Ethel Welsh glanced at the flowers near her bed.
"Oh, they're beautiful," she said.
Although she loved the flowers her grandchildren had sent for her birthday, she couldn't understand what the big deal was. Today is just another birthday, she said, not much different from the previous 107.
"I don't really like my birthday," Welsh said, who was surprised when reminded of her age Friday. "I knew I was old, but not that old."
Family members also are surprised at Welsh's longevity.
"She's 108 and does better than me," said her daughter, Edna Peterson of Brookridge.
When Welsh moved to an apartment at Evergreen Woods Retirement Center 13 years ago, she and Peterson did many things together. They shopped, visited friends and ate at restaurants.
"She always liked to travel," Peterson said. "And she walked just about everywhere until she fell about seven months ago."
Welsh, who has been living in the health care center at Evergreen Woods since 1991, is a favorite among employees.
"She is special to us," said activities director Jacqueline Flamand. "She is a sweet and feisty little lady."
Welsh was born Ethel Johnson on June 25, 1887, and spent her childhood years in Nottingham, England.
When she was 25, the young Miss Johnson moved to the United States to join her fiance, James Welsh. When she arrived in Boston in 1912, the two married.
The newlyweds lived in St. Paul, Minn., for some time, then moved to Chicago after Welsh's cousin offered him a job as a bricklayer.
While her husband worked as a bricklayer, Welsh raised their four children. The couple were married for 53 years until Mr. Welsh's death in 1965.
"She was a homemaker, but she did many other things," Peterson said. "She was a great interior decorator and liked to buy houses, fix them up, then sell them."
Although Welsh no longer does the things she enjoyed most, her days can be busy.
She likes to watch the staff working and also enjoys watching other residents participating in their activities. She also likes to entertain, singing songs to anyone who will listen. Her favorite pastime is sipping hot tea and nibbling bread with butter.
"You really can't call yourself an Englishman if you don't like your tea," she said.
Welsh longs to do some of the things of her younger days.
"I want to get on my feet," she said. "I want to dance."
She sometimes forgets she is unable to walk, and recently wound up in the hospital when she fell. She broke her nose and had minor head injuries.
"But she heals fast," said Elaine Treder, a nurse's aide at Evergreen Woods. "She does so well at her age."
The oldest resident at Evergreen Woods said her many years of good health can be attributed to one thing: "Stay away from doctors," she warned. "They'll always find something wrong with you."