Brownie Ebner, my new friend and role model, turned 100 yesterday. Can you imagine living from Nov. 11, 1911 until Nov. 11, 2011? “I didn’t think I was going to make it the last few days,” she said at her senior living center party yesterday. Then she smiled, and asked me if her hair looked okay.
A woman in a sequined cocktail dress was crooning old tunes to around 40 assembled senior residents, most with walkers or in wheel chairs. Not at Brownie’s table: her three friends were probably all 20 years younger than her. When the singer used her microphone to send birthday wishes her way, Brownie told us that she had forgotten her hearing aid, and quipped, “Is she saying nice things about me?”
Brownie’s quick wit and “gypsying around” her whole life may have contributed to her longevity, along with her love of all games. “Maybe being active has something to do with living so long,” she says. Brownie has also had to adjust to whatever life throws at her. She attended 16 different schools in New York City because she and her mother moved around so much.
Brownie was born in Providence, R.I., and lived in Montreal, New York and Boston before settling in Tucson with her husband and son in 1949. We “gypsyed around” here too, she says, having lived at 26 different addresses in Tucson.
“I have a lot of time to think about things now,” says Brownie, reminding me of a question I had asked earlier about the changes she’s seen:
“I’m not astounded about anything because the changes have been so gradual. But it’s too bad children are so involved in staring at screens, [and they’re] not outdoors tossing a ball, or playing hopscotch. They’re too isolated. They don’t have the emotions we had. They’re disaffected and get callous at an early age.”
When Brownie’s daughter asked me to spin a family story about her mother’s upcoming milestone — interviewing Brownie and writing a creative piece about her life, which is part of my writing biz — I’ll admit that I wondered how coherent Brownie would be. But she has a better memory than I do. And she’s smart, articulate, and engaged with the world.
Two years ago, Brownie checked out the senior living center and noticed pool tables in a room near the main lobby. “Can people from the outside come in?” she asked. Brownie had been part of a poker group “on the outside” for years. Yes, her poker group could play there. She moved in.
I’ve never imagined living till 100. But looking at Brownie’s smiling face, clearly enjoying all of her 11/11/11 hoopla, I thought to myself: Hmm…If I had all my marbles like Brownie, it would be okay.