Archive for Thursday, September 22, 2005

Smith tops century mark

September 22, 2005

Martha Smith turned 100 years old last Thursday. But, it was just another day.

"Yes, but a special one," said Smith.

That's what happens when someone has been through roughly 36,500 days. Just another day. And, the standard question, how does it feel to be 100?

"No different," she said.

Her secret to living 100 years? She really doesn't have one.

"Well, I've always thought just keep on keeping on," Smith said.

That's a lot of keeping on. She does admit to eating plenty of fruits and vegetables over the years and as a long-time farm girl, there was plenty of exercise. Now that consists of walking around two blocks every day and time spent in the garden.

"I've always had plenty of exercise and eat too well," she said. "I got up to 130 pounds and that was terrible."

That's when she gave up gravy.

"Right," said Smith. "I weigh 106 pounds now. We always had a big garden and it was a fruit farm."

Smith was born Sept. 15, 1905, the first of George and Kate Kelley's four daughters. She was born at the home on Bittersweet Farm, north of Baldwin City. Her grade school days were spent at Coal Creek School. She graduated from Vinland High School.

Smith's younger sister, Katharine Kelley, who is 96, recalls those early days.

"This is her hour," Kelley said. "She always took care of us. She's four years older than me. We've got pictures of her holding all the babies. We take care of each other now"

Smith lives at 911 Dearborn. Kelley lives at 909 Dearborn. Smith calls Kelley every morning at 8. In the evening, she makes the short walk to Kelley's house for an hour or two of conversation. Then she heads home.

"She's getting better about calling me when she gets home," said Kelley. "She's better on her feet than I am."

Smith's hearing is a problem. On the Sunday before her 100th birthday, her hearing aide broke.

"Just at the wrong time," Smith said.

For someone who has watched a century of history unfold, there isn't anything that stands out in Smith's mind as being most important. She does remember the Depression and the Dirty '30s.

"I don't remember much from my childhood," she said, but quickly added she did remember the Dust Bowl days. "We had to turn our plates upside down if we set the table before dinner. Dust didn't taste too good."

After she graduated from high school, she went to live with a great aunt in Lawrence, where she helped in the general store at 11th and Massasuchettes.

"They sent me to Lawrence, but they didn't tell me they wanted me to go to KU," she said.

But, she came back to the farm to help her dad.

"In 1926, I came back home to help my father farm," said Smith. "I don't know that I helped much. Mostly gardened. I milked cows before I was married. I was my dad's hired hand. I drove the horses and milked the cows.

"It wasn't hard work, just kept me busy," she said. "Of course, I couldn't' harness a horse. I could put it on, but I couldn't take it off."

Then, in 1943, she married Cecil Carl Smith, who was also a farmer. Her son, Edwin, who she lives with now, was born a year later. He was the only child. Was he special?

"Apparently," she said.

Martha and Edwin moved to the Dearborn home in 2001 from the farm.

"Because it would be safer," said Edwin.

She never considered herself to be a good cook, but Edwin wasn't so sure.

"I thought she was a good cook," he said. "Now we're surviving on TV dinners, because I'm not a good cook."

There were some special times on her 100th birthday. The Vinland Elementary School children were bused into town, gave her a giant card, a stuffed animal and sang her happy birthday. She told the kids about her days at Coal Creek School.

Of course, there were plenty of birthday cards, including one from President George Bush. Kelley said Monday that her sister had received about 70 cards. But, she's misplaced the one from the president.

"It's there somewhere," said Kelley.

As for what's next, Smith isn't sure. She has no plans for the next 100 years.

"I haven't thought that far ahead," she said.

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