At 103, English prefers to think youthful thoughts and see what’s going on
Irene English turned 103 years old on Nov. 20. Even at her age, she is sharp and quick-witted. After living more than a century, she has seen and experienced many changes.
“Automobiles and children have changed more than anything. I’ve gone down just like old people do. I’m not active like I used to be, but I think different than people my age. I think youthful things and keep my mind on youthful things. These old people seem like they want to sleep all the time. I want to see what’s going on,” she says.
English says that she doesn’t want to give up, but being confined to one room at the nursing home bores her. She wants more room to walk and stretch her legs. She can still get around well, but has a walker for security.
“I don’t want to fall and break a hip. That would be the last straw.”
As a child, English lived on a farm in the small West Texas town of Vera, three miles off the highway. If it snowed or rained, they had to stay home, and the sand storms were awful.
Her daddy would be out in the fields and see the storms coming. Before he could get the horses unhitched, they would be overtaken by the dust and sand. Her mom would stuff rags in the cracks of the walls to keep out the sand and cold air.
Her family survived the Great Depression living off the land there. They had chickens, hogs and cows that supplied them with meat, eggs and dairy. They grew peanuts and corn and got their sugar and flour from the store 20 miles away. When her daddy would go to town, he’d take corn to be ground into meal.
They didn’t have anything and didn’t waste anything, even used the chicken feed sacks to make undergarments. Though there were hard times, English has fond memories of her childhood. Occasionally, if her mom had a little sugar left over, they’d make candy. They’d sit around a pot-bellied stove in the middle of the floor and make popcorn from corn they’d dried out, too.
“Here I am. I survived all that,” laughs English.
When she was 19 years old, English married her first husband, Raymond Cecil Sutton. They lived in the country, but the land wasn’t producing much. Sutton took a course in bookkeeping and found a job in Dallas with a dry-cleaning business.
When World War Two began, Sutton enlisted in the Air Force and was stationed at Vincent Air Force Base in Yuma, Ariz. English followed him everywhere that she could.
After the war, they moved back to Yuma and eventually built their own dry-cleaning business, Melody Cleaners. Their business thrived and they were actively involved in the community.
After 19 years of marriage, English gave birth to their one and only child, Nelda. She says her daughter was the highlight of her journey through life. Only six years later, Sutton passed away.
After 15 years of owning Melody Cleaners, English sold the business to a man from Canada, and moved back to Texas with her daughter.
“That was the beginning and the end of my dry-cleaning,” says English.
Money had been saved through the years and she made a good profit from selling the business. She never had to work again and was able to spend her free time with her daughter.
Her first husband had told her to remarry if anything happened to him, and she did.
First, she married a man from California whom she didn’t know much about.
“I thought he had it all worked out,” says English, but when they got back to California, he got the marriage annulled. She and her daughter moved back to Texas again.
Many years later, after her daughter, Nelda, grew up and married, English married R.O. English. They were married for 24 years, traveling and enjoying life together.
English says that sometimes, she would have preferred to stay single, but when she was younger, a single woman could not do things alone. Now it’s different; women can travel alone.
English said that she used to be fearful of everything, but at this age, she’s not afraid of anything and she regrets very little. She didn’t get a college degree, but says she’s not sure it would have helped her anyway. She’s never smoked or drank and has rarely cursed. She regrets that she’s losing her eyesight and hearing, but is glad that she still has all her teeth.