Turning 107 may be ‘a pain in the neck,’ but Nashua resident always says it with a smile
Born during the Woodrow Wilson administration the eldest of 10 children of Swedish immigrants, she’s outlived all but one sibling, was around, albeit as a child, when women got the OK to vote, and to this day can recite a favorite childhood prayer verbatum – in both Swedish and English – without a single prompt.
She remembers clearly “going sledding down by the crick” with siblings and other kids, and can recall in detail the time her little sister Mabel fell in that crick and scared everyone half to death.
But perhaps Ruth Magnuson Brown’s most impressive example of her enduring resilience is undertaking a major move from her home in Texas, where she lived with her younger daughter until the daughter’s death about a decade ago, to Nashua’s Langdon Place – just a couple months before her 102nd birthday.
Such a move, never mind while still grieving the loss of a daughter, would throw most of us much younger folks for a loop.
But not Ruth Brown, who settled into her new home so smoothly and seamlessly some started wondering if she really did move all that way from Texas.
Perhaps that resiliency, and an almost cheerful willingness to make-do, was instilled in a young Ruth Magnuson who came of age in the Great Depression, shared her fellow Americans’ anxiety as the dark clouds of war began to float this way from Europe then hit full force one Sunday in December when Ruth was a young, newly married woman ready to start a family.
Think for a moment of the worry, the inconvenience, the political discord and the loss and heartbreak that so rapidly became the latest challenge for not only Americans but the global population, then imagine what it must have been like for a person of 107 years, whose daily routines and precious visits with family members suddenly, and seemingly inexplicably, came to a halt.
But Ruth Brown once again made do, and seems perfectly happy communicating with her visitors through an open window on the first floor of Langdon Place.
That’s where her surviving daughter, Bonnie Oliphant, pulls up a patio chair when she comes to visit these days, speaking with her mom through the screen and enlisting the assistance of Bethany Willey, director of marketing and admissions with Langdon’s parent company, Genesis HealthCare, to compensate for Ruth’s diminished hearing.
Once Ruth hears the question she’s quick to respond, such as when Bonnie asks her about what she did for a living as a young woman.
“Oh, I worked for G. C. Murphy, they had about 100 stores,” Ruth said, referring to the now-defunct chain of five-and-dimes in and around Greater Pittsburgh, where Ruth was born.
She also recalled with a smile one of the conditions of employment: Women weren’t allowed to be married and work there. But perhaps in an early version of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” Ruth still came to work after marrying Bob Brown.
Bob, an airline employee who became an air traffic controller, was working in Pittsburgh when he was given a choice of where he would be transferred. It was the early 1960s, and one of the options was a brand-new Boston air traffic control center just built in a small New Hampshire city called Nashua.
But Brown chose Oberlin, Ohio, where he worked, and he and Ruth lived, for 42 years.
Ask Ruth where she was born, and she doesn’t hesitate: “Why, in the front bedroom,” she replies, adding that “all of us” were born in that room.
It must have been the busiest room in the house: Ruth’s parents, Victor and Anna Magnuson, had 10 children in 13 years.
As the eldest, Ruth helped out her mom caring for her brothers and sisters, she said. It was enjoyable for the most part – except for the one sibling who “always pulled my hair,” she said with a grin.
Her surviving sibling, Einar Magnuson, is 94 and living in Florida.
Don’t ask Ruth, as tempting as it may be, to what she attributes her longevity. The answer hasn’t changed in forever: “It’s a secret.”
She does let on, however, that her cod liver oil habit may have helped her keep going all these years. “It’s very good for you,” she says.
And the family always had a supply of brewers’ yeast on hand, and, Bonnie recalls, Ruth made sure her daughters took their share.
Since word got out earlier this week that Ruth was turning 107, birthday cards have been streaming in, eclipsing, at last count, the 300 mark.
Dean Shalhoup’s column appears weekly in The Sunday Telegraph. He may be reached at 594-1256 or email@example.com.