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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Oatmeal Is 110-Year-Old's Secret




CARNEGIE, Oklahoma -- Benjamin Harrison Holcomb, age 110, always ate a big breakfast, cried often, rarely drank and never smoked. Now he has lived in three centuries.


The world's oldest man - a title the "Guinness Book of World Records" bestowed on him last week - Holcomb farmed wheat, dabbled in cotton and raised cattle and children for most of his life. His family says he had few vices, but he did divorce twice before his third marriage stuck.


From his birth in 1889, his life has mainly ebbed and flowed with Oklahoma's land, weather and waving wheat.


So what is life like for a man entering a third century?


"Feels like it did yesterday," Holcomb, whose descendants number into five generations, told daughter Leona Ford, 84.


Exhausted by telephone calls from around the world after he made it into the Guinness book, he slept through most of the following few days. But his children spoke for him at his side in the Carnegie Nursing Home, where he gets daily visits from Ford, his other daughter, Lucille, 85, and son, John, 80.


"He says they [the callers] are probably mixed up," Ford said. "He's never known he was old. He's just one of these people who lived one day at a time."


Holcomb was born July 3, 1889, in Robinson, Kansas, the seventh and youngest child of Chestnut Wade Holcomb, 45, and Sarah Jane Holcomb, 41. His father fought in the American Civil War as an officer on the victorious Union side.


The year Holcomb was born was also the year of the Oklahoma Land Run, when huge sections of the future state were opened for white settlers. He was an infant when his family came in a covered wagon and started a farm near the town of Seiling.


They made part of their home a school, and Holcomb started classes at age 4. Part of his longevity may have begun then, Ford said. She said his mother breast-fed him until the age of 5, a practice not uncommon in pioneering days.


"I think that might be part of it. He would come home from school and she had a special little rocking chair. She would sit in it, and he would stand next to her to nurse."


When Holcomb was 15, the boys at school were starting to drink and smoke, and his mother extracted a promise: If he would not drink, smoke, curse or chew tobacco, she would give him a gold watch when he was 25.


"I have the watch," Ford said. "It's beautiful."


Holcomb's way of dealing with sorrow has been another key to his long life, Ford said. "He's a darlin'," she said. "He cries if a kid gets hurt or an animal gets hurt, but he's over it real quick. He just cries and then it's done."


If there is another secret, Ford said, it is that Holcomb ate a big breakfast - a big bowl of oatmeal - and not much else for the rest of the day.


"He'd have a real hard day and then he'd kick back when it was done," she said.


Holcomb did a stint building roads but that did not last long. He traded horses on the side and in later years bred a line of bird dogs. But farming shaped most of Holcomb's life.


Growing wheat on about 81 hectares for more than 70 years, his farm near Apache, Oklahoma, yielded enough to feed an estimated 500 people a year for most of his life.


Now the world's oldest man looks forward to his next milestone, his 111th birthday.


"Daddy has always been here. This is another day he's still here. I always wonder what it will be like for us when he's gone," Ford said.


"If he's living for a purpose, I hope we are fulfilling that purpose. He did the best he could to make our lives good."