How many people you know are 100 years old or more? I’ve known several in their eighties and nineties, but, for me, only one who turned 100—yesterday. Her name is Nellie and she is one of the most amazing people I have ever met. She lives next door in a house she maintains herself. She does her own cleaning and laundry, cooking and washing dishes. She even still drives her car and is a safe driver. She can count backwards from one hundred just like I would count forward. I can’t do that!
Nellie is also stubbornly independent. She insists on getting her mail from across the street, often in the rain. I try to beat her to it, but she scolds me saying she needs the exercise. This past summer, she and I wanted to re-sod our lawns and, since she doesn’t have a computer, I did the research on sod sources and lawn maintenance companies and someone to check our existing sprinklers. Together we set up appointments to get estimates and made arrangements to get the work done. She already knew how to program her sprinkler and now we both have fabulous new lawns.
I asked, “If you could describe your life in one word, what would it be?” She immediately said, “Happy.” Then I asked her if she had highlights she could tell me about. She said her 61 year marriage to her husband, Johnny, and the birth of her daughter were tops, but she went on to tell me about many trips and adventures she shared with her family, and card parties and going to Busch Gardens every year. Without hesitation she said, “I have no regrets.”
I asked her if there was anything bad she remembered and she told me how she and her husband bought a house here in Florida and they kept up flood insurance payments for many years and when the insurance got too expensive and they’d had no problems, they dropped it. Of course, a few years afterwards, a storm completely flooded their house and they lost everything. She related how she saw a snake swimming through her home and screamed for her husband to get rid of it. He wasn’t very enthusiastic about this and she said, “Okay, I’ll get a bucket.” She scooped it up praying it wouldn’t jump out, and trying to wade as fast as she could through thigh-high water, she squealed all the way to the toilet where she tossed it in. “It’s funny now, but it wasn’t then!” she chuckled.
Her best friend is Lillian, a widow like her and also her sister-in-law, who lives on the next street. Lillian is like Nellie in that she also lives alone and drives, and she’s ninety. The two of them love to get together to play cards, sometimes until the wee hours and Nellie likes to sleep late. One advantage of being a bit hard-of-hearing is that she is not disturbed by the early morning sounds of yard men mowing and such, since she takes her hearing aids out when she sleeps.
When Dancing with the Stars was on she and I would talk the next day about which dances we liked and which stars we rooted for. She even took the time and trouble to vote! And even though we thought all the dancers in the finals were fabulous, we both were pleased when Derek Hough and the lovely and gracious Bindy Irwin won the Mirror Ball Trophy.
This Christmas season, as we celebrate the gift Our Father has given us in the birth of Our Savoir, I am thankful for the gift of Nellie in my life. She is such a gracious and happy person even though she suffers from some of the aches and pains of old age. I want to be just like her when I grow up!
Happy 100 Nellie!
Coco Ihle is the author of She Had to Know, an atmospheric, traditional mystery set mainly in Scotland.
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