The great Thomas Jefferson once said never put off till tomorrow what you can do today. That can be excellent advice for staying abreast of one’s daily demands in this society and its breakneck pace.
But as I learned this week, it is also good advice when a person has responsibility with someone older. Having had older friends for years you don’t hit the “elderly” mark with me until you are at least 90. But when asked to interview someone over 100 the thought strikes not to wait too long.
The publisher of this newspaper approached me a few weeks ago with the idea of interviewing the oldest citizen of Johnson County, 105 year old Ann Peckinpaugh.
That sounded like a great idea and I put it on my list of possible stories.
Reviewing the list last week it struck me that with her age maybe it would be best to get on this. Several people had told me about this vibrant and witty woman, how she spoke her mind and told it like it was. Sounded like my kind of person.
When I met Ann I was taken by how pretty she looked. Her hair was beautiful and she had on beads and lipstick. When introduced she shook my hand and engaged in basic pleasantries. As I began to attempt an interview with her I noticed how tired she was. It was morning, she had been up and about earlier, but as we sat together she seemed very tired and sleepy. A feeling came over me that perhaps I had come just in time.
While teaching I developed and taught a class on death and dying for many years. Comparing the woman before me, with what I had been told about her; it struck me that I thought she was dying. The thought wasn’t alarming, it wasn’t sad, it was just true. She wasn’t upset, she wasn’t distressed, she was just “tired.”
We were together about an hour. I left wondering if I had enough to do her any justice. I was going to call a family member for more information when I received an email that she had passed. Reviewing my notes, the bits and pieces that looked back at me began to make sense and told a story I didn’t know was there. Three days before leaving the earth, this is what Ann told me.
When I asked what was the best time of her life, she said there were so many good times; it was hard to pick just one. Overall, she said it was the people she loved. She went on to say she had worked hard all her life because “some things just have to be done.” She said one of the most important things about life is to take care of yourself and discard what other people think.
She loved a good hot cup of coffee with just a little cream and sugar. Her favorite things to eat were strawberries and the mention of them made her eyes twinkle.
When asked what her pet peeve was or what it was that got under her skin, she brushed that aside with a wave of her hand and said, “Oh, I don’t have time for anything like that.” I asked if she used to ride a horse or drive a buggy. She gave me a look like that was the stupidest question she had ever heard and said, “Well of course I rode a horse!” I loved that moment, that was the flash of the wit and directness I had heard of.
In her early life Ann helped take care of her six brothers and five sisters. She received her registered nursing license from the Illinois State School of Nursing in Dixon and moved to Los Angeles, California, where she worked as a nurse until she met and married her husband Harland who was in the real estate business. They sold real estate together in the LA area and were very successful in doing so. After he died, she returned to Johnson County.
Ann remained vibrant and mobile well after the age of 100 and threw out the opening pitch at the Johnson County Minor’s Game Day. She lived at Autumn Ridge in assisted living having come to Hillview Health Care Center only sixteen months ago.
She and I had birthdays only four days and fifty years apart. When this column first started to take shape I was going to end it by asking Johnson County citizens and readers to send Ann a birthday card in October. I planned to go visit her and take a thermos of good hot coffee, cream and sugar. I was going to take pieces of my antique Jadeite dinnerware, table linens, and serve the coffee along with big juicy strawberries. That’s not going to happen now, but I am so thankful for having met her. I will close with the last thing that Ann said to me as we said good-bye “it all comes to pass.”