Oldest man in South L.A.? The 105 years of 'Poppa Si'

Feb. 9, 2012, 1:54 p.m.

Simon Redditt (aka Poppa Si) is 105 years old and living at the Juanita Tate Legacy Towers in South L.A.

Simon Redditt is 105 years old. He drinks Hennessy, eats chocolate Whoppers and stays up late watching Lakers games. He's seen two world wars, the sinking of the Titanic and remembers a time before television. But you might be surprised what he considers the most shocking moment of his long life.

Redditt, known as "Poppa Si" sports a gold necklace, a collared shirt and oversize glasses on the day we arrive at his apartment at the Juanita Tate Legacy Towers in South L.A., an older persons home that provides no assisted living.

He lives there because he doesn't need any assistance - and he makes that pretty clear.

At 105, Poppa Si still does everything for himself: He cooks for himself, bathes himself and when the elevator in his building broke down, he shuffled down four flights of stairs to the lobby by himself.

His room is a testament to the long and full life he's lived. Walls are covered in photos and memorabilia of family and friends, signed greeting cards (including one from the Obamas on Si's 100th birthday) and Good Samaritan awards.

"Every time I go down on the elevator I get a handshake, a hug and maybe even a kiss," Redditt said.

He's relatively ailment-free for pushing 106. Besides the usual hearing aids and everyday aches and pains, he's physically strong and mentally sharp. It was only two years ago that he even had to start using a walker, something he uses sparingly and with a smidgen of embarrassment.

"I ain't going nowhere with that walker," he said. "I'm ashamed of that walker."

Redditt said that being old is not all it's cracked up to be, but it beats being dead.

"You go to bed feeling like a young man," he said. "You wake up, everything is hurting. If I wake up [with] nothing hurting I'd think I was dead."

Redditt's dining room table has centerpieces of Whopper candy boxes and tins of Cheetos. But for actual meals he prefers making stews and chilli.

And to wash everything down, he still drinks the hard stuff: Hennessy, Chivas Regal and sometimes champagne.

"I drink scotch because it won't knock you out as quick as bourbon," Redditt explained. He clarified -- a pint of scotch will get him "lit up" but not cause him to pass out.

Could it be that drinking is the key for living a long life? What about a healthy diet and a belief in a higher power?

"I think it's mostly how you treat yourself," he said. "You don't need to get down on your knees and be praying because I don't think that matters quite much."

One of 15 children, Poppa Si is the only surviving member of his family. He has seen the death of brothers, sisters and best friends. He also lost his wife, who died two weeks before their 65th anniversary.

"We had a pretty good life together," he said. "There's her picture." He pointed to an oval frame front and center on his living room wall.

Redditt's wife worked as a clerk at the Department of Water and Power while he worked the a nightshift at the rubber company. He said he'd often make dinner for her so when she got home from work it'd be ready and waiting on the table.

"When she first passed away…shoot…I thought I wasn't gonna make it," Redditt said. "I thought I had lost everything. I was very lonesome because she was a lot of fun to me and we played just like kids."

But Redditt has since recovered (mostly). He's sly, witty and has a strong affinity for the ladies. As of last year, he had two girlfriends. Now, he's chosen to whittle that number down to one.

"I tried to get married again but they wouldn't say yes. They said I wasn't qualified," Redditt grinned. "So I got to battle it all by myself the rest of the way."

But his charm affects everyone, as evidenced by the parade of friends who visit him in his room or come over to talk to him in the lobby. Even the security guards and front desk clerks at his apartment complex gush over him.

"I don't feel too lonesome because everyone calls me 'Poppa Si' and I feel like I'm the poppa of all of them," Redditt said.

He was born in a small town outside of Memphis, Tenn. He moved to California in June of 1943 and lived in a house only a few blocks from where he lives now. He loves California because "you can wear the same outfit year-round."

Poppa Si worked for decades at the Firestone tire and rubber company until he retired in 1970. Then, he spent his leisure time going to restaurants, ball games and the race tracks until he quickly "got tired of sitting down." That's when he began a second career as an armed guard, where he worked for 12 years (he never had to shoot anyone and never got shot.)

Redditt traveled until 2004 when he made his last trip to Washington D.C. for a family reunion. His life's had a lot of high points: marrying his wife, getting his first legitimate job after spending years "running numbers" and seeing Barack Obama being elected president. That historic event was a pleasant shock to him and the most interesting thing he remembers seeing in his life.

"I was surprised -- of course, I was happy to witness something like this," Redditt said. "Of course, he got my vote." The incumbent can expect his vote again this fall, he disclosed.

In addition to politics, we talked about life and death, religion, love and the afterlife. Or, according to Poppa Si, the lack thereof. He doesn't believe in any sort of heaven.

"That's just something I think they made up to kind of satisfy people after they got old," Redditt said. "Tell them they're going to heaven and they don't fret too much about dying."

With that said, he has no fear of dying.

"People call me crazy for thinking it but I think when you're dead, you're done," he stated. "When you pass away they put you in the ground or they burn you up and there ain't no more talking."

Redditt claims to have almost no regrets in his more than a century of living. His only big mistake was not getting an education, he said.

"If I had been educated I would be running for president now," he joked.

Redditt went to school until the eighth grade when he quit because his family, mostly his father, didn't support his education. He left home when he was 16 years old, started shoveling gravel for roads and never looked back.

Poppa Si's recollection of his upbringing is tinged with pride and a sense of independence. He said he's never borrowed money from anyone and has supported himself and his family since his teen years.

"I don't need no kind of favors from no one," Redditt said. "I got enough money to last me as long as I'm gonna last."

His 106th birthday is coming up in August and it promises to be a blowout. In the meantime, he's enjoying his flexible schedule. He sleeps in as late as he wants, makes a leisurely breakfast and heads down to the lobby where he hangs out with the guys, playing dominoes, laughing and joking. Sometimes, they stay up all night "drinking wine or booze" until 3 or 4 a.m.

"I'm living a charmed life now," Poppa Si said, "I don't have no worries about nothing. I got everything I need."

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