Tuesday, April 13, 2010

An Hour Not Wasted

Yesterday I was scheduled to interview a 104-year-old woman for Small Town Newspaper. The woman, Maria (not her real name), is the great-aunt of a friend of mine, and this friend thought her aunt's story would make a good article. She was right, but Maria didn't think so.

When I arrived at her house, she let me in and shook my hand, offered a pleasant smile and showed me to a seat in her immaculate living room. I sat down and took out my notebook, pencil at the ready, and that's when Maria said she was not interested in any newspaper articles. She didn't care for the publicity. It didn't matter that I suggested people would like to know how she has managed to live to this remarkable age and live so well at that. No deal.

So, I closed my notebook and asked if I could just stay for a chat since I was already there, and she thought that would be OK. Maria told me about how she walks to the salon every other week except during bad weather when the hair dresser picks her up and drops her off after her appointment. She walks to the closest little store for incidentals and to the bank. She used to walk to certain doctor's visits until she realized that was getting to be too much of a trek, and now she accepts rides for those longer trips.

A friend of hers takes her to the grocery store a couple of times a month, and she has lunch with ladies who drive, and life is good. Maria tends her own garden and grows all sorts of vegetables she harvests and cooks herself. She bakes like a fiend and makes enough candy to outfit an entire parade route.

Maria's parents immigrated here from Italy in the early 1900s, but when Maria was only an infant in 1906, her father died unexpectedly. Her mother was left here unable to speak English and responsible for caring for her three young children. Doing all she knew to do, she took in boarders and baked bread. She eventually won the attention of one of her boarders, married him, learned English and had seven more children.

Maria has buried all but one of her ten siblings, her husband of 64 years, her parents and one son. Remaining, though, is one daughter, nine grandchildren, 29 great-grandchildren, and I don't know how many beyond that. Her immediate family numbers 52, she said, and she used to cook for them but has decided she's not going to make the entire meal anymore. Lifting the heavy pans and the extending leaves for her dining table have become too much of a chore. She still bakes for everyone on special occasions, though.

When she was young, Maria worked in a factory—nine hours a day for 18¢ an hour. Then she got a different job attaching plugs to the chords of electric irons for 25¢ an hour. She went to dances at the park when this town had its hayday—it was known for big-band dances, and all the greats would come here to perform.

Maria has survived cancer twice, doesn't smoke and doesn't eat junk food, she said. She doesn't drink alcohol because her doctor won't allow it. She cooks her own food and gets plenty of exercise and enjoys her independence. She was awarded a certificate from the state of Ohio for being the oldest living voter at the age of 102, although she argued with the presenters and refused to meet them at the court house. She insisted they award her the certificate in her home.

Even though I didn't get a story for the paper, I spent an hour with a very elderly woman who was as feisty and sharp witted and determined as anyone I've ever met. Not a waste of time in the least. As I was leaving, Maria asked for a hug, and I had to bend over to reach her, she is so small, her delicate frame a deceitful cover for her strong mind and spirit. She is an inspiration. This town should know about her, but since I can't tell them, I'll share her story with blogville instead.


savannah said...

blogville is richer for hearing her story and having read it, i understand why she didn't care for the publicity. she's been doing what you're supposed to do with your life - live it as completely as you can and never giving up. certainly food for thought around the plantation, sugar! ;~D xoxox

dive said...

Yay for Maria, Robyn!
So nice to know that there are active (and feisty) people around who are twice my age. That's kind of comforting. She sounds a real sassy lady.

MmeBenaut said...

Incredible Robyn - thanks so much for sharing Maria's story. My husband's Auntie will be 100 in July and she is sharp witted and feisty too and is of small, frail frame. Irish she is and never married. Perhaps that is her secret, together with a sherry at 11 and some whiskey in her coffee at 2. She also drinks plenty of tea. She is a devil at doing the daily crossword and I swear reads every word in our local newspaper every day. She never forgets a birthday or anniversary either.