Bea Reisman Blass was born in 1918 amidst the Great Depression and an influenza pandemic. This May, instead of getting greetings from the White House, Blass was saluted by her family and caregiver at a social distance. The other White House (restaurant on Peachtree Road) played a role, as in past years, her birthday was celebrated there.
Over the past few decades, there’s been an increasing, almost mystical fascination with longevity in terms of unlocking the genetic, mental and physical attributes of centenarians. Also, cyclically significant will be the outcome of the 2020 census.
According to the last census, 1980 to 2010 saw a nearly 66 percent increase in centenarians. Some observations remain constant: women outlive men and as we age, we become less diverse (more Caucasian). Other studies have shown living past 100 involves a combination of genetics, lifestyle and plain ole’ luck. Cleaner water, vaccinations, treatments for cancer and heart disease also contribute to longevity trends, along with a positive attitude.
Enter Blass’s granddaughter Naomi Blass-Schutz. “My favorite thing about my grandmother, besides her brownies, is her phenomenal positive attitude. Rain or shine, in good times or bad, if you ask, ‘how are you?’ She will answer without fail and with a twinkle in her eyes, ‘I’m wonderful.’”
Bea Reisman also made history by marrying Saul Blass in 1935 in her living room on 8th Street as the first couple united in marriage by Rabbi Harry Epstein, Congregation Ahavath Achim’s new young rabbi. Two children, five grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren later, Mama Bea counts her two living siblings (Donald and Rose) among her healthy ‘mishpocha.’ Daughter Charlotte Kaminsky said,” She was very proud of ‘we’ children and made us feel we could accomplish anything. She was always beautifully dressed and even today still looks ‘like a bandbox’ and can put on lipstick without looking. She exercised at the JCC on Peachtree and played canasta and bridge (into her 90s). Her 1960s friendship group was called ‘The Darling Dozen’ and included Dot Levy, Esther Libowsky, Rose Berkowitz and Elsie Boss. She survived them; and today she still does chair exercises.”
Pre-pandemic, Blass “held court” every Sunday at Goldbergs on Roswell Road to host children and grandchildren “or whoever would show up.” She enjoyed AA synagogue’s Tuesday study sessions, and weekly visits to the beauty salon.
Kaminsky continued, “Before her time, Mama had many secrets to good health like the importance of hand washing, soaking up sunlight even in winter, taking vitamins, and keeping a stash of chocolate in the freezer.” Kaminsky recalled an unselfish ‘mother experience’ where Blass finagled from a Coke sponsor a ticket to see Eddie Fisher perform at the Fox Theatre. Since there was only one ticket, she stood in line, then switched in Charlotte to go solo into the show. Kaminsky said, “She wanted us to always be busy. She got a sewing machine (a Singer for all of $25) and made doll clothes. You wouldn’t want to miss her carrot nut cake with ganache icing or jelly rolls.”
Blass-Schutz echoed, “We never entered Mama’s house, let alone her kitchen, without being asked: ‘Did you wash your hands? Go wash your hands.’ As kids we grumbled about it, but you know what? She was right! Secondly, there were two vitamin Cs: the traditional tablet and a constant supply of Hershey’s Kisses, homemade brownies, or Thank You Chocolate Pudding. If you were to check her purse today, you’ll find sweets tucked inside.
“No alcohol. No smoking! And her very special ‘nurse/guardian angels’ provide extraordinary care in her Buckhead apartment.”
Kaminsky concluded “Mother is always appreciative and never cranky. Her favorite quote is: “’Old age can kill you,’ but it hasn’t in her case.”