Wednesday, May 23, 2018, Washington, DC
“One hundred and five?” Alan White River asked. “I don’t feel a day over a hundred and four. Why, last year, I was thought to be only 99-plus.”
“I’m just telling you what your epigenetic clock says, Mr. White River,” Dr. Caroline Laney said.
The physician was young and more than a little amused by her venerable patient.
“C’mon, Doctor,” White River said as he sat on the examination table. “You just got your microscope out and looked at the number of rings in a strand of my hair, didn’t you? Maybe you miscounted.”
The doctor laughed. So did John Tall Wolf who stood behind her in the examination room.
“What do you think, Grandson?” White River asked. “Could I really be that old?”
Alan White River declined the use of the word great as a noun of direct address for both himself and his great-grandson.
“We’ll keep the awful truth from Ms. Lipman,” John said.
Barbara Lipman was a cellist emeritus, late of the National Symphony Orchestra. A comparatively young octogenarian, she lived one flight up in the Washington townhouse where John and his great-grandfather also lodged. She was Alan White River’s lady friend. He joked that he was her groupie.
The reason for the visit to the doctor was neither illness nor injury. John and White River were going on a trip. John thought it wise to get an informed opinion as to how well great-grandfather would hold up on a trans-Atlantic flight. That and see if he would still be eligible for a traveler’s health insurance policy. The cutoff age, unfortunately, was 100.
John had thought that age limit to be remarkably benevolent, even if the premium was astronomical, but now it turned out to be insufficient. With the European public health care systems accepting neither Medicare nor Blue Cross Blue Shield, White River would have to pay his own tab if he fell ill or stumbled on uneven pavement.
The comforting fact here was the heroic old Indian who’d masterminded the theft of the Super Chief had earned more than a million dollars net on the lecture circuit in the past year, and John had persuaded him to keep a quarter of his earnings.
White River had given the rest to causes he considered worthy.
Ironically, his generosity had provided him with good publicity and raised the speaking fees he was offered.
Dr. Laney told White River, “We gave up the ring-counting method a long time ago. We use DNA methylation these days. That’s why we took your saliva and blood samples, Mr. White River. But you need to remember, there’s chronological age and then there’s biological age: how well your cells are functioning and how much spring you have in your step. You’re a good 10-to-15 years younger than a calendar reckoning would say.”
White River beamed and stood up with surprising fluidity for someone his age.
He extended a hand to Dr. Laney. “May I have this dance, young lady?”
“There’s no music playing,” she said.
White River began to hum.
Recognizing the melody, Dr. Laney grinned. “The Blue Danube Waltz. That’s my grandfather’s favorite. He taught me the steps.”
The two of them danced around the examination room for a minute, as White River continued to hum and John stood back and marveled.
White River told the doctor, “If I didn’t already have a girlfriend, I’d take you on my trip with me.”
Dr. Laney said, “You know, I never heard where you’ll be going.”
Producing another broad smile, he told her, “Paris.”