By Nancy Covert
Evelyn Kottner has joined an exclusive group of citizens this month. Effective Dec. 20. Evelyn turned 100 years old.
Although it’s often claimed that December children get short-changed since birthday gifts often double as Christmas presents, Evelyn doesn’t agree.
The way she sees it, is that Life has given her so much more during the past ten decades, that having been born in December isn’t such a bad deal, after all.
Although she dismisses her milestone birthday as “just another day,” her family—particularly grandson Tony Haugen, who lives in the other Washington, thinks it’s worth noting and brought his grandmother’s centennial to the attention of a popular local media personality, who in turn, passed it on to The Suburban Times.
“I thought I’d reach out to you to see if you had any interest in what –well, the entire family believes—is a great story, 100 years in the making,” he wrote.
“One doesn’t live to be 100 without experiencing just about everything life has to offer, and granted, a lot has happened since 1910.”
Like Scheherazade (the mythical Arabian Nights’ storyteller), Evelyn shares a few nuggets from her century of living. The recounting of them would fill a few books, should she decide to write them.
Hilda Evelyn Elrod was the first daughter born into a family of four brothers; she begins, taking time out from working a crossword puzzle. She was raised in a small farming town (Sioux Falls, S. Dakota, after being born at her grandmother’s home on a cold, wintry morning.) Her sister was born 16 years later.
The daily crossword ritual is part of a mental math habit she formed as a child, she explains. Having her students work mental math problems was the way she started her school day, when, in her early 20s, she became a teacher.
Before that, though, were her own school day memories, especially learning to read. Her teacher—he was German, she says—held the book and read the story from the book, line by line, so she would understand the words.
The first story was “The Little Red Hen.”
“I don’t understand how I learned to read…I just did.”
In the 1930s Evelyn earned $50. A local farmer cashed her monthly warrants—charging 10 percent for each one cashed.
“The school board assessed another five percent,” but that sum was set aside and was returned to her when she finished teaching.
“My Gram’s stories,” Tony continues in his email note, “includes anything from seeing the Golden Gate Bridge for the first time—that was during a summer when she worked in fruit cannery—to cooking for her family during the Depression and recollections about the traveling hobos.”
“I remember my first attempt at cooking.” Evelyn picks up the story. “I was only 10 and had always watched my mother. I wanted to make a George Washington Pie.”
It was a failure because she’d used a cake recipe.
“No wonder I couldn’t roll out the dough!”
“My grandmother, Hilda, though, was the best cook around. I never did get the recipe for her holiday cake. After it was baked, she wrapped the cake in a cloth, soaked it in alcohol, and put it in a stone crock to soak for about a month.”
Of all Tony’s memories of his Gram, the one that most stands out was their summer trip to Europe before his high school graduation.
“He was the best traveling companion,” Evelyn says. Tony liked it so much that he returned a few months later “to continue our exploits while I figured out just what I was supposed to do in this world.”
Tony adds that, “the greatest gift my Gram ever gave me was the knowledge that no matter what happened I would be OK.”
Widowed in 1975 (Evelyn and her late husband had three children. For the past 15 years she has lived with her daughter and son-in-law at their Steilacoom home, which has a spectacular view of the Olympics and South Puget Sound.
Despite the rainfall, she says, “I’d rather have all this rain than the snows we had in South Dakota.”
Happy birthday, Evelyn! Live long and prosper.
Evelyn has nine grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren.
According to one Internet site report (effective July 2010), there are more than 50,000 Centenarians in the U.S.