BY Eileen Z. Fuentes

My 85-year-old grandfather, who we call Papá, arrived yesterday from the Dominican Republic. We had a nice traditional meal consisting of fish, rice, beans, and an avocado, tomato and watercress salad. After dinner I thought it would be interesting to introduce him to youtube to see if we could find videos of his favorite childhood musicians. He totally got a kick out the fact that we could go back in time and wondered how in the world this could be done with a simple click of a few buttons.  I then made an attempt to explain how facebook works but much to my surprise, he told me that he had heard of it on the news and he was not interested because it was dangerous.  One conversation led to the other and I figured, who better to ask about healthy living and longevity, than my family’s patriarch. After all he stubbornly told me that all my practices are nonsense and that illness is just a matter of fate and bad luck.

His arrival in the United States dates back to 1960 where he first lived in the Bronx. He then moved to Washington Heights 5 years later to 160th between Broadway and Amsterdam Avenues and then to Sherman Avenue. He worked in construction for many years, ultimately going up the ranks to Supervising Manager for the City of New York. There are at least 2 businesses in the neighborhood that my grandfather built. To this day, he still makes repairs and renovations on his home (and mine). We began to talk about his daily life and some of the day-to-day routines that keep him thin, strong, resilient and sharp. For the most part, this man does not forget a birthday and that’s pretty good for a man who has had 5 kids, 17 grandchildren, and 24 great grandchildren. He also has 80…yes 80, Godchildren due to his loyal and active participation in a mason lodge group for over 60 years.

After Papá retired in 1988, he moved back to his native country and started a new way of life with his second wife. He tells me that his routine consists of rituals that don’t really change.  He wakes up to his morning café con leche, toast and fresh eggs and juices. He feeds his dog named lucky, a chicken and the hen he’s had for over a decade at 6am and 6pm. He reads 2 newspapers daily, and watches a series of Spanish talk shows, some comedy and baseball. He tends to his tropical garden where he grows mango, guava, bitter orange, guanábana, and cherries. He recently cut down his coconut tree as the roots were causing structural issues in his home. I asked him if he uses pesticides to keep the insects away and he just looked at me confused. He walks every Sunday to church and takes the bus weekly to the market. He gets a haircut every 3 weeks and on the weekends used to go visit his 90-year-old sister until 3 months ago when she passed away after a 10-year battle with Alzheimer’s. He visits his 94-year-old brother from time-to-time but prefers their frequent talks on the phone. He enjoys his midday meal consisting of large green salad with olive oil, rice, beans and meat. At 3pm, he has a sweet cup of espresso and ends his meals in the early evening with a small serving of boiled root vegetables or fried plantains and meat. He loves all hearty soups but said his favorite is cocido, which consists mostly of stewed chickpeas and vegetables.

After this informal but insightful discussion, he went to go play dominoes with my mom and I went to, this is the one place I knew I could use as a tool to prove my point.  The book Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer From the People Who’ve Lived the Longest, travels to the places in the world where higher percentages of people enjoy remarkably long, full lives in large clusters. As an attempt to show my grandfather that I was right and he was indeed contributing to his good health, we went back to youtube and found the video below.  All he could do was laugh because he is too hardheaded to admit that I was right. When I asked him what’s next, he simply said it warms his heart to watch his family grow and evolve. He feels very blessed and content with his life.

Thank you Papá for planting the seed and inspiring me to follow my dreams and fulfill my life’s purpose.

“It would be hard to overestimate the importance of family in the Blue Zone. . . . Grandparents provide love, childcare, financial help, wisdom, expectations and motivations to perpetuate traditions and push children to succeed.”

— Dan Buettner, The Blue Zones, 2008


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  • Carlos
    September 28, 2010 at 10:31 am

    That was a beautiful article. Reminded me of my grandmother, who lived until she was 95. Thank You 🙂

  • De La Cruzin
    September 28, 2010 at 10:52 am

    It’s funny how many people from the old school days live their lives as what they believe to be “normal”. Isn’t it amazing how Papá lives this healthy (physically and mentally) and doesn’t think anything of it? Gotta love my Abuelo!!!


