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CENTENARIAN BASH IS AT LEAST 100 LAUGHS

It was the kind of party where if you asked people how old they were, some might be tempted to tack on a few years.

It was the kind of party where they wisely served cookies, coffee and tea rather than cake, because the 23 honored guests totaled more than 2,300 years of living and it would have required a fire permit to handle all the candles.It was the kind of party where children were introduced as "my young son, 79."

The occasion was the Seattle-King County Advisory Council on Aging's annual meeting Friday.

The honored guests were all 100 years old or older - born when Washington was still a territory, when the flying machine was a wild dream and you'd have to be "tetched in the head" to talk about anything resembling television.

There are 230 centenarians in King County, which encompasses Seattle and most of the suburbs and has a population of 1.5 million. There may be a lot more centenarians in the future, the gathering was told, because the 85-and-over group is one of the fastest growing in the state.

Nobody wanted to talk about the secrets of old age. They were obvious: the ability to laugh, because there was lots of that; an interest in what's going on, because everyone listened intently and politely when others spoke, and a body frame on the small, slender side.

The stories that were told sounded like history. But to the storytellers, they were as real as yesterday's headlines.

Henry Neligan, 106, the oldest of the bunch, told of surviving a shipwreck on a square-rigger sailing ship as a young man and of being picked up by a Russian ship that took him to Barbados, where he dined on flying fish and sweet potatoes for almost a year.

He had a girlfriend he was sweet on when he was 90, but she died. When he was well past 100, he waltzed with his granddaughter, Lorelle Pintado.

Zoe Neterer, who sounded more like 70 than 101, danced at her 100th birthday party "to prove I could do it," but has given up dancing to concentrate on art.

This local version of Grandma Moses will have a show of more than 200 oils and watercolors at a gallery later this year.

Paul Hoffman, 101, said one of his favorite jobs was singing on stage during the intermission at silent movies, but he's proudest of having 22 grandchildren, 18 great grandchildren and five great-great grandchildren.