There are no “average readers.” The story of most every life is a tale worth telling, which brings us to Mae Riback of Hollywood.
Next week she will turn 104 — still alert, reading the Miami Herald daily and turning to the sports section first.
She had written me a lovely letter in late 2015, kind words in appreciation of my writing. She said how she had read me for decades, told me I should write a book. She apologized for tremors in her penmanship, noting she was then 102.
Her letter sat in a cardboard box, unseen, for 18 months. I rarely visit my office and almost never answer envelope mail because readers reach me by email 95 percent of the time. But on a recent visit to our Doral building I went through old mail that had accumulated, tossing most of it but somehow drawn to open this one envelope.
Guilt overrode me. Here this centenarian had taken time to write such a kind letter, and I had ignored it! Eighteen months later, as I finally wrote back, I dreaded I might be too late. I cannot tell you who was happier when she called me on the number I’d given.
We met this week at the Hollywood apartment she shares with a full-time aide in the Hillcrest area. Her handshake was unexpectedly firm.
She uses a walker and struggles to hear but is sharp, and looked 20 years younger than I’d imagined. I gave her a copy of my Herald book, “Fins At 50,” which I’d signed. She has been a Dolphins fan for years.
“But they annoy me lately!” she said.
Ms. Riback was born in Brooklyn, New York, but moved here in 1971 after a 25-year career teaching physical education.
She loved tennis and golf, so retiring with her husband to South Florida was a dream. Her aide produces a Sept. 30, 1950, page from The Grossinger Times with Tiny Riback in a headline for having won a tennis tournament.
Only 0.02 percent of Americans live to be 100. I asked how she explains her longevity.
“I played. I moved all the time,” she said. “Tennis I was best at, but sports, to me, were No. 1.”
Her racket is retired now but she remains active. Plays bridge every week. Reads the Herald voraciously, devours CNN or CNBC to stay up on current events.
We parted with another strong handshake, and this time she asked me to lean down so she might kiss my cheek. She was was delighted by our meeting and said she’d tell everyone she knew all about it.
Tiny, the pleasure and honor were mine.