How old does a person need to be before we can say they’ve had a good, long life? Eighty? Ninety? How about 103?
Native New Mexican Julia Cordova celebrated her 103rd birthday Jan. 19 at the Share Your Care Senior Center in the Rio Rancho Presbyterian Church.
The center was decorated with streamers and balloons. Some clients wore party hats, and several reached for Julia or called her name, as she prepared to be interviewed.
First, center respite coordinator Leticia Gonzales, smiling the entire time, outfitted Julia with a pink tiara and matching necklace.
Julia, accompanied by her daughter Carmen Cordova, makes few outward concessions to her age. Yes, she relies on a hearing aid, and, yes, she carries a cane.
However, given that Julia’s posture is straighter than most people half her age, at times it seemed the cane was more fashion accessory than medical device. Sitting on an office chair during the interview, Julia never once slumped or curled forward.
Born in 1919, Julia grew up in Clayton, in northeast New Mexico, and is not sure why she’s lived as long she has.
When asked to speculate on what may have contributed to her longevity, Julia answered immediately: “I don’t know. But I was always happy and working.”
Thinking a bit longer, she added that her father lived to 100, so maybe good genes contributed. Julia was married for years, had four biological children — two boys and two girls — and one adopted boy. Widowed at 62, Julia never let it get her down.
“My husband died, and I went to work,” she said.
Carmen added, “She can’t sit still. Ever. She always has to be busy. Even now.”
Julia worked well into her 90s. For 26 years, she drove a bus for Albuquerque Public Schools. When she could no longer drive the larger buses, she drove the smaller buses, and when she could no longer drive those, she became an educational aide, first on the buses and then in the classroom.
“The students loved her,” Carmen said. “They brought her presents all the time.”
The clients and staff at Share Your Care respond as positively to Julia as those students did.
When the interview ended, the staff rushed to her side, taking her by the elbow and ushering her to her seat. The clients, eager for Julia to take part in her birthday celebration, waved at her, calling her name.
Even at 103, Julia has a warm and soothing presence, inviting people to get to know her just a little better.