By CLINT FOSTER
Everyone wants to know the secret to a long and happy life. For Lakewell House resident Bessie Berry, there is no secret, just an all-around positive attitude.
Berry turned 100-years-old on Wednesday, joining DeLois Duncan, 101, as the second resident living in the Mineral Wells retirement home to eclipse the century mark. The entire Lakewell House community was on hand for a birthday party Wednesday afternoon. Ken Elliott serenaded residents and workers alike with his guitar as patrons enjoyed cake and fellowship.
The uniqueness of having not one, but two 100-year-old residents is not lost on the Lakewell House staff.
“It’s amazing,” said Residence Director Sabra Mosier. “You can just imagine the stories they have that they could tell us. We all say we respect and learn from our elders and that’s one thing that makes this day so special. They’re wonderful ladies.”
Berry sat with her oldest daughter of four, Peggy Boone, 78, after the festivities to speak with the Index. Despite her memory and other faculties beginning to fade, Berry had an indomitable spirit of joy that was palpable every time she spoke. She is a woman who had to work hard for everything she got throughout her life, but maintained a humble and grateful attitude.
“How does it feel? Well, I don’t know. I’m happy,” she said with a hearty laugh when asked about her milestone of a birthday.
Having lived 100 years, Berry saw the best and worst of the most tumultuous century in United States history. Two World Wars, the Great Depression, the meteoric rise of technology, civil rights movements and countless presidents are just some of the things her blue eyes have witnessed. But Berry’s story was almost over before it even began.
“I almost burned to death when I was 5 years old,” she said. “I was standing by a fire outside and the wind was blowing and it blew my skirt over a coal. It caught fire and it really burned. Oh, it burned fast. I had on flannel petticoats and things like that. I just burned bad... but I’m OK now.”
She spent a year at Scott and White Memorial Hospital in Temple recovering from her burns. Yet, even recalling one of her life’s most traumatic experiences, Berry let out a healthy laugh.
Born in Gatesville in 1913, Berry’s family moved to the Tin Top area south of Weatherford when she was young. It was there she grew up, working on her father’s farm with her three younger sisters and two little brothers. They grew cotton, corn and maize. Berry said jokingly that she didn’t know what they didn’t do on the farm.
“I just grew up in the country,” she said. “We used to go to town, we lived a long way from town. We’d go in the wagon and spend the night in town, do our shopping and everything and go home the next day.”
Berry was married in 1932. The newlyweds kept farming, but readers who remember their history will recall this was when severe drought coupled with erosion created massive dust storms and ravaged much of the south central United States. Although the Dust Bowl rendered much land virtually infertile, it did not dampen the Berry family’s work ethic.
“It wasn’t bad,” she said casually. “We all liked to work. We grew up working and we had to work to make a living.”
In 1938, the family moved to Possum Kingdom Lake. Berry’s husband got a job building the dam out there, making $1 a day. They lived in a tent for three years until the dam was completed and Mr. Berry got a job with the newly created power plant at the lake. Then they could afford to buy one of the new houses in the area. Boone, who was 2-years-old when they moved from Weatherford to PK Lake, remembers the tent very well.
“We had a fancy tent,” she said. “It had a floor, rails and a canvas top. It was two rooms: we had a kitchen and a living room. I remember that very well.”
Berry’s husband worked at the plant for 33 years before he retired and became a commissioner for Palo Pinto County for the next 16 years.
In the 1940’s, both of Berry’s brothers enlisted in the Navy and fought in the World War II. One was at Pearl Harbor during the Japanese attack in 1941. He survived, but spent nine months in a hospital in Hawaii. Both brothers returned from the war safely, but Berry said it was nerve-wracking, especially when they heard the news of Pearl Harbor and did not yet know her brother’s fate.
“Oh, we worried about it,” she said. “We thought he was gonna get it, but he didn’t. Thank the Lord for that.”
Throughout the remainder of the 1900’s and into the new millennium, Berry continued to live her life with a smile on her face and her nose to the grindstone. Boone said she is very thankful for her mother on her centennial.
“It’s wonderful. I’m 78-years-old and I’ve had her 78 years. I come in and visit with her and we talk about old times. Some days she gets things pretty straight and other days she gets mixed up. We just go on anyway. I’m just glad to have her all these years.”
In Berry’s words, sometimes she does forget things, but after all, she’s 100 years old, so she has a pretty good excuse. Regardless, her jovial nature remains.
“I am happy. I’ve been happy a good long while,” she said. When asked if perhaps that was why she has lived so long, she replied, “Well, it could be. It could have something to do with it.”
No matter what the reason is, be it scientific or spiritual, a lot can be learned from Berry’s 100 years of exemplary life. She worked when it was time to work and laughed when it was time to laugh. Through both good times and bad times she was never defeated and always displayed the heart of a true Texan.
And oh by the way, she’s not done yet!
Follow Clint on Twitter @Clint_Foster55