On Vinegar and Living to the Ripe Old Age of 115

Susie Potts Gibson, who was one of the oldest living persons in recent history, died at age 115. Alex Chadwick talks to her granddaughter, Nancy Paetz, about Gibson's life, and her love of vinegar and pickles.

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

This DAY TO DAY, from NPR News. I'm Madeleine Brand.

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

I'm Alex Chadwick. We're a little late with this next item, an obituary for a woman who died over the weekend. Susie Potts Gibson is someone to know about anyway, because she had achieved a couple of distinctions. First, she lived to the age of 115, one of the oldest people in the world, and second, she apparently lived not just a long life, but a remarkably happy one as well. Her granddaughter, Nancy Paetz, is on the phone from her office in Huntsville, Alabama. Ms. Paetz, welcome to DAY TO DAY.

Ms. NANCY PAETZ (Granddaughter of Susie Potts Gibson): Thank you.

CHADWICK: Your grandmother, Susie Potts Gibson, she was born in Mississippi. She lived in Sheffield, Alabama in the same house for 80 years, I read, in an opportunity in the L.A. Times. What did she think about being 115 years old?

Ms. PAETZ: You know, she was very proud of it. She often referred to herself as one of the oldest people in the world, and she would constantly say, okay, so am I still one of the oldest people in the world?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. PAETZ: So that was kind of exciting for her, I think.

CHADWICK: She had a secret of longevity?

Ms. PAETZ: If you asked her what her secret was, she would tell you that it was probably three things. One, she lived for her pickles. She ate lots and lots of pickles.

CHADWICK: Okay, pickles is one.

Ms. PAETZ: And vinegar.

CHADWICK: Vinegar.

Ms. PAETZ: We kept, every time we visited, we had to go and buy big jars of vinegar, and big jars of pickles.

CHADWICK: How did she take her vinegar?

Ms. PAETZ: Well, she put it on everything. I don't think she ever just drank it, but she certainly drank the pickle juice.

CHADWICK: She did?

Ms. PAETZ: Oh, yes. Yes, she soaked her feet in it. She put it on any parts of her body that hurt, that was her end all, be all.

CHADWICK: All right, pickles, vinegar, and number three...

Ms. PAETZ: And number three was she didn't take medicines unless she absolutely had to, until the last few years when she really was getting old in her mind, they made her take some of the medicines that she needed in the nursing home, but she was the kind that would never take an aspirin for a headache. She figured it'd go away, and it couldn't be good for you.

CHADWICK: She lived alone to the age of 106, and then moved into some sort of assisted living facility there, I read. Weren't you all a little anxious about having your grandmother living on her own, independently, at an age over 100?

Ms. PAETZ: Yes, especially since she was so far away, but she's always been a very strong woman and a very stubborn woman, and she would not even allow the conversation to be held, and in fact, when it came time for her to move, she called us on the phone, and she says, okay, the time has come. I've sold my house. I've got me a room. Come move me.

CHADWICK: She took care of all the arrangements herself?

Ms. PAETZ: Oh, yes. Oh, yes. There was never anything wrong with her mind or her physical abilities.

CHADWICK: Nancy Paetz, mourning, but mainly remembering her grandmother, Susie Potts Gibson who died over this last weekend in Alabama at the age of 115. Nancy Paetz, thank you and our sympathies to you.

Ms. PAETZ: Thank you very much.

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