On Christmas Day, she turns 100

Despite her age, Neta Younglove is spry and stays active. Twice a day she walks six blocks with her aging daschund, Augie. She spends 30 to 40 minutes a day praying.

KATHLEEN FLYNN | Times

Despite her age, Neta Younglove is spry and stays active. Twice a day she walks six blocks with her aging daschund, Augie. She spends 30 to 40 minutes a day praying.

TAMPA — Neta Younglove won’t be cooking her three daily meals. She won’t be doing her laundry. And she may not be able to walk Augie, her aging dachshund, the entire 12 blocks, as she does other days.

That’s because Christmas, always a big celebration for her family, will be special this year. It’s the day Younglove turns 100 years old.

The tiny woman with silver hair and cheerful demeanor lives in the South Tampa bungalow she’s owned since 1943. She’s amazed she has thrived for so long.

“I used to think I would die at least about 50. My husband thought he’d live to be 100,” she says. He died in 1977 at age 74. “He’d be surprised. He’ll know it one day when I get to heaven.’’

On Christmas, she and her family will make a day of it. They’ll open Christmas presents first, then her birthday presents. They’ll have a big breakfast in the morning and Christmas dinner at night. There’s a good chance the party will continue with the celebrated centenarian until 11 p.m.

One gift they’re all thankful for is Younglove’s vibrancy -- the fact that she’s lucid, independent and self-sufficient. “I’m truly amazed. I brag about her to everybody,’’ says her daughter, Sharon Hickinbotham, who lives nearby and checks on her mother twice a day by telephone.

Born during Teddy Roosevelt’s last year as president, Younglove has always followed a healthy lifestyle, cooking her meals from scratch and getting her exercise.

She does have a heart condition that’s under control. She has arthritis in her hands, which keeps her from knitting, crocheting and writing notes. She uses a cane because of “old age,’’ she explains. She sailed through a brain operation at age 92. She had developed a subdural hematoma after she fell off the back of her couch while standing on it to decorate her Christmas tree.

She says she’s asked God why he’s allowed her to live to this age.

“The only thing I can think of, I have a prayer list about this long,” she says, holding her hands wide apart. Hickinbotham says her mother seems to embrace each day. She wakes at 6 a.m. and prepares breakfast, cooking oatmeal and adding some raisins. She may have half a banana, too, and she always tops off the meal with a cookie and hot tea.

At 8 a.m., she’s out the door with Augie. They walk three blocks out and three blocks back, and they repeat the constitutional about 5 p.m.

She spends 30 to 40 minutes a morning in silent prayer, asking God’s blessings on family, friends and neighbors. After her prayer, she cooks her lunch, usually chicken and rice and vegetables.

She spends much of the afternoon reading. She likes Reader’s Digest, National Geographic, birding publications and religious magazines. She tunes in to the news at 4 p.m., then catches “Dr. Phil” at 5.

After Augie’s second walk, she has a simple supper, usually a bowl of soup, and settles in for her two favorite shows, “Wheel of Fortune” and “Jeopardy.” She allows that she’s a “pretty good” armchair contestant.

Augie, 10 years old — named after Younglove’s late husband -— follows wherever she goes. He snoozes on a nearby couch during her reading and prayer time. He settles in his crate when she’s in the kitchen. At bedtime, he crawls into his doggie bed and, using his teeth, pulls a blanket over him.

Younglove washes Augie when he needs a bath and does her own laundry, “but I don’t iron much anymore.” On Friday nights, the family and friends — sometimes as many as 18 people — go out to dinner. When it’s Younglove’s turn to pick the place, she always settles on Sweet Tomatoes. “I love their clam chowder!” On Sunday morning, she attends Bayside Community Church.

Because this is a milestone birthday, the family, which includes four grandchildren and 8 great-grandchildren, has planned a celebration Jan. 17 in the reception hall of Hickinbotham’s church, Bayshore Baptist. “We’ll have well over 100 people,” says Hickinbotham.

Christmas birthdays these days are far more bountiful than those of her youth. Her family was poor, so she received only one gift, a combination Christmas and birthday present. Her 13th birthday was one of her favorites. Her parents bought her a handmade porcelain doll.

“And my aunt, who was just a few years older than I, she wanted the doll. So I had to hide it to keep her from having the doll,” she says, laughing at the memory.

Younglove moved with her family to Osprey from her native Georgia that same year, 1921. The family traveled to the train station near Pitts, Ga. in a horse and wagon. Younglove’s father eventually bought a Ford touring car, which had a canopy but no windows; they put up curtains when it rained.

“I just thought I was in heaven. I always loved to go places.”

She saw her first airplane as a child at her grandmother’s house in Georgia.

“I heard something in the air, so I got out on the porch and I could just barely see that plane going. And I thought, it would be so nice to ride in one of them.’’

She had to wait another 60 years to get her plane ride. On a trip to the Holy Land, she sat by the window and marveled at the landscape below — rivers looked to be a foot wide.

Her husband, Augustus Clymer Younglove — A.C., he preferred to be called — had died a couple of years earlier after 53 years of marriage. She was nearly 16 and he was 20 when they wed, as was common in those days.

She never remarried. He was her one and only, she explains. “He was the kindest, most gentle person, until he got mad. Then, he was a holy terror,” she says, noting that he had a yell that could wake the neighbors.

He started a transport business, and they moved to Tampa. She remembers that present-day MacDill Avenue was a shell road from Bay-to-Bay southward, and much of the surrounding countryside was palmetto scrub and pine trees. She recalls that her husband hauled the materials to build Britton Plaza.

In the 1950s, when her husband was expanding his business, she worked as hostess in the restaurant of the Tampa Terrace Hotel, then the city’s finest. All the celebrities stayed there. Gov. LeRoy Collins stopped to chat with her one time. And she remembers watching a young Elvis Presley, in town for a performance, as he dined in the restaurant. His good looks made the young girls swoon, and Younglove admits that she felt quite a thrill, too, but she didn’t approach him for an autograph. “I was kind of timid about talking to famous people.’’

Hickinbotham, 65, the lower school principal at Cambridge Christian School, was six months old when they moved into the house that Younglove still occupies. (Hickinbotham’s brother, Melvin Younglove, now 82, resides in an assisted living center in Gainesville, Ga.) The Youngloves paid $4,100 for the house, built in 1919 with heart pine flooring. It’s now insured for $300,000.

They bought their first television set while living in the house. “My Dad wasn’t so sure that it was something that was going to last, so he didn’t buy a new one right away. He bought a used one,’’ says Hickinbotham.

They thought of selling the house when Hickinbotham was in eighth grade, but she pitched such a fit, she says, they decided to stay.

To Younglove, too, the house is like an old friend. “I’m hoping the Lord calls me home from this house.”

On Christmas Day, she turns 100 12/24/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 30, 2008 1:41pm]

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