Edna Halsey may have celebrated her 100th birthday on Feb. 29, but she’s got the spirit of a 25-year-old.
You see, she has the distinct honor of being both the youngest and the oldest at the Elms Retirement Center. Since she celebrates her actual birthday just once every four years on Leap Day, she is, in effect, only 25.
The residents and staff at the retirement center threw her 100th/25th birthday celebration on her long-awaited birthday. A steady stream of well-wishers feted her with cards, candy, flowers, balloons, and hugs.
“I think it’s wonderful,” Halsey said. “I don’t know how to say thank you.”
“I can’t remember a lot of things. It’s hard when you’re this age,” she said. But if you sit and share some time with her, the stories drift back. “Call me Grandma Edna,” she told us.
“I helped my daddy sell gasoline and we sold it for 18 cents a gallon. How about that? He said, ‘Edna, would you like to learn to work on a car?’ and I said, ‘Heck, yeah.’” And so she did.
She was born in 1916, a leap year, when the cost of a first class stamp was two cents. Margaret Sanger had just opened up her first birth control clinic in Brooklyn, the U.S. National Park Service was created, Charlie Chaplin was earning $10,000 a week, Albert Einstein completed his theory of relativity and Wimbledon was not held because of World War I.
She doesn’t remember historic events. The memories that bubble up tend to be family stories. After all, they are the most important ones.
“I’ll never forget when Daddy gave my mother the car, but he never taught her how to drive,” said Halsey, who lived in Drakes, a small town near Athens, Ohio. “When she would take us kids for a drive she didn’t know where the brake was. She would drive from Drakes to Buckingham and turn around — away around the buildings and never have to stop.”
Another time she drove over a tree stump to stop the car. “Us kids would die laughing,” she said. She giggles even now, covering her mouth with her hand, her shoulders shaking with laughter.
What are Halsey’s secrets for getting older and staying vibrant? “Smile and the world smiles with you, cry and you cry alone,” she said.
True enough, she is always smiling, waving to people outside her room, chatting with staff or visitors.
“I don’t drink and I don’t smoke,” she said. She tells how she came by her good habits. “When I was just a young lady, one day I said to Mother, ‘Oh, Mother, the girls are smoking in high school and they are just having a time.’ Mother said, ‘We’ll just go sit on our swing and I’ll be right back.’ Finally, here she comes back from the neighbors’ and she had two cigarettes. ‘We’re going to smoke them and have fun just like the girls do.’ And I said, ‘For goodness sake.’ So she showed me how to light it and I was just smoking it and I said, ‘Mom, I have to tell you something. I am getting sick.’ Mother said, ‘Oh, no this is fun, fun, fun.’ She made me smoke it a little further. ‘Mother I’m getting awfully sick,’ and she said, ‘See it wasn’t as good as you thought it would be.’”
She comes from hardy stock. Her father died when he was 102 and her mother passed away at age 98. She had twin brothers, one who died in 2002 and the other passed away three years ago.
She had three children, all of whom are still living, including her daughter, Janet, 66, in Wellington. Her other daughter, Betty, is 81 and lives in South Carolina. Her son, Robert, 80, lives in Fostoria. She has six grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.
Halsey was married to her husband, Ben, for nearly 50 years before he passed away in 1983.
She likes to watch her “shows” — “Jeopardy” and “Wheel of Fortune” and she reads the newspaper every day.
“She doesn’t realize how old 100 is. She is so young at heart,” Janet said. “I feel very, very blessed when you think of having your mother all your life… “We have had so much fun with that because she is younger than me and most of her grandchildren.”
“I think she’s so full of wisdom and I’ve never seen her unhappy,” said Brandi Hatfield, Elms activity director. “She always has a pep in her step. She’s just a sweet lady.”
Catherine Gabe can be reached at 440-647-3171 or @ReporterGabe on Twitter.
Photos by Catherine Gabe | Wellington Enterprise
Edna Halsey is a very young 100 — in fact, you could say the Leap Year lady has got the spirit of a 25-year-0ld.
Halsey at 25 (real years, not leap years).
Maxwell’s gas station is where Halsey used to pump gas and work on cars.