LADY OF MOUNDS
Originally featured in Springhouse Magazine
By Lois Fowler Barrett
She stepped through the door of the Mounds, Illinois senior citizens center, white hair neatly combed, with a companion: a woman of some eighty years trailing behind. Smiling, the well-dressed, high-heeled lady of undetermined years was gently chiding her friend for not having a garden out, since it was already late for spring planting.
“I’m eighty-two years old,” snapped her companion.
“So what, I’m a hundred and three!”
Looking quickly to see if anyone was noticing the conversation, I questioned the declaration. A receptionist assured me that indeed, “Goldie Grandstaff is one hundred and three, and we plan to celebrate her one hundred and fourth here, in September. We have a big blowout planned.”
“She can hear well, see well, and doesn’t dwell on the note that people her age usually are in nursing homes. Her memory is great. In Mounds, nobody pays attention to the fact that Goldie still gardens, helps neighbors, visits the center every day possible, and is always ‘dressed up’ in case anyone comes by who wants to go somewhere.”
Human dignity and worth until death is the ultimate goal for all, recognized or not. It is especially the goal of senior citizens. Goldie was a shining example of endless efforts to sustain that goal. She had another goal: “To reach the age of one hundred and five, and to have a really big party, maybe catered and have all my friends attend.”
I met Goldie in the Eighties when working with seniors for the State of Illinois. She was fully involved with life. She became a lovely subject for a story, and I fully intended to publish it. I never did. However, a story told is better late than never.
So much did this lady make people aware of her human dignity and worth that anyone just had to inquire after “Goldie” in Pulaski County; no last name needed.
Retirement was not a word in her vocabulary. Goldie should have – by all traditions and human nature – set back and relaxed in her twilight years, letting others attend to needs and wants. But this would not have been Goldie.
Living alone, with her “all white cats” for company, with gardening in the summer months, and other occupations to keep her busy, Goldie met each day “looking for something good to happen. I open my eyes with a prayer. It makes the day more secure,” she explained.
When she arose, about 6:30 a.m. most days, strong coffee was a must, followed by several more cups during the day. “If the local senior citizen center is open,” she said, “my agenda calls for lunch with neighbors and friends.”
“Of course, at my age, most of my friends are one or two generations younger,” she laughingly told me, “but little matter: the respect is there. The visit,” she added, “fills my need for conversation, food, and a little something to brighten the day. I try to find something good to do each day, even if it’s just a word to the lonely.”
Used to attention, Goldie was honored many times for community work, which included being a charter member of the Congregational Church, the Magnolia Garden Club, Woman’s Club, Republican Women of Illinois, and, she added proudly, “the second person to sign up for the senior citizen nutrition program a few years ago.”
An alert mind, reasonably good health, a great sense of humor, and the ability to still wear “heels,” all belied the fact this lady had been a living part of history for over a century.
Goldie was born in Villa Ridge, Illinois, in 1879, the youngest child of a river boat captain and a school teacher. Her father died when she was less than two years old, leaving the mother to raise four other children. Since there was no government assistance available then, Goldie was left to live with her grandparents.
It was in this position that she became interested in politics; her grandfather was once sheriff, among other positions, she said. Goldie recalled vividly many happenings in
her life, far too many to mention here. Among these earlier memories were school, recreation, and courting.
“There were not, of course, any buses,” she said, “so school was attended by walking, sometimes many miles, and oftentimes in deep snows. It was not unusual to wear more than one petticoat and long underwear,” she said. “Lunch was carried in a tin bucket.”
Recreation in the late 1800’s consisted of walking to church mostly, gathering followers along the way. Few people she knew in Southern Illinois were fortunate enough to own horses and buggies.
“Courting was done,” Goldie said with a twinkle in her eyes, “on the philosophy the longest way around was the sweetest way home.” She became Mrs. Lester Grandstaff in the early 1900’s, and they lived in the thriving railroad community of Mounds, where he was a clerk for Illinois Central Railroad.
“Mounds, at that time, boasted a population of two thousand plus, with a roundhouse, rail yards, repair sheds, hotels, restaurants, and a large YMCA. A strike by IC railroad employees in 1920 closed the operations. The community never recovered.”
Although Lester died several years ahead of Goldie, she still had her three children in the Nineteen Eighties when I met her: Harry, 74, who lived in northern Illinois; Catherine, 68, who lived in another state; and Lester, 67, who lived in Mounds, but not with Goldie. She valued her space. She also had five grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. “I travel and visit them when I have a way,” she told me.
“I’m looking forward to the senior citizens helping me celebrate my September 22 birthday anniversary with a big party. You’re invited.” I intended to go, but couldn’t.
With these memories, and the activities that kept her interested in life, Goldie expected, always: “something good to happen.” I saw that gracious lady one more time, the day I gave her a photo of herself autographed by Secretary of State Jim Edgar. It was her own photo, not his, but Edgar’s signature below her likeness made her day. “I’ll hang it with my other politicians.”
Was that a humorous play on words? I’ll never know. But I know I met a real, Mounds, Illinois lady.