A happy ending to a storybook life

Harriet Adams (1905 - 2010)

On November 2nd, Harriet Adams, age 105, asked her caretaker to drive around downtown so she could see how things had changed. It wasn’t an unusual request. They frequently went for short drives to the store and walks to get out of the house. They took a long drive that day. Spent an hour and a half driving down Main Street Greenville. Past Springwood Cemetery, which she’d been to countless times to bid farewell to family and lifelong friends. They drove past the old mills that surround the redevelopment of South Main, which now reveal the Reedy River Falls she remembered as a child. They rode slowly through the re-gentrified neighborhoods and surely stopped for a moment in front of the home where she grew up and worked her only job for wages: 25¢ a week for making her brother’s bed.

I can see her mother so clearly in my mind’s eye, who I knew as Great Granny Belle, as she walked down the long steps from that house way up on the hill – with a man in one hand and a cane in the other. Belle, who was born in 1868*, was hard of hearing and always had a hearing horn she’d put up to her ear so she could keep up with the conversation. As a child, I asked my grandmother how Belle lost her hearing. She whispered to me that when Belle was about my age, she had put chewing gum in her ear to hide it so her father wouldn’t catch her with it and that it had gotten stuck. I believed her. It took me forty years to learn the truth and laugh at the joke my grandmother told that day – just one of ten thousand we shared**.

My grandmother returned to her home late that afternoon, had her supper, put the book she was reading on the nightstand and laid down for sweet dreams just as she’d done 38,471 times before. A storybook life’s final page.

Living 105 years is enough, I suppose, to judge a life exceptional. Decide for yourself. She lived exactly the life she wanted and died that way. She even had one goodbye look at the town she loved. She traveled the world and celebrated it. She loved two extraordinary husbands – men who achieved great things and shared life with her. She was adored by two children, eight grandchildren, 13 great grandchildren, nine great-grandchildren, aspiring elderly suitors, children and grandchildren of lifelong friends and all manner of people who served her late in life from waitstaff at communal dining to her very special caretakers. She lived modestly and managed her money and her business such that she never struggled, even during the great depression. She was never sick. Never spent a night in a hospital, except to care for someone else. Even though she outlived her generation and much of the one after it, she never felt sorry for herself or believed she had reason. She lived independently all of her life and only had a caretaker the last few months. She renewed her drivers license at age 99 and received a discount from her insurance company at the time for never having had an accident. Never made an enemy, but did make everyone who came into her presence, feel special. More than that: she made everyone feel extraordinary. She had gift for finding and embracing a specific admirable trait in everyone she met.  She also made them laugh and she taught each of us, by example, how to play.

The key to longevity? It wasn’t diet, nor abstinence, nor exercise. I suppose, it is partly luck and genetics, but I’d like to believe that the key to longetivity is what my grandmother said was the most important thing in life, “happiness.”

*Between Granny Belle and my grandmother, their lives spanned 142 years. From the end of the civil war and reconstruction in the South until a man of color was finally elected president of the United States – a long way to come in just two generations.

**My grandmother considered me a “stinker” and she’d loved stinkers.

Here’s a link to her obituary which appeared in the Greenville News Piedmont.

On the occasion of her 99th birthday, we began presenting her a list, signed by all, of some of the ways we loved her, here is the updated list:

Presented to Harriet Hunt-Mama-GG-Bamma-Daddy’s Mama-Bozeman-Adams
on her 105th birthday – July 15, 2010 – Contributed by those who love her.

