THE oldest living man in America wakes on his couch at 4:25am and wonders if it’s still raining.
On May 11, he turned 112, “And I have no pains, no aches.”
The blinds of his home are drawn shut. The trickles from an overnight storm fall onto the trees.
“Turn on the lights,” he says to his caregiver, who has sat by his side all night, waiting for Richard Overton to open his eyes.
He’s helped onto a scale, which says his frail figure is a perfect 56kg. His blood pressure is a solid 110 over 80. His body temperature is 37 degrees.
On this morning, the supercentenarian sits on his favourite recliner. He reaches for his cigar box and unwraps two Tampa Sweet Perfectos with his long fingernails – one for now, one to tuck in his shirt pocket for later.
The neighbours are still asleep. The sun has yet to rise. The birds aren’t singing. And the rain, that darn rain, is still drizzling. He hopes today won’t be like yesterday, when a constant storm prevented him from doing the thing he loves most.
If the weather is nice, Overton sits on his front porch. His friends call it his “stage”. He’ll hum with the birds, snoop on his neighbours and wave at honking cars.
Best of all, it’s where he smokes most of his 12 daily cigars.
For now, the dark sky is still a mystery. So Overton reclines in his seat, passing the time with three cigars until the first glimmer of blue sky sneaks between the blinds.
“There she is,” he says with a smile, smoking one more Tampa Sweet before putting in his teeth.
Oldest US veteran, too
Life has slowed year by year for the lifelong Austin resident.
He was born in 1906, the same year as the first wireless radio broadcast and a year before Oklahoma became a state.
He fought in World War II in a segregated Army unit and, after returning from war, spent the bulk of his career working at furniture stores, then at the Texas Department of Treasury.
Now he’s the oldest man in the United States, verified by the Gerontology Research Group, and the oldest veteran.
Every day, strangers stop by the house on Richard Overton Avenue to take his picture or shake his hand. He’s even featured on a mural down the street from his home.
Unlike most celebrities, Overton lived an entire life of anonymity before acquiring his fame. In 2006, at age 100, Overton was just a retired man who liked garage sales, yard work and driving his Monte Carlo.
Then he got to 106. He met President Barack Obama, politicians, athletes and celebrities. Comedian Steve Harvey once asked him his secret. Overton’s reply?
“Just keep living, don’t die.”
Every morning, his caregivers make him multiple cups of coffee. Overton takes it with three spoonfuls of sugar and a plastic straw.
He likes sweet things. He eats waffles, pancakes or cinnamon rolls for breakfast. He enjoys ice cream and peach cobbler for dessert. He loves Dr Pepper, which he calls “sweet juice”.
His four caregivers switch between 12-hour shifts. They do anything Overton wants. Massage his feet. Pull up the blinds. Pour him his favourite drink, a whiskey and Coke.
He can be demanding, because even with his loss of independence, he’s still the man of the house.
Last year, he woke in the middle of the night to a new male caregiver he didn’t recognise. So, he got his loaded .38. When the police arrived, they gently asked Overton to put the gun down. No charges were pressed, and the gun was unloaded and hidden in a safe spot.
Now, the caregivers let him know who’s coming.
Just another day
Overton likes routines. He listens to the Isley Brothers and wears his favourite WWII veteran hat.
He exercises, swinging his legs back and forth as he sits.
And he still travels. Last summer, he flew to Memphis with his cousins for a family reunion.
But there was a problem with his ticket. The computer misread his birth year of 1906, which they learned at the airport when the person at the check-in counter looked at their reservation and asked about the 11-year-old.
Overton likes to mess with people. He has terms of endearment for those he loves, words that aren’t appropriate for a family newspaper. He’s also a ladies’ man, always flirting with caregivers and nurses.
He outlived his six sisters, three brothers, wife and ex-wife. He never had kids.
He has a first cousin who lives down the street and a third cousin who stops by daily.
In December 2016, a family member created a GoFundMe page to finance his 24/7 in-home care. The page has raised more than US$234,000 (RM930,000), but much of that money has already been spent.
Once it’s gone and the caregivers go, they fear he will, too.
Overton doesn’t worry about death. “I didn’t know when I came here, and I don’t know when I’m going,” he said. “That’s God’s work.”
His main concern is the weather. And by 10 am, the forecast of sunny is perfect for the stage.
His day has already included six cigars, a cinnamon roll and a glass of milk. Now comes the best part. He’s helped to his feet and grips his walker.
A lit cigar is folded between his fingers with three more tucked in his shirt pocket.
He shuffles toward the front windows, leaving behind a smoky trail. When the door opens, a breeze, his first in two days, kisses his cheek. He exhales.
“It always feels good out here.”
He sits in the only lawn chair that’s bathing in the sun. The birds are singing, so he hums along. He smiles at the blue sky, and waves at his neighbour.
This is where he’ll be when he turns 112. Last year on his birthday, there was a party on his front lawn, where 200 people lined up to take a photo with him like kids waiting to meet Santa Claus.
This year, there’ll be two DJs, food, drinks and T-shirts that say, “Keep living, don’t die.”
Overton knows the celebration is for them.
For him, it’s just another day – hopefully a sunny one, with three packs of Tampa Sweet Perfectos. – The Dallas Morning News/Tribune News Service