by Sara

Have you seen the television commercial for insurance that asks, “Who’s the oldest person you’ve ever known”? My answer to that question is my great-aunt Thelma who just celebrated her 101st birthday! She attributes her longevity to clean living and laughter. Thelma is a selfless, giving person, who spent over 20 years caring for her bedridden husband in their home, rather than sending him to a nursing home. My childhood memories of her are of a jolly, happy, joking woman who, looking back on it, had a cross to bear, but I don’t remember ever hearing her complain or indulge in self-pity. She still plays the piano, by ear, never having had lessons, and played and sang “Tie Me To Your Apron Strings Again” and “Show Me the Way to Go Home” the last time I saw her. She inspires me!

I’ve known many others who were also long-lived, including my grandma Fannie, who lived to the ripe old age of 97. She was probably disappointed when she died, because she told us that she wanted to live forever, or at least until she was 115. Grandma loved to spoil her grandchildren, so she bought us lots of presents “just because,” fixed our favorite foods whenever we visited, and implored our parents not to punish us when we were naughty. Fannie’s best friend from childhood, Lottie, also lived well into her nineties. Grandma’s older sister, great-aunt Mary died at age 95. She told everyone at the end that she was grandma’s “younger” sister. That sure steamed grandma. Mary did have a bit of senility late in life, but we’re pretty sure, since the sisters never really got along, that she was fully aware that she was older than Fannie. Mary was so vain about her age, that on her tombstone, she arranged for there to be no birth date, just her name and the word, “Passed.”

What did these four grand-dames have in common? For one thing, they all lived in and around Bedford, Indiana most of their lives. For another, they were all born in the earliest years of the twentieth century, in a very different era and time. Why did they live so long? Was it the water? (Grandma believed her well water from deep out in the hills had special healing properties). Was it genes? (Only 2 of the 4 were related by blood). Was it good luck? We may never know. No matter the reason, we are thankful that we had them around for so long!

Who is the oldest person you’ve known? Or the oldest person you’ve uncovered in your family history research?