What do you ask a 100-year-old woman?
Well, here's one of the questions I asked the first 100-year-old woman I'd ever met, Eva Eden, who became a centenarian Sept. 13 and who last week welcomed me into her Georgetown home.
Handing her a sepia-toned photo -- a childhood picture of a bright-eyed baby Eva, sitting upright and swathed in a pale dressing gown that shone like her then-blonde hair -- I jokingly asked: What were you thinking when this photo was taken?
"As a baby?" she roared, then was silent for a beat. "I was thinking about what I was going to tell you when I grew up."
In a sense, Eva Eden has come full circle. She was born in 1904 in her family's house at 3311 Q St. NW. That was 10 years before the bison-bedecked Dumbarton Bridge that is such a fixture of that street was built.
With her Marine Corps officer husband, Jack Eden, she lived in such places as Parris Island, S.C., and Honolulu. But most of her long life has been spent in the District. In 1989 she and Jack moved into the Georgetown retirement residence, just a few blocks down Q Street from her childhood home. Jack died a few years later.
When I met her, Eva Eden was dressed smartly, as she always is: a red skirt and jacket, an ivory blouse, a gold necklace. She spends most of her time in a wheelchair, but when I arrived she had to be pulled out of an exercise class that had her stretching her arms and hands. A pillow on her couch was embroidered with the legend, "It's hard to be humble when you're from Georgetown."
There's no denying that being 100 takes its toll -- on the body, on the brain -- but, frankly, there are days when I don't feel I'm as together as Mrs. Eden was when I met her.
As a young woman, she worked at the gold-domed Riggs Bank at Wisconsin and M, where she was in charge of the safe deposit boxes. I'd been told that she had a story about a customer who would ride over Key Bridge in a horse-drawn carriage, this at a time when most people had already switched to automobiles but it was still possible to drive a horse and carriage down M Street without too much fuss.
She didn't remember that particular story that day, though she did take pains to point out that she was not the lady with a horse.
Eva Eden did have some pretty strong memories, though: how Georgetown was "just a plain old country city" back when she was growing up and would roller-skate on 33rd Street to Volta Park. How everyone called the area around Georgetown University "Holy Hill."
She remembered the time her father was digging in the basement of their Q Street home and unearthed nine bodies. That's right: nine skeletons in the basement, enough for a baseball team.
"You know what would be fun now?" Mrs. Eden asked me. "Not fun, but interesting? Dig it up and get all those [bodies] back."
You mean they're still there? I asked.
"He buried them right back," she said. (Her father did at least move them from the basement to the alley, she pointed out.)
So what's the secret of living to 100, I asked, hoping that it wouldn't involve growing up in a house with skeletons in the basement.
"Most everybody asks me that," Eva Eden said. "I don't know why I'm 100."
She used to walk a lot. Her mother fed her well. ("My mother was a great cook," she said. "I wish I could eat some of her food now.")
To be honest, she's a bit amazed by the whole thing herself. No one plans to be 100.
"Personally, I think my health and the way I feel as well as I feel is wonderful," she said. "I don't think many people 100 years old feel as well as I do. . . . If I can help anybody by my telling them how well I feel, that's good. I try to do it."
Eva Eden was silent a moment. She turned to Vanessa Spevacek, the Georgetown's director of admissions. "Am I any help?" she asked.
"Yes," said Vanessa.
"Good," said Eva Eden.
Reeling in the Years
Eva Eden isn't the only centenarian in the District, of course. She isn't even the only one at the Georgetown. (Virginia Biddle turned 100 first. She was a bit under the weather the day I visited, so I didn't have the pleasure of meeting her.)
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2000 the District had 160 residents who were 100 or older, Maryland had 779 and Virginia had 1,060. That's a lot of memories.
Green-Eyed Lady, Lovely Lady
Birds do it, bees do it,
Even educated fleas do it,
Let's do it, let's fall in luh-uvvvv.
That's the song that I imagine a male snakehead fish sang to a female snakehead fish not too long ago. He'd corralled her into some romantic spot on the Potomac -- or, rather, in the Potomac -- and he was working his snakehead charm.
(And what was she singing in return? Probably something along the lines of What's love got to do, got to do with it?)
Now we have seen the fruit of that unholy union: a tiny snakehead baby. The demon spawn was found last week in a clump of underwater grass on Dogue Creek, off the Potomac.
Seeing the photo of Snakehead Jr. -- imagine a green bean with teeth -- prompted several reactions.
The first was: Awww, idn't he cute?
But the second was: Yeah, cute in the way that the monster from "Alien" was cute when he burst out of John Hurt's chest.