Sunday, October 10, 2010


Family celebrates 10-10-10

By: Ed Grisamore
@Macon Telegraph

 DAVISBORO — Lula Gilbert cannot push her memory all the way back on a journey that began 110 years ago.

She can no longer recall what it was like to be alive before Abraham Lincoln was on the head of a penny and the Wright brothers had wings.

Special to The Telegraph Lula Gilbert, 110, sits with a can of snuff in this undated photo. Some of the memories are still intact, though. They return to a time when every road was dirt because no one owned a car. Or had a telephone.

She can tell stories about picking cotton and plowing behind a mule, when the field hands could have irrigated the row crops with the sweat of a summer day.

There are other centenarians who can find the recesses of their childhoods with greater clarity. Their minds don’t get as weary or have to work as hard. But they don’t have to turn as many pages of the family Bible to find their births recorded.

Sunday is being revered as 10-10-10.

For Lula Poole Bridges Gilbert, who was born on Oct. 10, 1900, in Washington County, it is 10-10 ... 110.

One hundred and 10 years is 40,177 sunrises in Deepstep and 27 leap years across the ditches to Riddleville. It is a zillion footsteps over wooden bridges along the road to Sandersville, kicking up red dirt and kaolin dust as she carried babies in her arms while trying to balance a sack of groceries on her head.

Sunday at the New Fleming Baptist Church, six generations of family and friends will gather for dinner on the grounds to honor their matriarch. They will celebrate the longevity of a woman who still carries three cans of snuff in her pocketbook and enjoys watching Westerns every afternoon on a big-screen TV in her grandson’s single-wide trailer.

There will be plenty of birthday cake, but no one will dare strike a match to 110 candles for fear of burning down the church.

Miss Lula would bake one herself, if she were able. Some folks still call her “Cook.” The nickname has stuck like the batter of her famous sweetbread. She not only fed her own family but wore aprons in dozens of other homes, where she worked as a housekeeper. For years, she was hired to cook meals for the men between shifts at a local sawmill.

She is a great-great-great-grandmother, and the branches of her family tree — scribbled in the crowded margins of spiral notebooks — are like a giant oak reaching in every direction. Two of her grandchildren, Catherine Morgan and Willie Bridges, helped fill in the details and reconstruct much of her life story.

In July, Miss Lula moved to Davisboro to live with Willie and his wife, Emma. She had been in Bristol, Pa., with her only surviving daughter, Nora Williams. Before that, she lived with granddaughter, Catherine, in Macon.

She grew up one of 10 children, and her parents, Ed and Gustann Poole, were sharecroppers. She was married at age 13 to a man named General Bridges. He passed the house one day and noticed her baby sitting a neighbor’s children. Before he formally introduced himself, he asked her father for her hand in marriage.

She gave birth to the first of her five children at age 14 and was grateful for whatever the Lord and the land provided. They pulled corn and picked velvet beans to feed the hogs. The beans were prickly, like okra, and they would wrap their sleeves to protect their skin.

When she separated from her first husband, she married Gordon Gilbert, a widower who had no children of his own but was raising three of his nephews.

She taught her children and grandchildren how to quilt, can vegetables and make potash soap. She never had a driver’s license. About the only thing she has ever collected was store-bought dolls.

Sunday, she will officially move from the ranks of centenarian (100 and older) to supercentenarian (110 and older.) According to the Gerontology Research Group, which tries to verify the age of those who qualify as supercentenarians, she will be the fourth-oldest Georgia resident.

Bess Cooper of Walton County is 114 and the second-oldest living American behind Eunice Sanborn of Texas, who is 37 days older. The second-oldest Georgian, Leila Denmark of Athens, is 112 and a graduate of Tift College in Forsyth. She achieved notoriety as the oldest practicing pediatrician in the world when she retired in 2001 at age 103. Annie Leverett of Americus turned 112 in June.

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