What's the secret to living to be 100? Gatorade and raisins, said Neal Reed, who recently celebrated his 100th birthday at home with family and friends. But seriously, Reed said never having taken prescription medicines is the reason he is so spry and alert at his age.
He told one of his granddaughters he had never taken prescription medications, and didn't take over-the-counter medicines either. "I asked him what he took, and he said Gatorade and raisins," Rachel Reed said.
One may think being 100 means feeble, but Neal Reed is far from that. He is alert and has a memory that makes people much younger than he marvel.
His cane gets in his way so he doesn't use it much. And watch out when people break out the musical instruments - this century-old fellow plays a mean fiddle and harmonica.
As a matter of fact, he played along with the crowd Saturday, April 11, at the home of his son and daughter-in-law Leon and Joy Reed, during his birthday celebration. Hundreds came to the drop-in reception and dinner afterward, some from out of state.
Reed hails from Peterston, West Virginia, where he grew up on a farm. But when his wife Peggy became ill, he came to live near his son Leon, and cared for his wife even when she was placed in a nursing home.
They were married over 60 years when she died.
Reed enjoyed living in rural Bulloch County, growing his own garden and helping family, who lived within walking distance. His grandchildren and great grandchildren, as well as all the neighborhood kids, affectionately call him " Papa Neal."
Reed has always been active - even playing baseball until age 67 when he lived in Virginia. His energetic spirit showed after his day-long party died down. Reed was still visiting with others into the wee hours Sunday morning, and was reluctant as he prepared for bed. "I'd better go on to bed before it gets too early," he joked.
People way younger than he were tired from the day's activities, but his eyes sparkled brightly as he reviewed the day's events. He expressed immense satisfaction with his celebration. "I think this is great. Can't beat it," he said. "Friends, children, people I haven't seen in a while. and I'm glad I'm here, too."
Reed sported a light blue tee shirt that declared "I turned 100 years old today."
He has always worked hard, and one would assume he never smoked, since he lived so long. But Reed is quick to correct that assumption.
"I smoked, but I quit in 1961 because I just got tired of it," he said.
Although he lived in an era which saw a man on the moon,the invention of the Internet and more, he said the most amazing thing he ever saw in his 100 years was when his father accepted Jesus Christ.
His advice to young people of today? "Obey your parents, have your mind on things right, and don't fool with drugs and stuff like that," he said."Don't use bad language either."
Family and friends
As Reed enjoyed his day, more than one person commented on his alertness and amazing memory. One woman whom he had not seen in years greeted him, and he shared memories of his friendship with her grandfather.
Reed's son, Jay Truman Reed, said the most noteworthy thing about his older brother is " his steadiness, his solidity. He is the perfect father, a Rock of Gibraltar. I never doubted we were loved and wanted. That was never a question."
Leon Reed remarked on his father's patience. "He always had more patience than anyone I'd ever seen," he said. "He would eat anything that was cooked, and never even took an aspirin. Always kept busy and never did just quit and sit down."
Alan Jabour, folklorist and retired director of the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, has long been a friend of the Reed family. His research on old time fiddle players led him to discover Henry Reed, Neal's father, who was inducted into the Music Hall of Fame.
Jabour attended the party and remembered how Reed would always attend music events and gatherings. "He is the travelingest 100-year-old man," he said. "It's the things he lives for -he makes it point to get there."
There is "something special about Neal as a human being," he said. "It rubs off on you - not just that he is 100 years old."
Everyone thinks he is special, said his granddaughter, Polly Reed Word. She too is amazed by his memory. "He remembers all the grandkids' birthdays," she said.
Everybody loves Papa Neal. Throughout the day of his celebration, he was constantly talking to friends, holding a great grandchild, or playing his harmonica. Reed also plays the mandolin.
And not once did anyone catch him without a smile.
"I've never heard him say an unkind word, and I've been in the family for 53 years," Joy Reed said.
That's what one would expect from a man who said family comes first, after God. A man who tells young people today they should not use bad language, and a man who said he has to get to bed because he has "a brush pile to burn" the next day in spite of being a century old.
(For more information about Reed's father, Henry Reed, and his musical history, access Internet web site www.henryreed.org).