.

Jeanne Calment published a CD and a VCR tape titled "Maitresse du Temps".


Jeanne Calment, the world's oldest person, died at 122 on Monday August 4, 1997.


Now, there you have it. From these articles it is easy to learn the secrets of longevity. NOT. ;-) In other words, there is NO secret formula, no sure-fire way to live past 100. As always, the "reasons" given by those who HAVE lived that long are varied and weirdly eccentric.

But aside from all that, who in their right mind WANTS to live that long?

On another topic, I've been writing, and you can read a continuing story I'm posting at my website if you wish. FOGBOUND

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