Papa kept a can of bacon grease in his fridge.
It was always there, and it was always the same. From when I was a little kid, too young even for school, through my early 30s, just before he died, there was always a worn tin can in his refrigerator, filled almost to the brim with congealed grease (the outside of the can was kind of slimy, too). Every morning Papa took it out to cook with, because he started every day with eggs and either bacon, sausage or country ham.
Thing is, Papa made it to 89, and he did so without abandoning his basic pleasures. He hunted well into his mid-80s, even if his endurance wasn’t that of a younger man’s. He played the cornet, practicing hymns and the old Big Band dance numbers that had sustained him throughout his service in World War II. He tended his treasured key lime tree, which survived coastal North Carolina’s nasty winters only because of his careful attention. And he ate bacon and eggs.
Any nutritionist worth their salt will tell you not to cook with bacon fat. And I’m not encouraging anyone to do that, either – it’s so, so bad for you. The point here is that we can live long lives without abandoning every guilty pleasure. We just need to balance them out. And to the point of this issue’s theme, “The Long Game,” I volunteer a theory: I think long life is a negotiation between what we want to do and what we know we should do. Papa knew these breakfasts were risky – especially at that frequency – but he was also driven to keep physically active, maintaining his tree-shaded yard and garden plot with minimal assistance on through his twilight years. And while one beneficial action doesn’t neatly cancel a harmful one like in a math problem, he achieved a sort of stubborn balance anyway – and made it nearly to 90.
So how do you play the long game? How do you run the long race? Are you like Hamlet World War II veteran Herbert Nelson, doing push-ups at 93? Are you like rodeo regular Eddy Gushlaw, who kept involved after a broken pelvis by pivoting from riding to coaching? Or do you find your own way to run as long a race as you can without sacrificing the things that make you happy?
Thanks for picking up OutreachNC, and I’ll see you in November.