July 21, 2017

Live Long and Prosper

Live Long and Prosper

“Last year I went in for an x-ray and thought it would be the last time. But no, here I am again.”

It is not easy to set long-term plans when you are nearly 100. Even Elizaveta Andreyevna Lakeyeva didn’t get it right.

A yellow school bus makes its way to the regional hospital. On its side, in big red letters, is the word, “Children.” The doors clang open and a group of elderly women exits the vehicle. They head toward the entrance of the hospital and disappear into its murky innards.

The babushkas were rounded up from distant villages and brought here, to the regional hospital in Gorodets, Nizhegorodskaya oblast, for a check up. They are in high spirits: they seem to enjoy worrying and revel in the opportunity to sit and chat with friends.

The smallest, most wonderful woman in this stream of babushkas is the woman we are interviewing, Elizaveta Andreyevna. She hurriedly approaches the x-ray reception desk, gifting everyone she meets with a sunny smile. It is more like she is arriving not at a hospital, but at her own birthday celebration.

A frowning, distrustful crowd greets the school bus delegation. They have to give up their seats and then their places in line to the old women. But no one objects, and the doctor sorts the babushkas out within an hour, then sends them on their way.

Elizaveta Andreyevna lives in the village of Konevo. In the warm months of the year, many dachniki [vacationers] show up there; entire families will come and stay for the summer. But in winter there are just three or four permanent residents in the village, including Elizaveta Andreyevna.

Perhaps that is the reason she has remained so healthy to this day. She gets about without a cane, fires up her stove all by herself, bakes pies, steams herself in the banya, minds a greenhouse, and does her shopping in the mobile store. The village has no grocery, hospital, post office, or school. There are just a few private homes and a run-down church on the outskirts.

Some say Elizaveta Andreyevna owes her long life to the fact that she never had any children – there was no one to worry about. But Elizaveta Andreyevna does not include childlessness on her list of the reasons for her longevity.

Actually, if we recall the other heroines we have so far visited on our travels, all had children, from one to four. So I am inclined to believe that the secret of these women’s long lives has nothing to do with the presence or absence of children, but with the fact that in their later years they have not been left alone: indeed, they are surrounded by people who worry about them and pay attention to them.

Elizaveta Andreyevna does not bear a grudge toward Fate when it comes to her lack of children. She has a niece who travels from the city to visit her each week, to prepare some food for her, do some house cleaning and laundry, and bring some groceries and medicine. In the summer, the two basically live together in Konevo. The niece’s children and grandchildren also visit their babushka. And a social worker regularly visits Elizaveta Andreyevna, to keep an eye on her and spend some time chatting with her.

Not a single one of the women whom we have met lives alone. Not one of them has been cast aside; they all have children and grandchildren, to say nothing of other close relatives, who take care of them.

Genes are of course a decisive factor. Nearly all of our heroines have affirmed that their near relatives include individuals who have lived into their 80s or 90s. One of the babushkas said that her grandfather lived to be 104. But that, given the distance of many years, could be an apocryphal memory.

And yet Elizaveta Andreyevna’s family does seem to share a phenomenal gene pool. Her four sisters lived to be 84, 88, 94 and 95. And their mother, Agrippina Stepanovana, lived to be 103. For many years she was the reigning elderly resident of Konevo. Actually, Elizaveta Andreyevna’s friend and closest neighbor is now about 96.

Perhaps there is something about this place? Maybe it would be wise to purchase a dacha in Konevo?

Elizaveta Andreyevna

A photo gallery. Click the circles on the left or right of the photos to browse. {Photography by Mikhail Solunin.}

Actually, all of our heroines were born in villages, but half later moved to cities. Thus, residency would be a difficult factor to see as decisive for determining long life. Their educations are also dissimilar: primary school, accelerated courses, high school, incomplete night school... Not a single one had a college education, but then for someone born in the early twentieth century, this is rather common.

All of them worked a great deal, and from earliest childhood they became accustomed to manual labor. But their professions were not those that demanded long hours and superhuman labor. None of the centenarians ever occupied a post of great responsibility. Which could be one of the secrets to long life – to work plenty with one’s hands, but not to strain oneself or let one’s nerves get the best of them.

Don’t get worked up, don’t worry, accept life for what it is – this, in fact, is what all our centenarians have told us. The genes you inherit from your mother and father cannot be changed. But how you react to life – there is always room to change that.

And here is what Elizaveta Andreyevna recommended:

“You need to take care of yourself. And don’t drink a lot of them toxic spirits. You can drink within limits, but many people just go overboard these days, drinking and lying about – you shouldn’t do that. Alcohol has the worst effects of all upon one’s body; it sets everything on fire.


“You must eat at regular times. I don’t eat bad foods. I have been on a diet for maybe forty years. I don’t eat salted herring. Stay away from pies and bliny. Same for sour apples. But soup and chicken, these suit me. Food is really the main thing. What doesn’t suit you, you should not eat, or else you will get sick. Eat a bit less meat, so that you do not get overweight. It’s especially important to not get fat. I have been thin my whole life. Don’t hurry, don’t rush through eating, and you won’t get sick. And you will live.


“I loved to work in the garden, I really did not rest much. I did not really take naps in the middle of the day. I don’t sit around much, but keep moving, keep working. Plants are very dear to me. I always had a good crop.


“My husband and I lived and laughed. We spoke in a friendly way. One needs to speak tenderly. My husband and I did everything together. And everything was pleasant and good.


“So, that’s how you should behave, as it should be, like I said. You will live long and be happy.”

Oh, and I almost forgot one important factor, which seriously increases one’s chances of dancing to the age of 100. You must be born a woman. For haven’t you noticed that so far among all our heroes there has yet to be a single man? 

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