WHITESBORO — Whitesboro resident Margie Phelps said “working hard and eating whatever you want” is the secret to a long life and she should know, as she’ll turn 105 years old on Sunday.
Margie was born in Tioga in 1912 and was the second child in a family of seven siblings. They went to school at Tioga, she said, for a couple of years and then her father bought a farm north of Whitesboro. From then on, the children went to school in Dixie.
“I had to walk about three miles to school and back,” she said, explaining it only went through the ninth grade. “They didn’t have no school buses back when I went to school and we didn’t have no way to come to school.”
She explained her formal education ended when she graduated from the ninth grade, but long before then, she learned the value of hard work.
“I could work in the field just like a man,” she said, explaining she bailed hay, thrashed peanuts, picked cotton and whatever else needed doing.
She met her future husband, Earnest Phelps, at a church in Sandusky. She said she forgets the name of the church, but it is still there. They married and farmed for a while north of Whitesboro before they decided to try their luck out west. He went to work in the oil fields in Olney.
“I didn’t like it,” she said, explaining the dust storms were more than she could take.
They came back to Whitesboro because it was home. And they stayed there to raise their four children, Linda, Carol, John and Ernie. John sat through the interview with her and added details if she couldn’t recall them, but there were very few times when she needed such help.
John said that his parents bought a grocery store in 1957. It sat where the State Farm Insurance shop is now. His father would open the store in the morning and then Margie would run it during the day while he went to work in the oil field. The family lived behind the store. Then they sold it and she went to work at the Sewing Room and worked there for 17 years, she said.
“We made suits, slacks, tops,” Margie said of the items that were sold to a store in Dallas.
Earnest and Margie bought a home in the western part of Whitesboro in 1964 and she still lives in it today.
The town around them changed a lot in all of those years while their four children grew and, eventually, added nine grandchildren to the family. Then came 14 great-grandchildren. So far, she has three great-great grandchildren.
Margie said she can remember when most of the roads in town were not paved and most folks didn’t have cars. She remembers walking pretty much everywhere. Her face lit up when she talked about walking to parties and dances. The twinkle in her eyes left little doubt that she liked to dance.
Margie said she also remembers when her father bought a Model T.
“It had curtains on the side (windows),” she said.
She didn’t learn to drive until after she married Earnest. She said he would be out working in the field and she would go out and practice pulling the car forward and backing it up over and over again until she got the nerve to go further. She drove until she turned 100.
“It was a pretty hard thing to do,” she said of giving up her car keys.
The hardest part about living as long as she had, she said, has been losing some of the people she loved. She lost her husband more than 40 years ago. She has also outlived two of her children, Carol and Ernie. She said her best friend Ruth Chisum died in 1999. They had been friends since their school days in Tioga.
These days Margie fills her hours with family visits and watching television. Her younger sister, Mary, who lives in McKinney, comes up to stay with her for a few days at a time. Margie said those visits are fun because they get to talk about the things that they have shared over all of these years and about some of the people who are gone now.
She also said it is hard to know that she requires more help from her children. She said doesn’t like that one bit.
“I want to do things for myself,” she said, adding she would love to still be able to get outside in the yard and plant a garden.
John Phelps said it hasn’t been that many years since he found her in that garden where she had fallen. Falls are not a good thing, she admitted, but said they aren’t the worst thing either. She has had a few, but has gotten over them. She was down for a few weeks, she said, and her health was to the point where she had to have help bathing and people were there to do the cooking and cleaning. Someone, she said, even mentioned the words “nursing home.”
That, she said, was when she figured out how to get up and take a shower by herself again and how to cook herself breakfast.
“I don’t want to go into a nursing home,” she said with a nod of her head.
While she said she has “had a good life,” she also said she doesn’t actually look forward to living too many more years.
“I am ready to be done,” she said with a laugh.
Her son said that at a recent trip to the doctor, one less than half her age, she was told she had better vital signs than the doctor did.
Margie said she can’t really pinpoint what has kept her going so long, except that she never really was one to get sick too often. She said she doesn’t eat as much as she used to, but her weight has stayed the same for years. She said her younger sister is 94 and still going strong. But, she said, their parents each died before they were in their 80s.
She took a minute to think when asked again about advise for living past 100 and she said she “just stayed busy.”
Then she laughed and added, “I think you live longer if you work a lot and don’t just sit around a lot.”