Loganville’s Nell Foster celebrates 110 years
By Carole Townsend
Runell, or as she prefers “Miss Nell” or “Aunt Nell,” Foster recently sat down with me to talk about life, love, children, God, and English. Here is what she had to say.
Loganville - Nell Foster sits expectantly in her chair near the front door of her house, hands crossed in her lap and smiling pleasantly. Her daughter Mary sits beside her, and a kind and vigilant caregiver hovers nearby.
“You just missed it,” said Mary. “She just finished her morning devotional. She sang the entire first verse of ‘Blessed Assurance,’ and then recited the Lord’s Prayer.” Today must be a good day, a day that will bless Nell with clear-mindedness and memory. Normally, she does her best to sing along with her caregiver, and her prayers are not recited, but in her own words and from the heart.
On Saturday, March 26, one day before her 110th birthday, family and friends threw Nell a grand birthday party at the beautifully-remodeled Rock Gym in Loganville. With respect to the swanky affair and festivities, Nell responded in a manner that she likely does under any circumstance. She shrugged her shoulders, spread her hands, and said, “I appreciated it very much!”
One hundred ten years old is a long life indeed, and those who have searched for the fountain of youth over the ages would beg the question, “How have you done it? What is your secret?”
“I gave my life to the Lord,” Nell sat forward in her chair and said in earnest. Mary added a few more things that she believes have contributed to Nell’s long, fruitful life. For one, even at age 110, she still lives in the Loganville home that she shared with her husband of 50 years, Clyde. They both graduated high school in 1925 and were married in 1928. They moved into the house that Nell still calls home in 1930, just shy of being two years married. Her father built that house; the exterior is lined with granite from an old quarry that used to be along US Highway 78 in Snellville.
Nell and Clyde were high school sweethearts (they both attended the old Grayson High School and in fact, theirs is the only family still around that had two generations graduate from that school). “I took one look at him and said to myself, ‘He’s the one I’m going to marry. He was nice and neat, and he was a good man.’”
Clyde, once he had finished night business school in Atlanta, moved with his new wife back to Loganville to run the grocery store located right across the dirt road from their home place. Nell taught school at Midway School for a couple of years while Clyde went to school in Atlanta, but when her first daughter was on the way, Nell quit that job to stay home, raise her child and make a home.
Nell became mother to three beautiful daughters while living in that house.
She drove a car and gardened until she turned 100 years old. For her 90th birthday, she asked for a wheelbarrow, and she got one. She always loved to garden, taking care with her beautiful flowers, and tending to the vegetable plants as they matured: peppers, tomatoes, green beans and squash. When the harvest came in, it was Nell who canned the vegetables for her family and friends. She cooked. She cleaned. She sewed. She crocheted. And she loved her large family through all of it.
“I like to sew, and I like to cook,” Nell said strongly, the thought as clear and true as it might have been 50 years ago. Her specialty creation? Caramel cake. As would any good Southern woman, she made one for every funeral, birth and birthday until she could make them no more.
In 110 years, a person sees and experiences an awful lot of remarkable things. Nell remembers seeing a man walk on the moon for the first time. She lived through several wars. She recalls seeing the Leaning Tower of Pizza during a trip to Europe with her family. She remembers the births of her daughters. She remembers playing the piano at church, and preparing the Lord’s Supper for about as long as she played piano (the cloths had to be ironed perfectly and placed “just so” for that weekly holy ritual). She fondly remembers teaching Sunday School to junior-age girls.
She remembers being a poll worker, only quitting when the days got too long for her to do that job. She was, and still is, deeply involved in Women’s Mission Work.
It was right about here in the conversation that Nell reached over and tapped her daughter’s leg, rolling her eyes just enough to make her appear adorably impish, and she repeated a word she had heard Mary use.
It was Mary’s turn to feign exasperation. “Oh, Mother.” Mary went on to explain that her mother is a stickler for proper use of the English language. She was taught Latin in school and was an avid reader before her vision dimmed in the past few years. “She loved to read the newspaper also, and she never missed the Word Jumble. When her vision failed, we’d read her the jumbled letters. She’d think a minute, then tell us what the word was. She rarely got it wrong,” said Mary.
To this day, Nell corrects her daughters when they use words or phrases that Nell believes to be improper. Note: It was interesting to see that the mother/daughter dynamic really doesn’t change all that much, even when the daughter is in her 80s, and Mom is 110.
When asked what her favorite thing was about the extravagant party thrown in her honor in Loganville, she said it was all the people who turned out for the event. Some of her sister’s sons were there (her sister had 15 children total). She was also very proud that Loganville Mayor Dan Curry was there, as she said that he was born during the time period that his father worked on her “daddy’s” farm. “Dan Curry was a good old boy. He still is,” Nell said, smiling.
Nell has of course experienced some sorrows in life. She lost her beloved Clyde in 1978. They had just celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. Six weeks later, he had his first heart attack and within the year, he died. She has lost friends to death. She has even been through not one, but two, car thefts, her car stolen right out of her own driveway. It was recovered the first time (someone had been living in it, but she had the car cleaned and kept right on driving it). Her car was stolen a second time, when she was 100. She took the theft in stride, saying that she was really too old to be driving any more, anyway. “I was a good driver, though,” Nell said.
But oh, has she lived a good life. She married a man that she loved, and who loved her. She has three daughters. When they were young, Nell served on the PTA and as room mother for them. She lived in a home that meant something, both to her and to her family, and she and Clyde took wonderful care of it. She loved her church and immersed herself in serving. She has seen this country go from the way it was in 1906 and a slow agricultural pace, to the way it is today, a hustling, whirling dervish, its inhabitants hanging on for dear life.
“I remember all the precious happenings of my life,” Nell said, smiling, “and if I had the time to do it all again, I would.”