By the time he turned eighty-five, the old man was done with marking the day and would have none of it. His granddaughter called herself a “party person” and tried to organize some kind of surprise celebration in spite of his wishes. When he got wind of it, he called the local paper and told them he had died, disguising his voice on the phone and even sending them an obituary he typed up himself.
By ninety-one, there was no more talk of parties, but they would still try to give him gifts––mostly gadgets of one kind and another that he invariably refused. His great-granddaughter gave him a book about Jesus set in extra-large print. He just shook his head, saying “Not a damn one of you knows me at all.”
After that, he stopped speaking to them altogether.
This bitterness was so successful that his centennial, a landmark in any life, passed unnoticed. But the day he turned one-twenty, a young intern from the college came around for an interview. A polite girl, she brought him a gift, a small replica of an old-time highboy bicycle, the very type he had learned to ride in the waning years of the century before last. She placed it on the windowsill where he could see it, got out her notebook and sat down in a little wicker chair across from him.
“Well, my dear,” he said, staring at the little bicycle, the deep seams around his eyes creased in a smile, “what do you want to know about me?”