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At 101, she has a 'can-do' spirit impervious to age

She caused quite a stir. Not intentionally, you understand, but as she was helped from car to wheelchair, word somehow got around, and people standing nearby wanted to see her.

An onlooker, a woman, exclaims, "She's incredible — why, she's beautiful!"

The object of her praise, the object of all the attention, is my husband's Aunt Pauline, who just happens to be 101 years old. She is coming to brunch at a downtown hotel in Columbus, Ohio.

The last time we saw her was at a family reunion. At the age of 96 she had traveled from Ohio to Oregon, and, by any measure, had been queen of the affair. Then, as now, it was less her age that commanded attention as her spirit despite her age — independent, unflappable, a "can-do" quality.

The independence was almost her undoing. As a young woman in a strict family, she would occasionally sneak out at night to be with friends — until her father caught her. A bargain of sorts ensued. She was granted more freedom but restricted to "seeing" a young man named Walter.

"I couldn't stand him!" she says. "He had 20 hands — I had to fight my way home!"

While working full time she attended classes at Ohio State University, graduated from business college, then went to work for her brother, Leonard.

During World War I, in Chemical Warfare Service, Leonard had helped develop activated charcoal for filtration in gas masks (the product would eventually be used in atomic submarines) and, later, in Columbus, he established a carbon manufacturing plant. Pauline was its first employee and worked there for 43 years as accountant, office manager and treasurer — in effect an executive, in a day when women and corporate ladders rarely met.

It might have been a charmed existence — a young woman with a sense of purpose, a good job, a new husband — but there were problems. The Depression came along, her husband had no job and, furthermore, no interest in a job. What he did have was a roving eye and the spare time to indulge it.

The discovery hurt. Yet Pauline got through the hurt, to the other side, because her pride kicked in. ''I wouldn't play second fiddle to anyone!" And her faith in God sustained her. At the age of 35, she became a divorcee.

Three years later, in 1941, she married again. His name was Elmer and he, too, was an accountant. As years passed they worked, they traveled, they had "good times together." They not only worked at making a living, but they worked at making a life, and their marriage lasted for 48 years, until Elmer died.

So what is it like, being 101 and counting? To be sure, there are downsides — though Pauline calls them "things to be dealt with."

Her mobility is not what it used to be, so she uses a walker, or sometimes a wheelchair; her eyesight is nearly gone, though some days are better than others. A niece's husband now handles her paperwork, though the accountant in her misses the job. Her attitude: "Some things you have to live with." Period.

She has moved into an assisted living facility, and the house she lived in for 50 years is now on the market. It was hard leaving the house, the memories. "But," she says, "it was time."

Finally, there is the matter of friends. As she succinctly puts it: "All of my friends have died." A pause. "So, I'm making new friends — and they're all younger than I am!"

When asked about changes she has seen in her lifetime, she zeroes in on one area:

"There's not enough family life today, not enough home life — all of us used to eat together, sit around the table together and talk — but today it's a different way of living, a different way of thinking.

"Many just don't have the proper steering, don't believe in anything."

What advice does she have for others? She shakes her head — offering advice isn't her way.

But then she delivers some with a grin: "Mind your own business — everybody has problems!"

She is still the one who keeps track of family members and their doings, still the one who always has a story, or a memory, to share. She may be 101, but on the inside she is still 30.

Tampa Bay area resident Faith Barnebey spends her summers in Blowing Rock, N.C.

At 101, she has a 'can-do' spirit impervious to age 11/24/08 [Last modified: Thursday, November 4, 2010 10:07am]
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