Thursday, December 14, 2017
Human Interest

105-year-old Hudson woman: 'Don't be afraid of growing old.'

HUDSON

In her apartment at Atria Park of Baypoint Village, Clarice Emley stretched her legs so her feet would reach her organ's pedalboard.

She is a musician who has played the organ since 1985. She is also a widow, an aunt, and a retired high school teacher.

And "I have done something finally that not many people can do," she said — hit 105 years of age.

Emley, whose 105th birthday is Sunday, was born in 1911 to an English dad and an Irish mom in Glade Valley, N.C., at the top of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

She grew up there, on a farm where "we grew everything that grows to eat," she said. "We had plenty of chicken and pork and beef and turkey and mutton and what we didn't grow we could find in the woods, like possum and rabbit and groundhog. During the Depression, we didn't want for anything."

She is glad she grew up when she did. "I wouldn't want to be a kid now."

She said she had an ideal childhood, with a chicken as a pet and four brothers as playmates.

"They were just older than I and bigger than I, and more energetic," she said. "If they climbed a tree, I climbed the tree. If they jumped out of the barn loft into the haystack, I jumped out of the barn loft into the haystack. If they went fishing, I tagged along, if they let me."

When Emley was 4, her brothers "rigged up a little, tiny fishing pole and a little, tiny hook and I caught a little, tiny fish," she said — a minnow. "I was so proud of my fish I wanted to show it to my pet chicken."

So she did.

"That chicken swallowed it down," she said. "I didn't know whether to choke my chicken and get my fish back. I was torn between love of my chicken and love of my fish. Oh, it broke my heart."

She laughs about it now, and admits, "There was never a dull moment on the farm."

At school, she said, she was among the youngest students.

"The teacher let me take the first grade when I was 4," she said.

In second grade, her teacher asked the students a question. Who wants to be a teacher?

"All the kids raised their hands except me," she said.

As it turned out, "I think out of the whole group, I was the only one who became a teacher."

After high school, Emley attended Appalachian State Teachers College in Boone, N.C., where she majored in English and minored in French. After college, a high school principal offered her a job.

As a young adult, she taught every subject she could: History, math, geography and science. She also met a man.

"He was a soldier," she said. "A sergeant. It was a war love affair."

They wrote letters for a year and a half and met between where she lived in North Carolina and where he was stationed in South Carolina.

"We got married when he was discharged, but he was a womanizer," she said. "Every woman fascinated him."

He fell for a friend's cousin.

"They wanted to get married, so (after four years of marriage) I stepped aside," Emley said.

She moved to Florida in 1960 and met her second husband at shuffleboard in 1972, the same year she retired after 34 years of teaching.

"He was a wonderful person," she said.

They were married until he died of cancer in 1981. She doesn't think of him as often now as she did for the 20 years after his death, she said.

"Because time heals," she said. "But when I think about him, I always smile."

For nearly 30 years after he died, she lived alone in the house they had shared.

"I was totally independent," she said. "I did my own shopping, my own cooking, my own eating, my own laundry."

She drove until she was 95, when her nieces and neighbors recruited a mechanic to disconnect her Oldsmobile's battery.

"I laughed and laughed," Emley said, when she learned what they had done. "It's a good thing that they stopped me. I haven't driven since."

Seven years ago, she moved to Atria, where she exercises daily, plays her organ and participates in activities Atria hosts for its residents. This week, the assisted living facility threw her a birthday party. On Sunday, so will Community Congregational Church in New Port Richey.

The attention she is getting is the best part of nearing 105, she said. And having lived that long, she has learned a lot.

"That (God) is entirely dependable," she said. "He's very loving and forgiving and merciful, and he means what he says," she said.

She has learned that "we couldn't get along without him."

She also has learned that "life for any of us is a gift." And she has advice for all who are younger than she is.

"Don't be afraid of growing old," she said. "The second hundred years is better than the first hundred."

Contact Arleen Spenceley at [email protected] or (727) 869-6235. Follow @ArleenSpenceley.

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