Mr. Pop Tart


Living a long life means we experience all its chapters with the understanding that some people’s books will be longer than others. How someone lives to enjoy their 89th birthday still being healthy, staying active, and enjoying life is simply amazing. Being a witness to the changing world over all those years while still maintaining a positive attitude and a keen sense of humor is even more so. But how is it possible in this day and age to replicate such a feat?

Recently, The Wife and I went on a trip to find the answers on how to live a long healthy life. And the answers were just a short fifteen-hour, traffic-jamming, stress-filled car ride away.

Over spring break, did we travel south to enjoy the warm weather, snow white beaches, and emerald-green ocean that a trip to the Gulf coast would provide? Nope. The answers weren’t going to be there.

We also didn’t travel to North Carolina for the cool fresh air and majestic views that the Blue Ridge Mountains are famous for. Even though fresh air does have its benefits, we knew the answers we were seeking would not be found there either.

Instead, The Wife and I drove much further north — all the way to Virginia to be with her parents. Somehow, they had discovered the secrets of how to live a long and healthy life. What better way to learn how to do the same but to ask them face to face?

So, how is a Pop Tart gonna help The Wife and me live a long healthy life? Read on, Dear Reader, we’ll be there soon.

After getting a late start and hitting tons of heavy traffic, we decided to split the trip in half. The next morning, after seven hours of more stressful traffic, we arrived at her parents’ house just after they were finishing lunch.

We talked about family: who was doing what, which babies and grandbabies had been born, who had gotten a new job, and a host of other topics families normally talk about when they get together. And due to the timing of our trip, we talked about finishing taxes.

After four hours, her parents were getting tired, and after such a long drive, taking a nap was looking like a really good idea to us also. Saying our goodbyes, we got back into the car and her dad went back to work gathering more tax documentations. Driving to the hotel I realized the stressful drive up wasn’t as difficult as the process of filing taxes.

The next day our visit with her parents was much longer. Their typical day starts off with a long morning walk together, and along the way they talk about everything and nothing. Once back home they have spirited conversations about things that happen in the past and events unfolding now.

Throughout the day, I watched with interest how they treated and took care of each other. It had become so second nature to them, I don’t really think they realized how much they were doing for each other.

We left their house late in the afternoon without asking them a single question about how they’ve lived such a long healthy life together or the secret to a marriage that has lasted over 65 years. We didn’t ask any of our questions because the answer to everything was obvious.


A 4:00 a.m. wakeup call started our next morning and our arduous drive back home. After three hours of heavy traffic and two large glasses of sweet tea later, it was time to find a rest stop. Pulling into the parking space we both were already worn out from navigating construction traffic and multiple accidents.

Both of us were rethinking the wisdom of trying to drive the entire 15 hours straight, and neither of us knew how we were going to make it. Then the answer jumped down from a tree and was now directly in front of us.

Say hello to Mr. Pop Tart.

Mr. Pop Tart enjoys his snack. Photo/Rick Ryckeley.
Mr. Pop Tart enjoys his snack. Photo/Rick Ryckeley.

A large gray squirrel was sitting on top of a trash can eating the Pop Tart he was holding in his hands. The only ones at the rest stop so early in the morning, we got out and started to video our encounter. Surely, he’d drop his breakfast and jump to the nearby tree, climbing to the safety of his nest directly above.


Undisturbed by us, we got within five feet of him as he continued to eat his breakfast. For five more minutes we recorded him eating, but by this time, another kind of nature was really calling, so we had to leave this nature alone for a moment. Unfortunately, when we returned, the gray squirrel was gone — but not forgotten as we set off to finish the drive back home.

Any time we stopped in traffic for and extended amount of time, watching the video of the large gray squirrel we named Pop Tart eating a Pop Tart while sitting on top of a rest stop trash can made everything easier to handle.

To replicate the feat of being married for 65 years would mean I’d have to live until the ripe old age of 126 — a feat that seems impossible. (Then again, finding a Pop Tart-eating squirrel at a rest stop would seem to be impossible also.)

But because we witnessed the blueprint for a long happy life on our visit with her parents, when she retires next year, The Wife and I will start each day off with a leisurely morning walk together. And along the way we’ll talk about everything and nothing. Once back home we’ll have spirted conversations of things that happened in the past, and events currently unfolding.

And we’ll do something else — we’ll watch an old video of Pop Tart on top of his trashcan enjoying his breakfast. And just like on our trip back home a long, long time ago at a rest stop so very far away, he’ll make us smile as all our stress quickly disappears.

Eliminating stress is another secret to living a long life. And the thought that I’m now going to live so much longer relieves yet another stress. Now I have plenty of time to finish all those home improvement projects after all.

[Rick Ryckeley has been writing stories weekly in The Citizen since 2001.]