Mississippi centennial associates strong faith with long life
Lillie Mae Word of Wren hasn’t grown a garden in recent years.
That’s understandable, since she turned 105 in March. But if it were up to her, she would have continued to garden.
“I had a garden until this past year,” she says. “I was a good gardener; I raised everything that was edible. My son couldn’t help me plow him last year. This is the only time I missed having a garden.
Over the past few years, Word has said that produce from her garden has helped feed her and her 10 children, not only in summer, but also in winter.
“I used to do it,” she says. “I set up a hundred pots each year. This is what we experienced during the winter: beans, peas, corn, tomatoes, cabbage, jelly, preserves – you name it. I would canned blackberries and bake pies in the winter. It’s the best food in the world. “
Even in lean times, the food at the Word table was always plentiful and delicious, she said.
“The good Lord has always taken care of us,” she says. “We raised cattle, chickens and pigs, and in the winter the boys would hunt. And you could still go fishing. We found scaly bark and cracked it. We would have potatoes and peanuts in the fall, and the green vegetables would last all winter.
Word says her appetite is strong and that she still enjoys cooking for herself.
“I eat whatever I think is good,” she says. “I always prepare my own breakfast every day. I love oatmeal. I’ll put some fruit in it, maybe fry a sausage and sometimes a cookie. I’m going to bake about 12 cookies and put them in a bag, and they’ll last me all week. I can also make good cornbread.
Word remembers when her rural area first had electricity in 1945 and when it first had air conditioning in 1987.
“Lord, we didn’t know anything about air conditioning!” she said. “Do not mention it! We would sit under the trees and get some fresh air. It was our air conditioning. I had air conditioning in 87, but I don’t like it; it’s just not for me.
After the death of her husband in 1987, Word continued to live independently. A few years ago his daughter, Helen Word Burton, moved in next door, after a 30-year public service career in New York City. Word said her visits to see her daughter in the Big Apple were more than enough for her.
“I never cared about the city,” she says. “Too many people up there. I have been here all my life and I have no plans to leave here.
Originally from Egypt, Word married and moved to Wren in 1934, where she became a member of the Mount Pleasant United Methodist Church. She said she has been there ever since.
“I love my church,” she said. “I try not to miss. I have been a bailiff for 45 years. I say hello to everyone and distribute the programs and try to put people at ease.
Word said a lot has changed at Mt. Nice in her 80s and up while she was there, but church is still an important part of her life.
“Many have died,” she said. “But we’re still doing well. The Lord said, ‘Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am in the middle.’ “
Asked about the secret to her remarkable health, Word said her faith helps her stay strong.
“The Lord has allowed me to continue,” she said. “I lived a good life and stayed healthy and well cultivated. I can see and hear, and I do things to help myself. I have no aches or pains and I can walk straight without a cane. I’m just taking my time.
Word credits her family for passing on the faith that has sustained her through good times and bad.
“My grandmother made us read our Bibles every day,” she said. “Times were tough in the 1920s and 1930s. Money was tight, but the Lord made a way. He told us that every day would not be happy, but he never let us down. I am still here and I thank the Lord for it.
As she enjoys life everyday, Word said she is not afraid to die.
“The Lord said we get our three points and ten,” she said. “I’m way beyond that. I say to her every day in my prayers, “When you are ready for me, I am ready. When I wake up I say, ‘I’m right here waiting for you.’ “
Word’s advice to those who come after her is simple but profound.
“You have to love each other and believe in him, not in yourself,” she says. “You must keep his commandments. You cannot live in any way if you want to see his kingdom. You have to live well. “