Around the Island

Richard’s Almanac: Interview with a Shelter Island centenarian

RICHARD LOMUSCIO PHOTO David Ratner, age 103, at the Shelter Island Senior Center.
RICHARD LOMUSCIO PHOTO David Ratner, age 103, at the Shelter Island Senior Center.

I had a great conversation with 103-year-old David Ratner at the Senior Center last Wednesday.

David is staying with his daughter, Sheila Roffe, at her home in Westmoreland for the summer. He’s here on the Island for four months and spends the other eight months of the year in Palm Beach.

When I asked him how he likes Shelter Island, he told me that he has many more activities available for him in Florida. He says he likes to keep busy everyday and not just on Wednesdays.

David said he came to this country from Poland when he was 14 in 1928. That’s when he should have been in school but he had obligations at home, he said.

His younger siblings went to school while his father and older brother worked. He had to stay home and take care of his sick mother. He cooked the meals, did the shopping, cleaned the house and did the laundry.

So when two men showed up at his door, flashing badges identifying them as members of the board of education, he explained why he was not able to enroll in classes.

They ordered him to attend night school, which he did for two semesters.

When other seniors were asking him about his secrets for longevity, he did not have one pat answer.

He said he loves baloney sandwiches and he loves different homemade soups that his daughter makes.

He also said that he likes women very much — even better than a corned beef sandwich.

David has never smoked and hardly drinks alcohol, “Except for sweet wine, like Manischewitz, once in a while.”

He spoke about how much he enjoys sailing. He learned that when he was living in Century Village in West Palm Beach.

“I had to learn to swim and put up the sails before I could pass the test to go out on the water,” David said, adding that he did pass.

He went out on the water when it was calm then it got very windy. His boat capsized but he righted it. He was very nervous because there were sharks in the water.

“People were sent out looking for me and I was eventually found and taken home,” he recalled.

When asked what he did for a living, David told me he worked for a time as an upholsterer. Then he and his younger brother owned a parking garage and then a supermarket. He said that when he and his brother ran the parking garage, he had some time on his hands.

“So I paid the five cents to take a train into the city and bought a car for $50,” he said, adding, “and then I drove it back to the garage, cleaned it up and sold it right away for $75.”

Looking back on his life, David said, “Up to 100, I enjoyed it very much. But then on my 100th birthday they made me give up my car.”

“They gave it to my grandson and now he enjoys it.”

David’s routine is regular.

“I go to sleep at nine and get up at seven,” he said explaining that he exercises every morning and “never stops moving.”

He eats a solid breakfast — usually ham and eggs — and lunch consisting of soup and a sandwich. He said that franks and beans are among his favorites along with flanken, a cut of meat with few bones and a lot of fat. He never drinks coffee or tea.

David has a son and a daughter and is proud to point out that he has 14 great-grandchildren.

His positive attitude is infectious and he truly seems to try to get the most out of each day.