Miss Louise , 105, passed away this past Easter Sunday. Special photo
A friend died last week, left this life on a beautiful Easter Sunday. She was 105 years old, almost 106, and was perhaps one of the most remarkable women I’ve been fortunate to meet.
At her funeral, her son-in-law spoke of an old African proverb: When an old person dies, a library burns to the ground. I take it to mean that we lose a wealth of knowledge each time someone of an older generation passes away. But on a summer day in 2009, I had the privilege of spending time with this new friend at length and writing of the things she told me, and I consider it a true blessing to have in some small way helped to preserve some of the incredible memories gathered throughout a remarkable life.
Thank you, Miss Louise, for sharing your library with us — truly a trove of rich blessings.
July, 2009 — I made a new friend this week, a truly wonderful woman with sparkling eyes and a soft spoken manner. Her name is Louise Ashton and Friday a week ago was her birthday. She is 103.
She didn’t want a party, no big fuss like birthdays before. All Miss Louise wanted was to go home, to visit her baby sister, to sit again at the big, wooden table where they used to eat growing up. And that she did. And she was happy.
I met this incredibly gracious lady at her home of nine years, Morningside Assisted Living. There in her sitting room we talked, Miss Louise, her youngest daughter, Lacy Lee, and I. She told me about her life, with a memory so surprisingly vivid that I listened in utter fascination to her stories.
She was born in 1906, the second of six children. At five, she started school, too young, perhaps, but she wanted to go so badly with her older sister that her mother enrolled her, too. One school day she remembers especially well — the day she wore a brand new middy blouse, most special because of the stars her mother had sewn on the back of her collar. “No one else had stars,” she recalls.
It was that day that the little boy sitting behind her doused her long curls in his inkwell on purpose, getting ink all over her new blouse and her beloved stars.
“I fumed over that all day,” Miss Louise remembers. But she formed a plan. Instead of enjoying the stalk of sugar cane her mother had sent for a treat at lunch, Miss Louise saved it, then waited outside the doors after school for the little boy to come out. “I just knocked him on his head,” she reveals, a sly little smile crossing her face. Sweet revenge.
Her mother died at the age of 46 from what the doctor told them was most likely cancer. But back then, she recalls, talking about cancer was taboo and only done in whispers. With little still known of the disease then, she says many people thought it was contagious.
Years later, Miss Louise herself was diagnosed with breast cancer. She discovered the small lump while on a cruise with her second husband, Byron Ashton, who she married at the young age of 75. She kept her discovery a secret from him while they were on their trip. “He was having such a wonderful time, I didn’t want to ruin it for him,” she says. Mr. Ashton died in 1993.
Miss Louise was in the hallway at Morningside recently and met a couple who were visiting a resident down the hall. “We heard there was someone here 103 years old,” they said to her, not realizing they were talking to the object of their fascination.
“That’s me,” she says she told them. “But don’t make me feel like a freak.”
She doesn’t feel 103, she admits. “It’s just a number.”
A number that has allowed her to experience history at its richest moments. Her father, a turpentine man who also lived to be over 100, had the first car in their county, and she remembers the first telephone and television. She has voted in every single presidential election over the last 85 years.
A God-fearing, independent woman, Miss Louise makes it no secret that she was made stronger by the adversities she has endured throughout her life — obstacles facing a determined woman of the 1920s, ‘30s, ‘40s and ‘50s, raising three children in a home dominated by an alcoholic husband, polio, divorce, cancer. Many times, giving up would have been easy, she admits, but it was never an option.
Giving up isn’t in her vocabulary.
I made a new friend this week, a truly remarkable woman with sparkling eyes and a soft spoken manner. She is 103.
Contact columnist Mandy Flynn at firstname.lastname@example.org.