“How I Got to Be Ninety-Five”

The party was suffused with joy and Christian charity in celebrating the birthday of a mature man trying follow our Lord’s commandment: “Love one another.”

Recently, I attended a birthday party for an uncle who just turned ninety-five. The party was held at the local Elks Club dining hall and about one hundred people showed up on a Saturday afternoon for the celebration. My uncle started out in life very poor, but by dint of hard work and good judgment, he was successful in business, and in the process, made many friends because of his kindness and jolly nature.

Perhaps one reason why he has lived so long is that he has a great sense of humor, loving to tell jokes and laugh with his friends. On this occasion, before the meal, he told some Irish jokes that received a good round of laughs and applause. Then, he got more serious and spelled out his philosophy of life, to which he attributes “How I got to be ninety-five.” If you are interested in longevity, you might find his rules for getting to be ninety-five helpful.

What he said goes something like this. The first principle is to do all things in moderation. That is a fundamental principle first formulated by the Greeks. In the next place, he said, “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.” He also recommends daily exercise for good health, which he says is the true wealth in this world.

His conclusion of the need for moderation results in the principle of avoiding the use of tobacco of all kinds, and of avoiding excess in the consumption of alcoholic beverages.

My uncle has always been a practicing Catholic, having been very generous to the Church and to Catholic schools. So his next principle is, “Go to church on Sunday, and don’t forget to pray.”

In dealing with others, my uncle has always embraced the Golden Rule: “Treat others as you would like to be treated.” He expanded on that by adding, “Be good to all mankind, for you pass this way only once.”

Uncle has always been a hard worker. His mother told me that he started out at the age of six by trying to sell day-old newspapers for a penny. His philosophy of work goes like this: “Don’t be afraid of work. Plan your work…then, work your plan.”

Good human relations are a basic plank in my uncle’s philosophy of life. With that in mind, he told his guests, “Read Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People, and then, practice what you learned!” Another of his principles for good human relations is to avoid telling lies. So his next recommendation went like this: “Never tell a lie; that way you don’t have to remember what you said!” That got a good laugh.

Because of his affability and interest in other people, he gave this advice which is a brief summary of his life of ninety-five years: “So, my friends, love one another, enjoy life, and laugh often!”

Uncle’s final principle and recommendation for a long life is this: “As you go through life, no matter what the goal, keep your eye on the donut, not on the hole!” That is a positive and optimistic view of life. Some unhappy people pay thousands of dollars to a psychologist or psychiatrist to get that kind of advice. His audience of relatives and friends laughed and clapped as he spelled out his philosophy of life. Everyone had a good time.

The conclusion was unusual. My uncle sang, with no musical accompaniment, “Bill Grogan’s Goat.” I liked the part of the song that says the goat swallowed six red shirts. Then in anger, Bill Grogan tied him to the railroad track. The whistle blew, the train approached; the goat was green with fright. The goat coughed up the red shirts, and flagged the train.

My uncle has a niece with Downs Syndrome, whom he loves very much, and who is an excellent dancer. After singing for us, he went out on the dance floor in his wheelchair, dancing with her to the tune of “Hello, Dolly!” She held his hands and swung him around in his wheelchair a number of times. It was a sensation that merited a lengthy applause from the whole crowd.

The whole birthday party was suffused with joy and Christian charity in celebrating the ninety-fifth birthday of a mature man who has tried to follow our Lord’s commandment: “Love one another, even as I have loved you…. By this, all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35).

Fr. Kenneth Baker, SJ About Fr. Kenneth Baker, SJ

Fr. Kenneth Baker, SJ, is editor emeritus of HPR, having served as editor for over 30 years. He is the author of the best selling Fundamentals of Catholicism (three volumes) and of the popular introduction to the Scripture, Inside the Bible.


  1. Avatar K C Thomas says:

    The 95 year old gentleman’s advice ” Do everything in moderation” has appealed me most, as i am one who believes in that principle and try to practice. i am 80 years old and I find joy in things like orderliness, punctuality, helping the needy, kindness to all. may God bless your uncle with good health and happiness

  2. Avatar C. Molineaux says:

    By comparison to his uncle, Father Baker is just a boy!