One day a week or so ago, Nelson Hackett loaded his three-legged dog, Lilly, into the basket of his three-wheeled bicycle and began pedaling.
He does this just about every day, rain or shine. On this particular trip, he left his east Modesto home and rode all the way to Escalon, where he got a haircut. Then he cruised over to visit Clarence Thompson at his mobile home.
"We've been friends since the '30s," Hackett said. "He's 97. He's the only person I know who's older than me."
On the way home, Hackett detoured through Riverbank to visit his grand-daughter, Tasha Ford.
"It was more than 20 miles round-trip," Hackett said. "I was a little tired, but I wasn't exhausted."
Not bad for someone who will turn 96 on Nov. 10. Old age, it seems, is in the mind, body and spirit of the beholder. OK, so Hackett admits his hearing isn't what it used to be. But his mind and body are holding up pretty darned well, and his spirit remains as strong as ever.
You wonder what enables some people to keep going so strong, so long. They slow down, but they won't stop.
Hackett is one of those people: aged and aging, yet ageless. He might be on a slow physical decline, but his energy and determination are boundless.
He's from a generation of Americans who represent the last of the original recyclers -- those who deem virtually nothing disposable.
When his recliner broke not long ago, he built it a new base -- albeit makeshift -- instead of simply buying a new one.
Some folks would buy a manufactured porch swing from Lowe's or Orchard Supply Hardware. Hackett? He built a wood frame to hold a vinyl-strapped chaise longue and hung the contraption from his back porch. It looks like a rickshaw without wheels. He likes it, and that's all that counts.
"Want to swing?" he asked. It's where he sits to watch his dinner grow. His back yard is a small field of cornstalks and beanstalks. He relies on the Bible for his spiritual food, and his nightly dinner generally consists of the corn and pinto beans he farms and cooks himself. About the only foods he buys from the store are milk, oatmeal, bread and ice cream. Lots of ice cream.
"He's totally eccentric," said daughter Debbie Southern, who lives across the street. She routinely offers to cook him something else, but he usually declines.
She watches over him the best she can, knowing she never would be able to keep him from heading out on his own and doing what he wants to do, whenever he wants to do it.
"Stop him?" she said. "Heavens, no. He usually tells me he'll be gone and will be back in a while, Lord willing."
Born near the Fresno County town of Raisin City in 1911, Hackett had eight siblings. His father tried farming, but a lack of water cost him the farm. Hackett left school before finishing eighth grade, though it never stopped him from making a living.
In 1928, the family moved to the Modesto area, where they worked on a family-owned dairy on Hackett Road. The road is named for his uncle Jess.
Later, Nelson Hackett and a brother owned and sold some dairies. He also helped build the San Luis Reservoir Dam, but suffered an injury in a fall that left his left leg in a cast for two years and disabled him for 42 months in the mid-1960s.
"While I was in my cast, my wife came around with a vacuum cleaner and I realized she was fouling up the air," he said.
So he had a central vacuum system installed in their home and liked it so much that, after his leg finally healed, he bought the business from the installer. He retired, in theory at least, in 1977 at age 66. But Hackett never quit working on something, altering whatever to meet his needs or tinkering with it to find another use.
Hackett gave up his driver's license three years ago. It hasn't limited his mobility. He rides to the grocery store on Yosemite Boulevard a few blocks away. He'll ride to Escalon and back.
Occasionally, he'll pedal over to visit a friend named Manuel on Carver Road. Except that's not really the guy's name.
"I played horseshoes with a friend named Manuel," Hackett said. "When I first met this fella, I told him, 'I'll call you Manuel.' He reminded me of my other friend."
The gentleman's real name?
"Ohh ... I can't remember it right now," Hackett said.
Manuel, or whatever his name is, doesn't speak much English. Hackett speaks no Spanish. So, when they get together to work in Manuel's garden, they communicate by using lots of hand signals.
"You kind of reason it out, and you can get your message across," Hackett said.
Everywhere Hackett goes, his dog goes with him. Lilly is a 3-year-old Chihuahua mix who runs behind his bike on the shorter trips and bums a ride in the basket on longer ones, even in the winter.
"When it gets cold, I'll let her out to run a little and warm up," he said.
That's how she lost her leg last Christmas Day as he was pedaling through a neighborhood east of El Vista Avenue.
"I turned onto Edgebrook (Drive), and I let her out to run awhile," Hackett said.
Suddenly, a pit bull attacked Lilly, grabbing one of her front legs. Hackett came to her rescue, pulling the other dog off of her.
"I got it loose," he said.
The pit bull attacked again, this time locking onto Lilly's left leg. Hackett pounded on the larger dog and it finally let go, but not until it nearly severed the limb.
"I scolded (the pit bull)," Hackett said. "It kind of tucked its tail between its legs and went home."
What the pit bull didn't finish, the veterinarian did.
"(Lilly's leg) had to be amputated," Hackett said.
Lilly survived, though, and remains his travel partner. She's always ready and willing for their next trip, and off they'll go.
The man with the three-wheeled bike and the three-legged dog still has a few miles left in him.
Jeff Jardine's column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays in Local News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2383.