A tribute to my Great-Aunt Jennie,
who lived to be 100 years old
Shortly after Christmas 1996, Virginia Igou (EYE-go) — my great-aunt Jennie — died in Birmingham, Alabama. She was 100 years old.
Aunt Jennie was an unusually vigorous and alert person for as long as I can remember. She was feisty, independent, funny, and quick. Never married, she worked as a secretary for a U.S. government agency for many years and returned to her native Alabama after retiring.
I saw her a couple of times a year at family get-togethers, and would occasionally correspond with her. I was really touched when she gave me her old copy of the classical music guide The Concert Companion, as well as a book of opera librettos. (I don’t much like opera, but I was pleased that Aunt Jennie recognized and appreciated my musicality.)
Once, I remember, when she was in her 80s, she said to me, “You know, I find myself getting more and more irritated with people lately. I’m less patient with stupidity than I used to be. Do you think that’s bad?” I told her I thought it was probably a good sign, indicating that she was still sharp and that other people were just having a hard time keeping up with her (which they did).
Aunt Jennie lived in an urban, high-rise apartment building by herself until just a few weeks before her death. In fact, she was shopping in the local grocery store when she had the accident that brought on her final illness. When she tried to pull loose a shopping cart that was stuck inside another, she lost her balance, fell, and broke her hip. She never adjusted to being bed-ridden, and lasted only three weeks before having a fatal heart attack.
Of course it’s probably best that she didn’t have to suffer through a protracted, debilitating illness, but it’s still sad to lose her. In our family she seemed like the one person who’d always be there, but of course we knew that wouldn’t be possible forever.
But I’m succumbing to the custom, when someone dies, to focus on their death. Now I’d like to share a memory of Aunt Jennie that’s pleasant.
I called Aunt Jennie on her one hundredth birthday, March 5, 1996, after not having talked to her for a few years. Living in Atlanta, I had gotten preoccupied with my own life. At first she didn’t recognize my voice, because she was deaf as a post.
Then she figured out who I was and was overjoyed to hear from me. She said, in a high, thin, strong voice, “I’m a real hundred-year-old-un!” I took this to mean, “I don’t just look like I’m a hundred. Now I really am!”
Shortly thereafter she sent me a nice note, which said:
Thank you so much for remembering me on my 100th birthday.
Wish you could have been with us. Richard Igou and Robert Barlow [her nephews] gave me a party at the Olive Garden in Hollywood [Alabama]. We had a wonderful day, and it’s great to be 100 years on this earth. It has been a nice journey. I had quite a few surprises. Your family made me feel loved and appreciated. I was greatly honored by all of you.
I hope all is well with you in your world. My advice to you–
- Take care of your health!
- Keep moving!
- The walk you take each day is the best thing you do for yourself.
- Drink the 8 glasses of water per day as so often prescribed.
- Wash your hands often.
- Keep your hands away from your face and you won’t have a cold! I never have a cold. Haven’t been to a doctor in over two years.
- Eat right and live right and you won’t have too many problems.
Take care. I love you and thanks again for your card. I love a party!
One day I hope I’ll see you. Good luck to you and may your days be happy, healthy, wealthy and rewarding days.
I love you very much, Great Aunt Jennie
Real Name: Miss Virginia Ann Igou (100 yrs., 3-5-1896)
I can only hope that I’ve inherited one-tenth of Aunt Jennie’s gumption. Here’s to a great lady!
Originally published 1999 (personal site)