When I visited Edna Bragg, holder of the Boston Post Cane as the oldest resident of Hampden (although she now lives at Phillips-Strickland House in Bangor), I asked whether she ever had given thought to the possibility she might live to be 106, the birthday she will celebrate with family and friends Friday, April 1.
She said no, she had not.
For most of her life, anyway.
“I guess you don’t think about that until you get to be 100.”
Then she laughed.
That’s Edna: one very happy lady who loves to laugh, sing, play beano, attend Hampden Senior Citizen meetings, who doesn’t use any medication except for eye drops, and who is still an active member of the Coldbrook Road Christmas Club she helped found in 1934.
One of 11 children, Edna was born in 1905 in the family home on what is now North Main Street in Hampden.
She has seen many changes in her lifetime, and adjusted and adapted to them without giving it much thought.
“Life was what it was,” she said. “You just did it.”
When electricity, plumbing, radio, telephone and television came along, what did it mean?
“You just work right into it,” she said. “It just comes naturally to you. You just accept the change and go on.”
With the approaching 100th anniversary of the Bangor Fire of 1911, I asked Edna what she remembered of it; had she gone into the city, later, to view the destruction?
Her only memory, she said, “was a reflection” as the city burned.
And no, she didn’t go into Bangor after the fire.
“We didn’t travel too much then,” she said, adding it would have been a long way to go.
“I just remember hearing about it, and we could see the reflection.”
After graduating from grammar school, she did go into Bangor when she was about 16 to work for a Judge Warren and later as a clerk in The Waiting Room at the corner of Harlow and Central streets.
“That’s where the electric cars tied up and people would wait for them. They’d get coffee, paper, soda and cigars.”
The ride into Bangor from Hampden was 10 cents but, if you walked to what she called “the limit,” you paid only 5 cents.
“In those days, we did everything to save money.”
She met her late husband, George, through his sister. They married in 1926 and had one son, who also predeceased her. George and Edna were married nearly 64 years before his death at 89.
She was a homemaker. Her husband “did anything and everything he could to earn $10. When the war started, business got better and he became a carpenter.”
“We always had some kind of jalopy put together with a hairpin and haywire, and it would run.
“We had an old radio. We’d hook it up to the car battery and, in the morning, the battery had run down so I’d go out to the car, step on the starter and he would crank it to get it started.”
Edna is the proud grandmother of two granddaughters, five great-grandchildren and seven great-great-grandchildren.
“They just keep multiplying,” she said with a happy grin. Two family members share her birthday.
Great-granddaughter Katie Chapman of New Hampshire will be 36 and great-great-grandson Aiden Coyne, also of New Hampshire, will be 10 that day.
One granddaughter, Nancy Coyne, lives in New Hampshire, and the other, Susan Hall, is in Hampden.
Susan was with her “Nana” the day I visited.
It is Susan who gets Edna to all her meetings and appointments, including lunches with the Christmas Club, of which Susan is also a member.
Up until 18 months ago, Edna lived on her own at Roe Village on Western Avenue in Hampden.
She did admit that, as years went by, “the microwave came in handy,” and she recalls, vividly, working hard in the family garden.
“I did a lot of canning,” she said. “We always had a big garden.”
As for a man landing on the moon during her lifetime, she laughed and said she still doubts it.
“Did he come back?” she asked, and Susan and I assured her he most certainly did.
“Well, all right then,” Edna said.
Edna has filled her life with the good things, from the way she eats to the way she works to her positive, optimistic attitude.
Despite not being able to see as well as she used to, she’s content to keep going as long as she can, enjoying whatever life has to offer.
Recently, youngsters from Congregation Beth Israel entertained Phillips-Strickland residents.
“It was the cutest little play, the best little children,” Edna said.
“It was one of the best performances I’ve seen.”