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Thursday, Aug. 16, 2012 04:49 am

My visit with a centenarian

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Marie Aldridge, left, with friend Edith Mellinger and the author, Larry Harnly.

Marie Aldridge, neatly dressed and mentally alert, is 103 years old, born May 10, 1909. She has some trouble hearing and seeing. She lives in a Decatur nursing home.

She really can’t give a secret to living so long. “It’s all up to God,’’ she says as she sits on her bed. “When he gets ready, He will call me.”

Marie does not let age diminish her thoughts about the opposite sex. There’s a man living here who is awful, awful nice,’’ she noted. “I think he likes me, too.’’

I asked Marie if she would accept if he proposed? “Absolutely,’’ she answered.

Marie said her husband “deserted” her after 12 years of marriage. They had two children and another who died at 10 months from what she termed “dropsy.” One son lives in Decatur. She has four grandchildren and seven great grandchildren, all 11 girls. Her twin brother died at 91.

Marie is from Cerro Gordo. She attended a one-room school that once had about 40 students. Her education stopped after the eighth grade. “Our teacher had a stick about this long (she shows about three feet) and she made us behave,’’ recalled Marie, who walked one mile to school. “She beat it into us.’’

hen her formal education ended, Marie had what she called “little jobs,” working in a restaurant and doing housework. After her husband left, she had to support her family and worked in a grocery store for 43 years.

She says the airplane is the best invention she has seen in her lifetime, and she has flown. She recalled the first family car was an Auburn, in about 1920. She remembers it was gray.

When World War I ended in 1918, Marie was 9. “I remember how thrilled we were. My twin brother and I were in bed. My mother told us the war was over with. There was a lot of noise. She told us not to be scared.”

Marie was 32 when World War II began. “I was living in Chicago then, and I was told Pearl Harbor had been bombed.’’

Marie was still living in her own home at 100. Then she dealt with pneumonia and moved into a cheery nursing home. When she was younger, she said she “loved to write letters,” read and do puzzles. She still would like to write, but poor eyesight has made that difficult. A friend said her penmanship remains excellent.

“I can’t hear the TV,’’ she said. “I don’t do much of anything now. I’ve got to use what I’ve got and be contented with what I have. If God wants you to have it, you will have it.

“We wouldn’t be here (in a nursing home) if we were real, real good. They want beat-up people here.”

After we joked about her male friend, she commented: “You’ve got to have a little fun.”

Earlier she mentioned she had changed rooms and that a man had moved into her former room. “Paul is sleeping in my bed,” she joked.

Larry Harnly of Springfield worked in the sports department of the State Journal-Register from 1963 to 1998 before retiring.

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