Miriam Hirschl has lived a life most would only dream of.
She has spent 101 years — or 102, depending on who is asked — living in the Panama Canal Zone, doting on her family and keeping up with technology.
“I’m optimistic, and I keep up with the times,” she said matter-of-factly. “I’m constantly going on Zoom. I have a calendar for my Zoom classes. I have to keep track of all my Zoom classes. I keep active doing word games and things like that. I read a lot. I’ve done exercise all my life.”
She takes ballet, art and lecture classes offered through the Jewish Family & Children’s Services virtual center for senior enrichment.
“If you don’t adapt, you’re not living,” she said. “I know a lot of people my age who will not touch a computer. They do not have a smartphone. They have a flip phone. If you’re going to live in this age, you have to do what others are doing.”
A New York native, Hirschl grew up in Auburn with her grocer father.
“I was born during the Spanish flu,” she said. “My official date is Jan. 5, 1920. I’m 101 right now, but my son found a certificate. I don’t know where he found it. It says I was born in 1919. Nobody knows how old I really am.”
When she was 15, the family relocated to Brooklyn, where he obtained a larger space.
Soon thereafter, she met the love of her life, Daniel, a pediatric intern at a Brooklyn hospital, where she was employed. The two married, and he began doing house calls.
“He didn’t like it,” she said.
Daniel was sitting at his desk one day when he heard about a pediatrician position at a hospital in the Panama Canal Zone. He applied and was hired for the job.
Married for 57 years, the Hirschls spent 31 years in Panama, from 1952 to 1983. She described the time as magical. While her husband treated children at a government hospital, she worked as a kindergarten teacher.
“When I first got there, it was so different,” she said. “The culture was so different. I learned to love it, and I made a lot of friends there.”
She boasts about her handmade bedspread she acquired in Panama. In the same breath, she excitedly shares a time when a visiting queen allowed her to open the gates.
“Not too many people opened the gates,” she said. “I was horrified. I didn’t know if it was going to open. They told me to just turn the lever. It was absolutely amazing.
“I had some very nice experiences in Panama. I didn’t want to leave, but my husband didn’t want to practice any longer in Panama.”
Daniel retired at age 62 and the couple moved to Sun City West, where Miriam still resides. Born on Sept. 13, 1914, Daniel died May 6, 1999.
“It was an amazing, amazing time, really,” she said about Panama. “At that time, he was the chief of pediatrics. He was on the governor’s list. We used to do a lot of entertaining and visit the embassies.”
These days, she’s entertaining her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren via Zoom. She’s hoping to visit Michigan over Thanksgiving to see her son, Dr. Ronald Bruce Hirschl, who helms pediatric surgery at The University of Michigan Hospital.
“I have a good rapport with my grandchildren,” she said. “We’re a very close family — extremely close. They call me all the time. My great-grandchildren, when they say goodbye, they kiss the telephone.”