1. We love the way you smile.
2. We love the way you make us smile.
3. We love the way your eyes sparkle.
4. We love the way you look at us and dare us to look into your eyes.
5. We love the way we look at you.
6. We love the way you laugh.
7. We love the way you make us laugh.
8. We love the way you tease us.
9. We love the way you get us to tease you.
10. We love the way you giggle.
11. We love the way your hands flail when you are excited.
12. We love the way you pretend and are an eternal optimist.
13. We love the way you pretend to be embarrassed.
14. We love the way you pretend you’ve never worked.
15. We love the way you pretend you can’t cook.
16. We love the way you pretend you’re not smart, even though
you were a savvy businesswoman before it was fashionable.
17. We love the way you pretend not to hear.
18. We love the way you pretend to have heard.
19. We love the way you pretend to be angry.
20. We love the way you never seem to be angry.
21. We love the way you’d say, “Saluda Dam Road” every chance you got.
22. We love the way everything is so dramatic.
23. We love the way you make each of us feel special, and care
when our feelings are hurt.
24. We love the way we try to make you feel as special as you make us.
25. We love the way you make everyone feel welcome and are so
friendly to so many people – even strangers.
26. We love the way that you are so rich with friends.
27. We love the way that your friends love you.
28. We love the way that you are a romantic, that you flirt with men
and the way you tell about eloping with both your husbands.
29. We love the way you left college “through the back door” to get married.
30. We love the way you have loved your husbands.
31. We love the way you have kept our family close.
32. We love the way you have shared your adventures.
33. We love the way that your life has all been adventures.
34. We love the way you listen to ours.
35. We love the way you share your wisdom and other ways you inspire us.
36. We love the way you share your foibles.
37. We love the way you wear your hair or whosever hair you wear.
38. We love the way you talk openly about important things.
39. We love the way we talk openly with you about important things.
40. We love the way you share the love we each have.
41. We love the way you play with children.
42. We love the way children love you.
43. We love the way you are so generous to us.
44. We love the way you make our gifts to you seem so important.
45. We love the way you are so smart with money.
46. We love the way you tried to teach us the same.
47. We love the way you have given strength to our family.
48. We love the way you have taught us to be strong.
49. We love the ways you have led our family.
50. We love the ways you have prepared us to lead.
51. We love the way you have always been independent and
determined to “do it yourself.”
52. We love the way you pride yourself in doing your equal share.
53. We love the ways you have taught us about fairness.
54. We love the way you remember special things about us.
55. We love the way you tell stories.
56. We love the way you save every card and picture we give you
and still show them off when people visit.
57. We love the way you write us notes in pretty cursive, even if
you are challenged by spelling.
58. We love that you require thank you notes.
59. We love the ways you find your car.
60. We love the way you burn incense instead of wearing perfume.
61. We love the way you put your initials on your golf balls.
62. We love the way your name tags are on all your furniture.
63. We love the ways you garden.
64. We love the way you used to cut the grass.
65. We love the way you make up games.
66. We love the way you pitched softball and played, “Who’s Got the Button.”
67. We love the way you have taught us the same.
68. We love the way you love to play bridge and are fiercely competitive.
69. We love the way you spend your bridge earnings.
70. We love the way you read for pleasure.
71. We love the way you hold court on Sundays and keep treats
around for us when we visit.
72. We love the way you greet us at the door and say, “come in here.”
73. We love the way you hug us good-bye.
74. We love the way you dress – your bright suits and your sense of style.
75. We love the ways you have changed over the years.
76. We love the ways you haven’t.
77. We love the way you challenge us to be better than who we are.
78. We love the way we are better when we are around you.
79. We love the way you make us feel so proud.
80. We love the way that a meal with you also nourishes our spirits.
81. We love the way it reminds us how much we have to be thankful for.
82. We love the way you talk about “Mama and Daddy.”
83. We love the way you talk about Bill and Bob and when you tell
about Bill honking in front of your house and your date.
84. We love the way you remember your courtships.
85. We love the way you remember your classmates.
86. We love the way you remember growing up.
87. We love the way you remember the times that you laughed.
88. We love the way your imagination runs wild.
89. We love the way your business is nobody’s business.
90. We love the way your life’s been such fun.
91. We love the ways you taught us to live.
92. We love the way that we’ll be your kids, grandkids and
great-grandkids, no matter how old we get.
93. We love the way you have blessed us with 3 generations of namesakes.
94. We love the way that you never show fear.
95. We love the way you make us feel safe.
96. We love the way you are always there.
97. We love the way you have so many names: Mama; GG; Daddy’s Mama;
Bamma; Harriet; Hunt; Bozeman and Adams.
98. We love the ways that you love us.
99. We love the ways that we love you.
100. We love the way you renewed your driver’s license for 5 more
years and can’t wait to see the photo.
101. We love the way you’re always embracing new things – ideas,
fashion and the latest fads – like your new running shoes.
102. We love to brag about how wonderful you are because each
of the ways we love you come rushing through our hearts.
102. We love to brag about how wonderful you are because each
of the ways we love you come rushing through our hearts.
103. We love that all have been so fortunate that we have been
able to love you every day of our lives.
104. We love the way you are so resourceful – like dressing for
tomorrow so you’ll wake up ready just in case
you fall asleep in your chair.
105. We just love how eternally cute you are.

