ATASCADERO — If she were a subject of the British Crown, Arlene Silver’s last birthday would have qualified her for a telegram of congratulation from the Queen, but in Atascadero, a visit from the hometown paper might have to be enough.
Silver rang in 100 years on Earth on Dec. 26, with family and friends and a celebration at the Atascadero Christian Community Home where she’s been keeping herself busy lately.
Anyone who’s had a baby at Twin Cities Community Hospital in recent years is likely to have taken home a piece of her handicraft with the knit caps she makes for newborns as part of a community volunteer group. Silver’s hands must know the patterns well on their own because her eyes are usually in a book while she does it.
In fact, she doesn’t have much patience for television and movies as a way to keep her mind soaking up information — she’d recently read one of the many Star Wars novels featuring Han Solo but didn’t recall ever seeing Harrison Ford in the role.
Mysteries and genre fiction are particular favorites but nonfiction travelogues also offer a wealth of information and she keeps the local branch library in business sending her new ones.
Compared to when she was a young woman she said, “nothing is the same except the days on the calendar.”
Born in Fullerton, Calif. in 1918, she was, she said, a quintessential California girl and didn’t leave the state until World War II. Working as a secretary for Todd’s shipyards in Los Angeles the first time she had her picture in the paper was for the Los Angeles Times illustrating a story on War Bonds. She worked an office job and wasn't exactly the “Rosie the Riveter” type, she said, but she had invested her inheritance in the bonds and was happy to hold an artillery shell with ships in the background for a picture.
“It was a dull job but we were surrounded by the shipwrights,” she explained and notes that was about the time she was a newlywed, marrying a young would-be flyer.
She’d met Ross Silver in the 1930’s while both were attending Berkeley, where she got an Art degree, but it was “not exactly love at first sight,” she said.
They reconnected in Long Beach and he went on to become a meteorologist for the Army Air Corps while she went to business school and worked at Douglas Aircraft. Hollywood during the 1940’s she said was quite romantic for a young couple when they could take the time together.
After the war they had three children together and set up an accountancy office, buying their first home for $10,000.
Almost every job she held the notes, aside from raising children, and even that in some ways has been revolutionized by computer technology.
“I would have liked to have been an interior designer at a big department store,” she said, “but those jobs weren’t available then.”
At points discussing her late husband's work in weather forecasts and their office in the 1970’s she notes how easy computers have made what was once quite complicated.
“No one knows the future, you look at the ease with which we do things,” she said. “He used to send up weather balloons and hope they worked to tell you what you needed.”
A woman of letters, email is something she did adopt for keeping in touch with friends and family. That technology has been in widespread use since before she came to live at the Community, “sometimes I can be tempted [by the internet] but I don’t like to explore too much,” she added.
Always well informed with the news available when she wants access to it, she noted, that too is a drastic difference, “the change that’s happened over time is that you had a very different view of the President and of your government. You didn’t know all the secrets under Roosevelt. No one really knew what was happening until much later. Now you can get an idea [as it happens].”
Some variations on a theme recur when folks meet a long-lived elder. Specifically questions about life’s little secrets.
Having raised three children who went on to success in their own challenging fields of study, Silver has some advice she doesn’t hesitate to cite, “I don’t know what my own IQ was. It wasn’t measured the same way back in those days but I knew my children were all very intelligent. They all got special attention and took whatever advanced classes were available. So what I can say is to support your kids in whatever they put their minds to, and they’ll surprise you with what they can do.”