This birthday 'special' for centenarian

Mildred Spraggins and her oldest daughter, Shirley Hogan, stand in the front door of Spraggins' home.
Staff Writer

When a visitor suggested it is pretty special to be 100 years old, Mildred Spraggins waved her long fingers and turned away bashfully.

When the visitor persisted, noting it is even more special since her birthday for 100 years has been on Valentine's, Feb. 14, her shyness shows again.

But her secret for living to be 100 is pretty simple.

"I try to be nice to everybody," Spraggins said simply of how she got to be one of an estimated 54,000 centenarians in the United States.

Spraggins grew up in western Clay County, living at least part of the time with an uncle, working cleaning houses and picking cotton, which once was far more prevalent in Clay County than it is now.
Her body still is spry, but her memory has slipped so some the details of those early years aren't as fresh. She also doesn't remember much about presidents, getting the right to vote, the Depression, or Pearl Harbor. Although she has seen literally a lifetime of Black history, she doesn't remember it except in occasional flashes.

She moved to the White Station community more than 40 years ago and did house work for the Hazelwoods and Weems, who were big land owners in that part of the county.

"Yes, the Hazelwoods and Mr. Weems and somebody else in town, but I can't remember," she said, sitting comfortably on the couch in her living room, a TV playing in the background.

She lives by herself in the home where they moved. "I take care of it, keep it neat," said said looking around.

A picture frame in the word "Friends" contains family photos.

She had six daughters and two sons. She has outlived the oldest daughter.

She once was a wonderful baker, whipping up cakes and pies for the family and friends. She doesn't do it as much now because she can't always remember the ingredients.

Her oldest living daughter, who is 70, lives next door and she, the other children and the passel of grandchildren and great-grandchildren help with her meals.

"I don't like to cook, period, now," she says when asked her favorite dishes.

But she still fixes her own coffee and can whip up some hot dogs or a bologna sandwich.

"What else is there to life," a visitor notes.

Like many of her generation, gardens were a staple, providing many of the vegetables that sustained the family through the year.

Cabbages were a favorite.

"We grew some big ones," she said, demonstrating with her hands as if she is holding a head of cabbage the size of a basketball.

Butter beans and peas also were garden mainstays, along with okra, which she said she preferred fried.

She also had a green thumb for flowers.

"Those ones with the big leaves, elephant ears," she said of one of her favorites.

Between 1980 and 2010, the number of people reaching 100 or older in the U.S. increased almost 66 percent as improved diets and medicine prolonged lives. The trend is continuing in this decade and Spaggins is living proof.

But she still doesn't think too much of it.

"I guess it's pretty special," she admits when pushed, another wisp of her hand brushing it aside. "I guess it is."