In 1997, at the age of seven, I was fascinated by birth dates and death dates. I could not believe people lived to be one hundred years old. Once I knew people could live to be one hundred years old, I was stunned by how many people did not manage to live that long.
Anyone born in 1900 or after, I theorized, could still be alive in 1997. I referred to anyone born in or after 1900 as being in the “Safe Zone”. When I looked through my book on American presidents in the back seat of my mom’s Volvo, I didn’t pay attention to any president’s politics, just their birth and death date. I looked at Dwight D. Eisenhower, born in 1890, and I was simply bummed out for him. He was ten years outside the Safe Zone. I could only imagine everyone born before 1900 walked around with a sense of doom.
Throughout 1997, I kept a firm mental note of who was still alive and who had died. It was the last time I cared so profoundly about birth dates and death dates. For that reason, it sometimes feels like anyone who survived 1997 is still alive to me.
Here are some important people who are still alive to me:
Born: February 15th, 1964 (23,420 days within the Safe Zone)
Born: July 2nd, 1932 (11,870 days within the Safe Zone)
Born: February 6th, 1911 (4,052 days within the Safe Zone)
As a kid, I had no idea who Ronald Reagan was or what he had done, but in 1997, my favorite fun fact was that Ronald Reagan was still alive. It seemed to surprise a lot of people, too, so I kept repeating it.
I had no idea that Reagan was a victim of Alzheimer’s disease. I did not know that he stood and gave an identical toast with the same words and gestures, over and over again, to Margaret Thatcher in 1993. I didn’t know that he stole a white ceramic model of the White House from the bottom of a friend’s fish tank and when Reagan’s wife asked him what he was holding he said “I don’t know, but I think it’s something to do with me.”
I assumed, in 1997, that anyone who was still alive was able to live life the way I lived it. I thought everyone was going to Wendy’s after school and riding the spaceships at Planet Pizza. I thought that was part of the reason why we were trying to live so long, because each moment is as good as the one before it.
Born: September 24th, 1948 (17,798 days within the Safe Zone)
Born: January 1st, 1924 (8,765 days within the Safe Zone)
Born: February 22nd, 1962 (22,697 days within the Safe Zone)
Born: July 25th, 1923 (8,605 days within The Safe Zone)
Even as a small child, I was captivated by The Golden Girls. It is a testament to the skill of the actresses that even a small child could relate to four women living out their golden years. In 1997, I was most captivated by the fact that all four of the main cast members were still alive. It boggled my mind: four actresses came together and worked on a show for seven years about making the most of the final chapter of their lives and, five years after the show was complete, all four were still alive. I could only come to this conclusion: life is unbelievably long.
There’s a scene in The Golden Girls where Dorothy, Blanche, and (slightly off-camera) Estelle Getty as Sophia, comfort Rose by telling her that they will always stick together, even if it means going to a nursing home. Rose, played by Betty White, then asks, “But what happens when there’s only one of us left?”
This scenes is haunting in 2018, of course, because Betty White is the last surviving golden girl. All four actresses also appear in the scene, from left to right, in the order in which they pass away in real life. But in 1997, watching the show while all four members of the cast were still alive and knowing that each actress was well within the Safe Zone, I had a counter argument to Rose’s claim: what if none of you ever die, you all live together forever, and everything is perfect?