  • Izzy
    September 28, 2010 at 11:30 am

    Great article!

  • carla
    September 28, 2010 at 12:08 pm

    Love this. Great job!

  • Bonnie R. Jones
    September 28, 2010 at 12:15 pm

    Eileen, I didn’t know you were a blogger. I blog too sometimes (not often enough). I’m glad you put this up. It’s nice to see the background of my children. Although I’m not married to their Dad anymore, I enjoy being in touch with the other half of their family and heritage. I hope they read this too, so they see their Great Grand-father still doing his thing!!! The strength in your family is very inspiring! I’m thankful that my children have that inside of them!

    • Eileen
      September 28, 2010 at 9:29 pm

      Hi Bonnie,

      I just want a thank you for a such a sincere comment. We are equally proud to share the responsibility of making sure those children of yours are just as special as their parents!


  • Ana
    September 28, 2010 at 1:20 pm

    this was great, it reminded me of my grandmother who lived til 94, and like you said her rituals I believe kept her alive, although she ended up with Alzheimer’s, I really believe maybe at some point she lost her sense of purpose and it just went down hill from there, but I am grateful because she did live a long and happy life, and I am sure it had to do a lot with her eating of fruits and veggies

  • Eileen
    September 28, 2010 at 2:00 pm

    Thank you for the great comments! I see that the love for my grandfather translated well into words. It was really hard to put this together and I can assure you it was hard to keep the waterworks at bay when I interviewed him.

  • victor
    September 28, 2010 at 2:45 pm

    Luck and Fate. That explains everything.
    You Gotta love it!

  • Eileen
    September 28, 2010 at 2:57 pm

    Hi Ana,

    Thanks for sharing with us a bit of your grandmothers story. I wanted to add a couple of points. You say her long life had lots to do with her consumption fruits and veggies. The biggest lesson for me was not so much how my grandfather eats but rather the way he lives his life. He does daily exercise through walking and gardening, he maintains a strong spiritual foundation, he has a strong sense of community and family connections, he still takes part in mental physical fitness via dominoes and daily reading and rests often. And yes, his dietary habits are a huge factor however, his meals are cultivated by his own hands, home-cooked and eaten in moderation. That along with his relationship with other animals, gives him strong ties with mother earth. And lets not forget laughter which is the best medicine of course.

    I am positive your grandmother did a lot of these things which is the reason why she lived 94 beautiful years!!!

    Thanks again for sharing!

  • Adriana
    September 28, 2010 at 4:04 pm

    Wow Eileen this is wonderful! Thank you for sharing. You inspire me everyday!

  • Amada
    September 28, 2010 at 4:10 pm

    Hi Eileen,

    Thank you for sharing this great story. Grandparents are AWESOME!!!! This reminded me of my grandfather who felt he could cure the common cold with aceite de tiburon. If one of us would cough or sneeze, he would line us up (my brothers and cousins – 13 in total) and give us a large tablespoon of it. YUCK!!! I have to say I had very few colds when I was young…maybe the aceite de tiburon had something to do with my great immune system. Esos viejitos…they know what’s up.

  • Orlick
    September 28, 2010 at 8:23 pm

    Thanks for this.

  • Unity carrie
    September 28, 2010 at 8:40 pm


    THANK YOU!!! This is beautiful. I loved the video and thank you for turning me on to I am working on my Plan de Vida. I truly believe a purpose in life that unfolds from a place of bonding with other beings is the fountain of youth.

    I miss my maternal grandmother so much and I have never managed to fully grieve her loss. Almost 11 years later, it is still too painful for me to process. What I wish most of all is that my Madi would have met her and that my name sake would have held my baby in her arms. My grandmother had a long, interesting, and very challenging life. She was a pioneer and in the 1930’s left her husband for domestic abuse with two kids in tow (unheard of at the time and in Cuba). She not only survived but build a house on her own and went on to have my mother. She was the single force that brought my mother and I to this country by her sheer will to do so and give us as she used to say a “better life”. She was not able to take NO for an answer and always persevered.

