A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of sitting down with a woman named Addeline. She is the mother of our neighbor, Mark, in Sewanee, and she turned 99 years old on January 21. We sat down and spoke about her life. She told me about driving a Model-T, about the invention of zippers, and mining uranium. She spoke about the death of her son and driving over the Golden Gate bridge when it was brand new. And she recalled details (like chipping her tooth while getting into a car) that would have slipped from most people's minds decades ago. Here are some excerpts from our conversation:
Note: Mark chimed in with details along the way. His words are italicized.
Her family's early years:
My dad was a painter. He moved to where there was work. One of my brothers was born in Flagstaff, Arizona, one was born in Durango Colorado. I was born in Buckeye Arizona, 20 miles west of Phoenix in the dessert. It was 1916, in January. And my youngest brother was born in Burbank, California.
I only went to the 10th grade, and then I went to beauty school. cosmetology school, got a license. In the meantime, I got married.
On her husband:
I married a guy that like to move around a lot. The grass was always greener on the other side, you know? And we moved around a lot. His name was Roy Preslar. His sister was in my grade at school, about the 8th grade I guess. She told me one time, "My brother's in Texas, and he's coming. I want you to meet him." He was five years older than me. We were at a party or something and he kissed me. He was pretty persuasive, you know, through the years until we got married. I was 17.
The invention of zippers:
I remember it came on the news, about zippers being invented. I was pretty young, I guess. We thought that was really something.
Picking huckleberries during the Depression:
It was way up in the high mountains (Mt. Rainier). We had a sort of house car, and we parked it at the bottom. We had big 5 gallon tin cans on our back, and we hiked up that mountain -- it was about 5 miles -- and camped up there. There were bears up there and Indians. But we picked huckleberries everyday, and then we'd pack them down in those cans, down to the edge of the highway, and then we'd take them around and sell them.
One time when we were picking berries, Roy told me to go on to camp and make a pie. So I struck out down the mountain, and the fog came in, and all of a sudden I didn't know where I was. And the fog was real dense, so I thought, well, I gotta just stay put. So I sat down, rolled me a Bull Durham cigarette and hollered, "ROY!" as loud as I could. And some Indians heard me. And I think they went to camp and told Roy about it. And he came and found me.
The house car:
It was man made. Roy traded a car for it. It was built on a bIg truck, and it was built so you could raise the roof up when you were camped and down when you were driving. I drove it, too. We drove it on back down to California where my folks were, his folks, too. After we got to California, he traded it. Somewhere down the line we drove a car with a rumble seat. We went on a date or something and we rode in the rumble seat, I remember he helped me in one time and I chipped my tooth.
On driving a Model T:
I dove a Model T when I was a kid. Just once. Somebody had a model-T, a friend or something, and I drove it. I was about 15 then.
Roy was always going to make a big deal. He'd always hang out in these bars and talk to guys -- he was always going to make a fortune here or a fortune there. We went out on a mining deal. I was the cook, we had a nice trailer to live in. And I cooked for four or five guys. Jack went with us. And we were there a while and we ended up with nothing, and the guy ended up giving Jack a car, so we left there with nothing. But Roy was into big deals, boy he was going to make a fortune. None of them ever worked out. (That was the first push for uranium. The government was looking for uranium, and they were trying to jump on that bandwagon, then suddenly there was some law that they would not buy from individuals anymore, so that all fell through. That was after World War II, and they were working towards the nuclear armament.)
Building the Shasta Dam:
Roy was in a cave-in when he was building a dam (the Shasta Dam), and he was in the hospital for a couple of years. (He was in a body cast for 11 months. His whole body was crushed.) While he was there, I used to take my two little boys and get on the street car and go to the hospital and see him.
He was going to sue this company, and he did. We went to San Francisco for this hearing, and when we got ready to come home, I can remember crossing the Golden Gate bridge. It wasn't very old then, hadn't been there very long. They were having blackouts in San Francisco then because of the Japanese.
Her son Mel leaving home:
Mel left, hitchhiked to Montana. He had a girlfriend up there. Mel didn't leave any word or nothing. He just took off. He was 15 years old, or maybe 16.He was picked up in Las Vegas and they put him in juvenile detention, and he escaped. He and a friend went over the fence and crossed the dessert. He was afraid to go into any town, so he hitchhiked to Montana. He got a ride with a guy on a truck or something. It was about a week before we found out where he was. He stayed dup there, go a job on a big ranch in Montana. Joined the army when he was 17.
The death of her son Jack:
After he got out of the military he was in Oregon living. We were in Turlock, California then, and Jack had just come to visit us, and he left and went back to Portland. But anyway, he had a lot of friends that sky jumped. There was a sky jumping club. Jack wanted to try it out, and he did. But before that, a storm tore up some roofs in Portland and he was fixing them (he had a construction company). He got down, fixing to go to lunch and he looked up at the roof and saw a shingle out of place. He went back up there, and he ended up falling, cracked his foot (broke both his ankles), had to have steel plates put in them. I'm saying that because when he went to jump in this parachute, they got him a special parachute on account of his ankle, so he wouldn't land so hard. It was supposed to be a bigger one. But the thing didn't open. And that's when he got killed. Just wouldn't open. Mark was about 8.
Thanks, Addeline, for sharing these wonderful memories with me. I hope your 100th year of life is the best one yet!