By Brian Livingston / email@example.com
The Meridian Star
Annie Ruth Hale Buck says when she was a little girl her older sister would hold her tightly to her hip and jump rope, bringing cackles of laughter from the little toddler.
Now that older sister, Maurice Elizabeth Hale Askew, is 100 years old.
Askew was surprised recently when she was transported from the local nursing home she is now staying out to Sageville United Methodist Church on Arundel Road. She says she had suspicions something was up with all the cloak and dagger, hush-hush activity around her but she admits she didn't know it would turn out this swell.
"I am so shocked," said the queen of the day as she was rolled into the church's family gathering center. "I don't know what to say."
Friends greeted her with hugs and kisses while generations of family waited patiently for their turn. They were all eager to help the grand lady celebrate a life full of love and memories. And given her quick wit and equally quick smile, it didn't look like Askew would be slowing down anytime soon.
"She is the oldest of the children," Buck said. "When mom died, Maurice took over as the matriarch and helped dad, who worked for the railroad, take care of all of us."
It was a big brood to watch over.
Askew and Buck were just two of seven children. Four girls and three boys made up the gaggle of kids. Askew and Buck are the only ones left of the seven.
Born in York, Ala., Askew's family moved to a home in Meridian when she was yet 10 years old. As she welcomed more and more siblings into the home, she gradually took on more and more of the role as a mother hen, helping to care for and watch over her smaller brothers and sister.
What the Hale family lacked in creature comforts for the day such as a radio, transportation and a telephone, they made up for with love and hard work. Such was the sign of the times soon after the turn of the 20th century when the world would be embroiled in two world wars, a major economic depression and natural disasters. Askew has lived through them all and came out on top.
A 1931 graduate of Meridian High School, Askew was courted by Leo Askew, by horseback, a few years later. The couple married in 1937 and moved to the Arundel Road area.
During those years, Askew and many of those in the family would walk to a cousin's home to listen to the only entertainment available to them. The radio was the link to the world outside Meridian and provided wonderful programs such as Amos and Andy in which to forget, for a time, the hard living that was so much a part of their lives. In order to use a telephone, a neighbor would lend their help.
"We never had a car so I had to walk everywhere," Askew said. "Walk to school. Walk to work. Walk to the store. We got good at walking."
For 50 years Askew played the piano at Sageville United Methodist Church. She volunteered at Anderson Regional Medical Center and was a mainstay at the Service Men's Center. Her brothers, as did most men of the time, served during World War II and Askew's husband was a veteran of the conflict as well. She had to endure much throughout her life but she says she wouldn't change much.
"I have such a wonderful family that I can't see changing anything," Askew said.
Askew gave birth to two boys, Samuel Leo Askew Jr. and James "Jimmie" David Askew. She has four grandchildren, six great-grandchildren, and two great-great-grandchildren. All of them adore the lady who returns their affections unconditionally.
For 25 years Askew worked as a juvenile counselor for Lauderdale County. She retired in 1982 from that last post and has been enjoying her much deserved time with family and friends.
"She and her husband were so giving and were willing to open their homes to anyone," Buck said. "My husband and myself stayed at their home more than once when the times called for them."
And on one occasion, after Hurricane Camille devastated the Mississippi Gulf Coast, Askew and her husband drove a car down to the coast so her little sister's family would have a way to get to the market and back. Buck remembers the car didn't have any shocks on it but that was OK. It would run and get the job done.
Soon after blowing out the candles on her cake, Askew was asked her secret to a long life. She thought a moment and concludes with a twinkle in her eye that there is no secret to a long life. But there is a secret to a happy life.
"Be true to yourself," she says nodding her head in self-agreement. "Just be who you are and not what other people want you to be. You can never be happy living someone else's idea of life."
As she is wheeled around the room to meet yet more people arriving, Askew waves as if she were the grand marshal of a parade. She is relishing this moment as well she should.
She has earned this adulation.