Friday, July 26, 2013

They dubbed her 'Hercules'

You may have read this before. I posted this first in 2009. I am re-running it because today my aunt turns 104.

. . .

My Aunt Lucile just turned 100, which surprised no one in the family, such is her vitality. A childhood spent laboring on her family's farm in Pomona was better than any gym membership. In fact, she got the nickname "Herc" (as in "Hercules") at UCLA because she took down a male friend by wrestling his belt from him and tying his ankles together.

I marvel at the size of her hands even now, bigger than mine, meatier too, a legacy of 100,000 pitchforks full of alfalfa hoisted in her youth, a million apricots picked in the family orchards. She still has all her marbles, too, although she tires easily now, and has had to use a walker since she fell two years ago.

One hundred, though. One hundred years. I guess quitting smoking in her 50's paid off.

The year Aunt Lucile was born, 1909, Mary Pickford made her very first movie. They laid the final brick in the Indianapolis Speedway. President Taft announced that a naval base would be built in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, "to protect the U.S. from Japanese attack."

In 1909, women could not vote. Movies did not talk. Crossword puzzles had not yet been invented. Neither had the bra. The hottest innovation was cellophane. Until Lucile was seven years old, a horse and buggy were the family car.

She and her two older sisters were eventually joined by five younger siblings, my dad being one, and the family's days revolved around their alfalfa fields, peach, apricot and apple orchards, and walnut grove.

One of Lucile's earliest childhood jobs was rising before dawn, milking the family cow, and lugging the pails back into the house. Heavy work. "Herc" was on her way.

Live a century and you have stories to tell. During the Depression, the only job Lucile could find was in the tiny desert town of Goler Gulch, teaching gold miners' kids, grades 1-8, in a one-room shack, and living in a wood-floored tent with only a gas lantern for light. (She later taught in Spokane and 20+ years in Claremont schools).

In 1934 she bought a shiny new Plymouth, with rumble seat, in Detroit, then ran out of gas money on the drive home to California, until she remembered a small gold nugget a miner had given her, which the service station owner weighed before pumping her the equivalent amount of gas.

The things my aunt has seen in a century. The U.S. population tripled. Inventions as mundane as sliced bread, microwave ovens, copy machines and ATMs, and as profound as X-rays, penicillin, the artificial heart and pacemakers.

She has seen the advent of radio, television, computers, the Internet, and mobile phones, jet travel, space flight, not to mention women's rights and racial integration.

The year of my aunt's birth, the NAACP was founded. At age 99, my aunt saw an African-American elected president of the United States.

In my favorite picture of Aunt Lucile, she is in her 20's, smiling fearlessly and standing barefoot on the rump of a moving horse. Then there is Lucile, all glammed up for her college grad photo, hair fanned just so, costume jewelry uncharacteristically at her throat. There is baby Lucile, nuzzling her mother who, 26 years later, would give her grief about the overly-exposed neckline of her wedding dress. And there is Lucile, 100 years old, her tiara proclaiming "Birthday Princess."

What does she do for an encore? Perhaps in 15 years she will be the oldest woman in the world. The doc says she has very strong bones.

Personally, I wouldn't count "Herc" out.

- - - - - - -

Lucile, at left, with her parents and sisters, around Christmas, 1912

Same sisters, Lucile at right, 1915 or so

My dad blaming Lucile for tipping the load, early 1930's

But there is more to life than bailing hay

College grad, early 1930's

With the miners' kids in front of school, Goler Gulch

Aunt Lucile cleans up nice, alongside her new Plymouth, for which she saved delivery charges by buying direct in Detroit, 1934

Teaching school, Spokane, 1950s

School teacher photo, Claremont, 1970s

Big Alaska camping trip with her siblings, 1980s

100th birthday party, July 2009

After being applauded for blowing out the candles on her cake without assistance, Lucile joked "I've got a lot of air."


  1. Aunt Lucile ROCKS! I love the picture with your dad on the Alaska trip. The photo standing on the horse reminds me of my grandmother Lil who was also one of those dames - riding in an aeroplane before most folks even heard of one; intimidating bears and rattlesnakes; sailing thru the health risks of delivering twins while losing sleep over the enormous hospital bill of $30. Alas, I fear I will never hold a candle to either Lucile or Lil, but I join you in celebrating their lives.

  2. What a wonderful story George. You are very fortunate to have such a rich family. Good for you! Thanks for sharing.

  3. Barry Cisneros8/23/2009 5:20 PM

    Honestly it made me cry.I grew up near three retirement homes and I am very aware just how remarkable old age can be.The man who built our house was Edmond C. Boynton, who your father knew. he died in 1977 at 98.He didn't need glasses to the end and was and still is the world's oldest barbershop quartet singer.

  4. I'm in love. I think it's her eyes - in them is a gorgeous combination of warmth, wisdom and laughter. Thank you, George, for being such a cool guy and a kick-butt writer. You inspire the best in the rest of us.

  5. Oh, this was fun to read AND to look at. Your images appear to be well taken care of, just like your aunt. Photos and 100 year olds usually show signs of wear and tear but not in your family! Happy Birthday, Lucile.

  6. Oh my goodness. All hail Lucille! Thank you for sharing her story with such love.