    Sadly cancer spread and she was missdiagnosed for a year by arrogant, culturally recalcitrant Cuban doctors that dismmissed her because of her age. The end was quick and sudden and very painful but we slept by her side every single day even in her hospital room’s floor every time she went in for a stay.

    This article has brought back memories and as I sit here in the midst of tears sharing the painful memories I am grateful to you for giving me the opportunity to remember why I admire and love my grandmother so much. Thank you for letting me remember how strong and capable she was despite all the odds playing against her. I hope that one day I can grow up to be like the original Rebeca.

    Thank you!

  • Eileen
    September 28, 2010 at 9:03 pm

    Hi Amada,

    watch out for a story on home remedies. I am recruiting my favorite viejitos and will hopefully have it soon. For you and yours it was aceite de tiburon, for us it was cod liver oil which actually wasn’t so bad! As a matter of fact, my kids are lined up every morning for their daily dose…LOL!

    Thanks for the comment!

  • Eileen
    September 28, 2010 at 9:15 pm

    Dearest Rebeca,

    I needed a moment to recuperate after reading your comment. All I can say is thank you for sharing and for allowing us to help you to heal those wounds. I’d love to hear more one day.

    With all my love,

  • La Vega
    September 28, 2010 at 11:00 pm

    This is great! I always question why all these actors, directors, and playwrights keep on working well into their 90s. I’m like I want to retire at 50. But now I see they do this so that they have something to wake up for in the morning. Makes perfect sense.

    • De La Cruzin'
      September 29, 2010 at 11:35 am

      Love it! haha

  • Katherine
    September 29, 2010 at 8:39 am


    Your story and video was amazing! It simply reinforced and confirmed my reasoning for being even moreso on purpose to contribute to the longevity of this human body. My desire to be here for my grandchildren and great grandchildern to allow them the experience of being able to actively be a part of their heritage is a driving force for me to always be seeking what I can do better in terms of health and wellness . I want them to see it, touch it, feel it, not simply have the stories and pictures God-willing. I know I vow to do my part and may God’s will be done. Both of my parents have transitioned so for Derrika and all of my beautiful children I have adopted, I look forward to jumping your kids on my knee and telling them stories about you! Smooches!

  • Daisy Guzman
    September 29, 2010 at 9:54 pm

    Eileen, as usual, I love your story. It is amazing to see how well you have handled different stages of your young life. You make me proud to be your madrina. Keep up the good work.



    • Eileen
      September 29, 2010 at 10:35 pm

      Awwww…I’m the lucky one to have the worlds greatest second mom! Thank you…

    October 12, 2010 at 10:02 am

    […] couple weeks ago, I featured a story about my grandfather and his unintentional longevity plan. This time I had the opportunity to speak to his wife who prepares all his home-cooked meals. I […]

  • Ramona De La Cruz
    July 31, 2011 at 11:57 am

    Mi hija, every word on your article translates to LOVE. I know how much you adored and admired our PAPA. Likewise he adored you even more.

    You see, back in the olden days, adults did not show their love in “lovey-touchie” ways. They only knew how to instill RESPECT. Nevertheless, you and your brothers taught him how to say those words he never used to say. Only when you all told him “I love you PAPA” he would then say: I Love you TOO “Lilin”…. I Love you TOO “Ray”…. & I Love you TOO “Kiki”. (Notice the word TOO, as he very seldom initiated saying it first.

    You gave him so much love and he loved every minute of it (let’s not forget how his face transformed with a big smile everytime you kissed his ‘calva’ (the top of his head). When you were diagnosed, he “cried” and got on a plane and came to NJ to babysit his “Lilin”. Thank you, mi hija, for keeping his memory alive. PAPA will ALWAYS be with us and I Know he will read this too from up above. R.I.P. PAPA.

    Feliz dia mi siempre querido “Don Gero”.