More people are reaching the age of 100 years these days, but probably few of them are retaining the energy, mental capacity, enthusiasm and appearance of Erma L. Warner.
Erma seems to have put the brakes on aging at about 75, although she reached her 100th birthday on Dec. 17, 2008, and celebrated it with a party.
When Erma was called to set up an interview, she gave detailed directions to her rural home, down to the finer details of “you will cross a crick and go up a hill, to the second mailbox.”
When someone of advanced age is interviewed, usually a family member is on hand to help jog the memories or provide helpful comments. Not so in Erma’s case.
Although her daughter, Juanita Kirk, was present, Erma dispatched her to look for and fetch a family album while Erma shared her memories, unaided.
Meet Erma L. Warner, truly an amazing and wonderful lady.
First impression – Erma has a great smile that travels all the way to her eyes, and she looks unbelievably young for 100 years.
“I get told that a lot,” she said, laughing. “One man waiting at a pharmacy for his medicine overheard my age and argued with me that I was not that old. He even asked my daughter.”
She can account for that 100 years of living, however, as she recalled some early childhood memories, being married at age 17 to her childhood friend and sweetheart, John Warner; rearing a family of six children to be proud of; going through the Great Depression; and the World War II days of ration books.
Second impression, after a few minutes of conversation – what energy and mental alertness.
In a strong, clear voice, she said that she was born at the south edge of Ramsey, and her maiden name was Lippert. Her dad worked for a farmer.
“I remember when I was a child, I hoed corn in the field,” she said. “I went to the school they called the Big Four. I lived over about two or three miles southeast of Ramsey. My dad went to school there when he was a boy, too.”
The school, which has been destroyed by fire, stood about 2 1/2 miles south on Ramsey, near U.S. Route 51. She said that she went to one year of high school in Ramsey.
A Vintage Love Story
“I married the neighbor boy,” she said. “ I went to school with him and ended up marrying him.
“His name was John Warner. He lived in the first house from us. I remember seeing him and his dad come walking through the fields to our house,” she said.
“He used to pull me and my sister around in a little wagon. He was three years older than me.”
She was 16 when he finally asked her for a date. Erma asked her parents about dating him before she accepted.
But she always she knew she wanted to marry John – “Since when I was a kid, I guess,” she said.
She always liked and admired him, “and he felt the same way, I guess,” she said. “He told me afterward, (after) I went with another guy, ‘I thought I wasn’t going to get you.’ So we got married.”
The funniest thing though, we went to Shelbyville (to get married), and he said he didn’t like the looks of the place.”
John’s sister’s boyfriend was driving them, and they ended up in Hillsboro, where they were married by a preacher.
“We got along fine. We never had problems, except we would have little disagreements now and then. But other than that, we did just fine.”
“We had six children – Harold, Juanita (Kirk), Louie, Irene (Pope), Gary and Haldon. Haldon was the end of the road,” she said, laughing. She shared that her son, Harold, died when he was 60 years old, after serving in Vietnam.
“Moving on…and on…and on…”
The only regret Erma seems to have was moving so much before finally settling in at her present home … 70 years ago.
As a child, the family lived in the Ramsey area. When she married John Warner, the moving began.
“I was almost 17 when we married,” she said. “We went to housekeeping in Assumption.”
From Assumption, they moved to Ramsey. One move was to “the Cearlock place.”
Erma said, rather emphatically, “I moved, I haven’t figured it up exactly, but I moved about thirteen times (before settling here).
All of the moves were by horse and wagon, until the last move, when they were also helped by someone with a truck. “But we still used the wagon, too,” she said. By the time she moved to her present home, she said she would not move again.
“We moved here in 1939, and they were going to sell it, so we bought it. I’m sure glad we did.
“I said ‘Well, I live across the crick and in the brush.’ This place was awful, briers were right up to the house, and brush. Neighbors came in and cleared it.”
They got electricity in the house in 1947.
“They had dug a big hole out here on the corner for the pole, and Haldon and Gary were little fellows then. Harold teased them about dropping them in that big hole,” she said, with a smile.
“We had a well for water, then we got it in the house about 1957.”
The house was originally just four rooms. The family remodeled it, extending and adding rooms, and closing in a porch.
During Hard Times…
“I remember when you went to town to buy things, you had to have all your children’s names and the whole family
John went to town a lot, and I would have to write them down. You were just allowed to get so much with rationing books,” she said.
She remembered that she always had to fix big meals, but as there were considerable age differences between some of the children, some of them were leaving home and going to work when the younger ones were born.
“We had lots of beans and potatoes and slaw, when the kids were little,” she said. “I used to pick blackberries and can them,” she said.
“I’d get up early in the morning while the kids were asleep, and go out and pick a gallon across the fence. When they would wake up, I’d go in, get breakfast and milk the cow,” Erma said. “One year, I canned 50 gallons of blackberries. We ate a lot of chickens.
“My husband worked on the railroad for 11 years before we went to farming, during the Depression. When he would get laid off in the fall, we would always buy 100 pounds of sugar and 200 pounds of flour, and stuff like that.
“He had an uncle that ran a grocery store, and when he (John) couldn’t get much work, we would run a grocery bill. I remember one spring when he went back to work, we had a $50 grocery bill.”
Her husband started farming in 1938, with her dad. She would sometimes drive a tractor to help out until the boys were old enough.
“We had chickens and eggs and I’d get a little bit out of them.
“Things were a lot cheaper than. Coffee was just fifteen cents a pound. There’s a lot of difference over the years in prices. It’s getting ridiculous,” she said.
…And better times
Erma has always baked pies,cakes and bread. She recalled when she had to bake six loaves of bread every other day for her family. She said Juanita used to bake a cake every day for the family.
Erma still bakes pies, sometimes five at a time. She also still bakes bread, some of which she takes to son Gary, who lives just down the lane.
Over the years…
So many leaps and bounds in changes over the years have just been absorbed by her from year to year.
The big change standing out in her memory is not television, the airplane or not even the computer. It was when ”my dad bought a car 1918,” she said, “and that was quite an excitement.”
Erma has been in the hospital only twice in 100 years – when she had surgery on her knees, and once when her family took her to the emergency room.
Some days are better than others. Juanita has lived with her mother for the past year and a half, and Gary lives close by.
Erma finds it amusing that when Juanita recently was gone for a short time, Gary and his wife came to Erma’s and spent the night.
“Juanita just won’t leave me by myself. I got to falling, you know, with my knees. I was settin’ out onions and couldn’t get back up” she said, grinning.
She also related another incident. “We had a fightin’ rooster, and I threw my cane at him. Then I fell and couldn’t get up. Juanita got worried and was afraid I would hurt myself.
“She promised her dad she would take care of me, and she’s keeping her promise,” Erma said.
She eats what she wants and always has. She likes gravy and potatoes, but doesn’t eat as much meat as she used to.
She still likes to garden and used to crochet a lot. She attends services at Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Vandalia.
The next 100?
Erma Warner plans to do as she has been – “Live out here, get outside in the summertime, maybe work a little bit in the garden … I think the best thing you can do, at my age, is to keep moving around.”