Every once in a while you get a chance to meet a truly remarkable person, someone whose life is extraordinary in a way that few other people will ever realize. I came to know one through marriage - my wife's great grandmother, Mabel Andrews. She passed away this past weekend at the age of 101.
Mabel Jackson was born Feb. 29, 1904 in Akron, Colorado. She was raised in a large family on the cool, dry plains of eastern Colorado, lived for a while in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and eventually settled down in Omaha, Nebraska, where she lived the rest of her life. She raised three boys despite the Great Depression and an alcoholic husband and lived to see a family that eventually numbered into the hundreds. She was a widow for almost forty years, but remained fiercely independent and gave up her residence only after she was well into her nineties.
When you reach her level of longevity, certain things about you take on an air of mystery. Mabel dyed her hair bright red until she turned ninety. Only then did people begin to wonder what her original hair color was. But asking her would be impolite so no one ever did. She was safe, because there was no one alive who was old enough to remember her hair color before she began dyeing it. That's security.
A few years go I became the custodian of an interesting artifact - a reel tape of one of Don McNeill's "Breakfast Club" radio broadcasts from 1957 that featured Mabel as a reluctant guest from the audience. I don't know if they picked her beforehand, or if the family knew that she was going to be in the audience and simply decided to tape the show for fun. I never got to ask her. Anyway, Don had audience members name things that were annoying, then had his band improvise a little song about them. She introduced herself as "Mrs. Andrews" and named "a dripping faucet" as her pet annoyance.
Probably the most awe-inspiring thing about a centenarian is the vast amount of change that they have seen during their lives. The twentieth century was the most rapidly changing in all of recorded human history, and Mabel was around to see virtually all of it. Imagine seeing airplanes, telephones, and automobiles evolve from mere curiosity pieces into the Saturn V rocket, cell phones, satellite communications, and modern roadways lined by homes with two-car garages.
Imagine living through World War I, the great influenza pandemic, Teapot Dome, the Model A, Lindbergh, Stalin, Hitler, Roosevelt, the NRA, the Dustbowl, radio, television, the hydrogen bomb, Kruschev, skyscrapers, Apollo 11, bikini swimsuits, free love, Watergate, Viet Nam, fax machines, Einstein, Churchill, and Monica Lewinski.
Mabel was diagnosed with cancer last year, after she celebrated her 100th birthday. The family threw a big birthday party for her, and I got the opportunity to meet her then. She was sharp witted and in good spirits for the party, though she wondered why everyone was making such a fuss over her.
She was a modest, tee-totaling Baptist woman who always thought about others first. She kept the details of her illness quiet until a few months ago. My wife wrote her a touching letter, saying ‘goodbye' and letting her know how much she meant to all of us. Though it seemed to baffle other family members, my wife's letter was a unique and satisfying form of closure.
Goodbye Mabel, and I sincerely hope that you are enjoying your eternal reward. You've certainly earned it.
Here is the rather turse obit that ran in the Omaha World-Herald:
ANDREWS—Mabel I., age 101, of Omaha. Member of Daughters of Union Veterans of the Civil War. Preceded in death by parents, 3 brothers, 4 sisters, husband, Harley, sons, Bernard Sr. and Charles; grandchildren in law, Deanna Andrews, John Traynor, Dan Rotherham. Survived by son and daughter in law, Donald and Emogene Andrews; daughter in law, Katherine Andrews; grandchildren, Chuck (Linda) Andrews, Bernie (Judy) Andrews, Mary Buckler, Margaret Andrews, Bob (Karen) Andrews, Diane (John) Binkly, Dick (Debbie) Andrews, Theresa (Kurt) Walter, Jackie (Kevin) Kerrigan; 25 great grandchildren; 41 great great grandchildren; sister, Dorothy Savage.
Funeral Service 10am Wednesday Roeder Mortuary, 108th Street Chapel. Interment Mt. Hope Cemetery. Visitation 6-8pm Tuesday at the mortuary. Memorials to Benson Baptist Church or Hospice House. ROEDER MORTUARY
2727 North 108th St. 496-9000