|2/7/2004 99 and Counting: Goodlow's Russell celebrates birthday|
Willie Russell welcomed friends Friday on his 99th birthday. He was born in 1905 in Louisiana. Daily Sun photo/SCOTT HONEA
By LOYD COOK/Daily Sun Staff
GOODLOW -- Willie Russell's small frame house sits, conveniently, next to the Mount B. Zion Baptist Church in this small community south of Kerens.
But the home houses more than an elderly man, it houses a man who's seen almost a century of history.
Russell celebrated his 99th birthday Friday. He was born in 1905 in Pelican, La., he said, coming to Navarro County as a child when his mother and father moved here.
In those days, travel meant a horse and wagon or a train. Russell and his parents traveled by train.
"My father stayed a year, then went back," he said, his bright eyes still sharp and clear behind his glasses. Russell said his father died shortly after returning to Louisiana.
School wasn't something that was much of his life in his youth.
"I didn't go to school too much," Russell said. "I didn't get the education I wanted to."
He said one early employer told him he "was
pretty smart. That I was smart enough to have gone to college."
But that wasn't an option for Russell, so it was a life of work that he embarked upon.
While he didn't serve in any of the big wars -- "I was too young for one war and too old for the other," he said -- Russell contributed to the war effort the second time around, working at making bombs for the pilots.
It's not often you get to talk to someone who can talk about World War I and World War II as memories and not something they learned out of the history books.
Russell worked for years as a carpenter's helper; one period was 25 years for an area man named Charlie Corn. At the end of his working life, he worked out of Athens for a Dallas
Continuing to work was key in helping keep him young and for living a long time, Russell said. After he retired from carpentry, Russell kept active by mowing a few yards here and there.
Somewhere along the way -- either he didn't remember or he didn't hear this reporter's question clearly (he admits to a bit of hearing problem, although he still drives his Ford pickup) -- Russell married a lady from Trinidad, since passed away.
How old were you?
"Let me put it this way," he said, with a smile and a gleam in his eye. "I was grown."
Russell has no living children, but said he's well-taken care of. He proudly displayed a card in his wallet that listed a "in case of emergency, contact" listing that named Kerens resident Russ Crawford. Russell worked for Crawford's father for a while, he explained, and the son continues to look in on him to make sure he's OK.
The 99-year-old was also proud of the birthday cards he received, displaying them for his visitors on the couch in his living room -- along with the homemade cookies someone had brought him.
He also had a small photo-book with pictures from his stint as Kerens' Grand Marshall of the 2001 Christmas Parade. Interspersed in the book were black-and-white photos from the 1950s, showing old cars and relatives.
Russell noted his membership at Mount B.
Zion Baptist church and quickly claimed the Rev. Nathan Carter as his pastor.
"I'm the oldest member," he said with a cackle.
Age has become something of a marker with him, as is his spryness and clarity of thinking.
"I got a doctor, says 'you're the oldest patient I got and the best patient I got,'" Russell said.
That same doctor told him that a "can of beer or two a day" wouldn't hurt him. In fact, it might help him a little. Or a "little drink of whiskey" before bedtime.
"But I don't do all that," he said with a
flick of the wrist. "I've never been in no trouble to bother nobody."
Loyd Cook may be contacted via e-mail at [email protected]