100 years: 'Age Slipped Up On Me'

By BETH BUNCH,

Edith James, formerly of Petal, was born 11 days after the end of World War I. On Nov. 28 she will celebrate her 100th birthday.

But the celebrations have already begun for the Brookdale Senior Living resident.

James has had a full life and continues to thrive.

She jogged up until she was in her 70s and only stopped after being injured when a car ran over her.

She drove her car, a Mazda 6 with a spoiler on the back, to the Wellness Center, the grocery store and on other errands until she moved to Brookdale about 18 months ago.

At the age of 90, she and her three daughters traveled to China for two weeks.

Once a school teacher, she taught for 35 years. 

She served in the U.S. Navy for three years.

She was the oldest resident at Brookdale until a new resident, Mr. Jackson, moved in who was one day older than her and took her title away from her. Catherine Rhodes, at 98, is an alternate.

James was born in Perry County and her father helped build Camp Shelby. She had six brothers and sisters; three of them are still living – the oldest and the two youngest.

She attended Perry County Schools, and the three-teacher Prospect School, Runnelstown and New Augusta.

“It was a very hard life during the Depression,” said James. “It was hard times, but I was very happy. I attending USM in 1936, carrying a cardboard box containing every item of clothing I owned.”

After graduation she went back to Runnelstown to teach, having taught all six of her siblings at one time or another.

James was in the classroom for three years before joining the military during World War II as a hospital corpsman. A lot of her time was spent as a dental assistant.

 “It was a sad time,” she said. “People were getting notices that sons weren’t coming home. The oldest brother of mine was in a Paris hospital severely wounded, when I was going down the streets of Hattiesburg and there was a sign on the Post Office, which read, ‘Join the Navy, Relieve a Man for Sea Duty and See the World.”

She took them up on that offer.

When she tries to be funny, she tells people that one of her assignments was in Jackson, Miss., “so I wasn’t seeing much of the world.”

After her three years in the Army she came home and married her neighbor, Marcus James. and had three wonderful girls. LuAnne lives in Hattiesburg, while her sisters live in Portland, Ore, and Clarksdale. She also has four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. 

“Marcus was my brother’s best friend, but I never associated any kind of romance with him,” she said. Marcus and Edith were discharged from the service about the same time and she said they were kind of thrown together during a time when available young people were limited in numbers.

Her husband ran a service station for a time before going into construction where he was a “hole digger,” as James calls it, digging holes for swimming pools and home and building foundations.

She feels blessed to have lived independently for 98 years. She moved to Hattiesburg in 1981 after she retired from teaching. And as her daughter says, “has reinvented herself so many times.”

 Following retirement, she volunteered at hospitals and has a 25-year volunteer pin from Forrest General and a 10-year pin from Merit Health Wesley. She has been in an exercise program for 33 years. She attributes that to helping her stay as mobile as she has. 

She also tells people that the secret to living to be 100 – choose your ancestors wisely!

She is also a charter member of OLLI at the University of Southern Mississippi. “I’m active in everything they’d let me join,” she said. 

James’ husband died very early, at the age of 54. “I never did find anybody, not that I searched,” she said. “Most people that age will find somebody else, or some people will. They used to call it sparking, now they call it dating.”

James says she’s had some hard knocks in life – breast cancer surgery and being hit by the car. 

“I was relatively young and in good health when my husband passed away and all these girls graduated from college, married and left,” she said. “I filled my time with things I liked to do – exercise, volunteer, I really really enjoyed that. I enjoyed giving back because I had been blessed and given so much. And I’m a people person. I love people and love to be with them and around them.” 

James has lived through the development of automobiles and traveling, (there were very few when she was around 4 years old), the invention and development of flight and airplanes; the first phonograph; television, and a lot of communications.

“Oh, my Lord, times and culture have so changed,” she said. “It’s been hard for me to adapt to some of the changes that are so evident.”

She confesses to having a cell phone and a television, but that’s as far as it goes. “I plead guilty to not trying to become computer savvy.”

She’d rather write and has put a lot of her memories down in longhand.

LouAnne describes her mother as “the champion of the underdog,” always trying to help others with their problems. A lot of past students attribute their ability to read to their one-time reading/spelling teacher.

With limited mobility in getting around, these days her curiosity about the world takes her to magazines such as National Geographic, Time, Smithsonian Magazine and This Week.

“I just love it,” she said. “I can find out what’s going on around the world in two hours. It’s science, technology, politics, which I’m very involved in and have very definite opinions about. I make LouAnne take me to vote.”

James likes to cook and admits to missing that a great deal. But she has taught one granddaughter to cook her chicken and dumpling recipe.

Recently, the Runnelstown Class of 1957/58 came by and picked up their former teacher and took her out for a birthday dinner. “They still love her,” LouAnne said.

“I told them that a lot of nice things would be done for me for my birthday, but that was one of the sweetest, nicest things. They pinned money all over me. I got home with about $100.”

A former collector of bird figurines, James enjoys watching the birds that gather at a feeder outside her large living room window. “It’s been a hobby of mine,” she said. “I moved the birdfeeder here.”

James says she didn’t expect to live to be 100 years old. “It just really slipped up on me. It’s just hard to believe that I’m not yours or LuAnne’s age. It seems like I’m still a middle-aged person, but I have a lot of things to be thankful for. I don’t know what troubles you have, but the one thing you have to be thankful for if nothing else is that you’re not a turkey this close to Thanksgiving.” 

For her 90th birthday she received 90 yellow roses, her favorite. “I told them one time I wanted yellow roses, not red, on my casket, so they gave them to me while I could see and smell them,” she said. This year, she’ll receive 100 yellow roses.

What’s James’ plan for the next 100 years?

“If I can make it through this one, anything goes,” she said. “Absolutely.”

A birthday celebration for James will be held from 2-4 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 24, at the Peck House (3601 Pearl Street), on the edge of the USM campus and home to OLLI. Guests are invited to come help James celebrate her 100th birthday. “The More the Merrier.” No gifts, please.