Harry Methvin, a teacher, was “out junking,” when he spied an old one-room schoolhouse. Lady who lived next door, Miss Leona, had once been a student there. They’ve been friends ever since.
“I was 42, you were 62,” he says. “I thought you were an old woman back then.”
He’s in his seventies now. Today’s occasion, Miss Leona turning 96.
Harry has brought his nephew Vance, niece Angie, and me. He introduces us to Earnestine, Miss Leona’s daughter.
Angie has a cake, with two candles, a 9 and a 6. Harry brought over a hundred birthday cards, from former students, most have never met Miss Leona. He’s that kind of guy, with that kind of effect.
“Ooo ee!” she says, when Harry piles the happy mail into her lap.
Nary A Note
Humor is their mutual friend. Miss Leona says. “Doctor said I had one foot on a banana peel and the other foot in a grave.”
He teases back, “You got pretty good taste for a woman from the piney woods.”
“Ooo eee!” She loves his quick wit.
Vance remarks about how rare it is, for a family to have five generations alive. She confides that what worked with her kids works with the newest batch too, “I put dat look on ‘em and they mind right away.”
She worked hard, her whole life. First job, $3 a day, at a “chicken house.” She was 37 when her husband died. There she was with seven kids. She picked up side jobs, like cleaning houses. Worked in the cafeteria at a school. She’s proud that she paid off her house that way. “I didn’t get behind with nary a note. If you want something, get out and work for it,” she says.
She was careful with her money, but there’s a red dress, somewhere, bought but never worn, once she realized that street walkers wore red dresses.
In a life pushing a full century, how else could it be, but that she’s known times of great burdens? She never learned to drive. “I had to take care of my momma.” She was caretaker for mother and husband, at the same time. Later did the same for her stepfather. She bore the full load.
The Courting Story
The occasion calls for light, and easy, so she glosses over the hard times of her life, everything said with a smile, and her delightful “Oooo eee” sound.
Her one vice was chewing Red Man, which she gave up a few years ago. “No mo’ chewing fo’ me!”
She and Harry joke about “cow tea.” Being gullible, I ask what it is. Cow manure and water, season with pine needles, boil it, cures congestion. (They’ve gotta be pulling my leg.)
She’s the only woman I’ve ever known who refers to her husband as Mister. “Mister Lee was so good to me.” He’s been dead since the 1960’s, but he’s still Mister Lee. Bet that did some good, for her children, to hear their father spoken of with respect. Made me feel good.
Harry loves their courting story, always asks the same question, “Why’d you marry him?” to which Miss Leona smiles and says, “Because I was kin to everybody else ‘round here.” He was a grown man, turning timber into railroad crossties with a broad axe. I bet his hands were man hands
Just Keep On
I asked her about life advice. First thing that came to her mind was, “Just mind your own business.” As for how she’s lived to 96, to her it’s simple, “Just keep on going.” Going towards, and going despite, just keep on going.
Aging fascinates me. I feel like I have lived several lives within one. Every decade I have the same label on the container, but what’s inside is greatly changed. The older I get, the humbler I get, grateful that God, America and Louisiana have put up with me this long.
Life has layered me, some layers are rich, and deep, but some are mostly scar tissue. What are Miss Leona’s layers? What has she seen, that I’ll never see? What does she know, that I’ll never know?
2,909,000 babies were born in 1925. How rare must be the view, to be one of the last still alive?
Maybe her answer is in her smile. She said so many words, and not a one was a complaint. Happy talk, happy sounds, grabbing our little visit like it’s the best thing since sliced bread, which means something, because at 96, she’s older than sliced bread.
Why some random meeting turned into decades of friendship, who is to know, but maybe it’s because they both have a little rascal in themselves, comes out in their humor.
Asked about his future old age, Harry says, “I hope I can work until noon the day I die, have a good lunch, and the coroner’s report identifies the cause of death as suffocation in banana pudding…”
He said that on the car ride home. Miss Leona wasn’t in the car with us, but I thought I heard that happy squeal of hers, “Ooo eee!”
That’s going to be a fine sound in heaven. But as she said when she blew out her two candles, “And many more…”
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
This edition of Uncle P’s Bedtime Stories is dedicated to the wealth of old friends. It’s also dedicated to her caregivers. God honors the giving.
To reach Uncle P, or to order copies of his books, email firstname.lastname@example.org.