23 thoughts on “A happy ending to a storybook life

  1. Kirsten

    #106 We love how you never made children kiss you because you said you hated having to kiss your own grandmothers (but everyone would always kiss you anyway, because you we loved you and you were never a creepy old lady, even when you were 105 because you still smelled like candy).

    #107 We love how we sometimes had to come in through the garage door to visit you because you couldn’t always hear the doorbell, but were always ready for the housekeeper.

    #108 We love that when you decided to elope in your 90’s, you first wrote a pre-nup, but then went to the Cloister at Sea Island.

    #109 We love that when I went to Europe in the 1980’s, you gave me all of your European coins from the 1940’s (on a bracelet).

    #110 Edward loved that you sometimes called him “Edwin.” He now thinks “Edwin” is his very naughty alter-ego. “Edwin” is hoping for a large inheritance.

    #111 We (e.g., my children) love that you said that behaving was for the birds and that having fun was all that mattered in life.

    Number 111 is my favorite.

    Reply
  2. Grace

    Lee, how lucky you were to have had her in your life for so many years! And how lucky she was to have engaged with and enjoyed life to the fullest to her dying day. A wonderful lady!

    Reply
  3. Mark Dohle

    This is a truly wonderful tribute to a very special person. Can’t think of a better way to start the day, than reading something like this.

    peace
    mark

    Reply
  4. Frank Povah

    Lee – it brought tears to my eyes. We always miss those of past generations when they are no longer with us.

    May I add a note for the youngsters out there. Ask the dear old ones questions – even though they consider their lives uneventful they have not been – it is the way to your own immortality and can sometimes repair links in a broken chain.

    Reply
    1. Kathleen R Gegan

      Yes, Frank: tears, and questions and links. I hope many are asking for your stories, and you are leaving legends.

      Reply
    2. Lee Leslie Post author

      A few years ago, about the time GG turned 100, I learned of another South Carolinian of the same age, but African-American. I tried to interest SC TV and public radio in a joint interview and got nowhere. So regret I didn’t do it. The history we lose as the generations pass is without measure. I am empty for what I’ve forgotten of the stories she told. Thanks, for stopping by. -- Lee

      Reply
    1. Lee Leslie Post author

      Cousin Dave from Rock Hill -- was thinking about you last night as I was finishing this post. I was looking through some old photos and found a few of GG’s brother Dave -- I’ll stick them in the email. I’d say, “see you soon”, but we seem to only see each other at funerals. Love to your side -- Lee

      Reply
  5. Meg Gerrish

    What a life! I can see that you and yours will miss your grandmother very much, and know that you must have large, open hearts to hold all those cherished memories. Blessings to you all.

    If I may, Lee, and for no good reason, really, but any idea what book was she reading?

    Reply
    1. Lee Leslie Post author

      Don’t have a title for you, but it was paperback trash. All the bawdy supermarket books end up in the hands of seniors. While GG never spoke specifically of what she read in those dirty books, my dear wife did give her a fabric cover to hide the titles.

      Reply
  6. Jack deJarnette

    Lee,
    Thanks for getting my day and week off to a very special start. I love your grandmother just by reading the reasons you and others loved her. “Grand” as in grandmother surely describes who Mrs. Adams was.

    I would love to leave a legacy even remotely similar for my children and grand children.

    Thanks again for a very special piece.

    Reply
  7. Ron Taylor

    A wonderful story about a wonderful lady. Makes me miss the grandmother who lived with me and my parents when I was a child, and she’s been dead more than 40 years.

    Reply
  8. Melissa Freeman

    Lee, what a wonderful tribute to a quite amazing woman. I know she will be missed by all who know her. This makes me wish that I knew her, but also makes me feel that in some way, I was able to meet her. Thanks for sharing! You made my morning.

    Reply
  9. Grandma Who

    Thanks for sharing the story of your grandmother. I never knew mine and wish I had, however many I might have had. But since I have a granddaughter, now 19, I’ve been writing little stories for her since she was seven. Hopefully, she’ll remember me through these stories and our combined love for writing. Thanks again.

    Reply
  10. Andrea Savage

    thanks for ideas on what to ask my 90-yr-old dad (birthday yesterday). And hey to Grandma Who, whom I know. May you live forever.

    Reply

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