LIANE HANSEN, Host:
This is Weekend Edition from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen. We've received a lot of email about our series "The Ninth Inning." Over the past few weeks, we've heard the stories of extraordinary Americans over 80. An 85-year-old garlic farmer and author and a 91-year-old dancer. Today, we're talking to 84-year-old Eldora Wood, who came to our attention through one of those emails. Her son, George Wood, wrote in to tell us why we should feature his mother and since George is in Washington D.C. for the inauguration, we asked him to come into our studios to read his letter.
M: My mother runs her own gift shop. She goes to work every day and travels around the country to stock the store. She was a child of the Midwest and the Depression. She taught school in a one-room school house in rural Iowa. She survived breast cancer and the slow death of her husband from Alzheimer. My mother also raised four children of her own and three from her husband's first marriage. She's affectionally known by her children as the queen mother of Pinehurst.
HANSEN: Eldora Wood, queen mother of Pinehurst, joins us from member station WUNC in Durham, North Carolina. What a pleasure to be able to talk to you, Mrs. Wood.
M: Thank you. This is really a real honor.
HANSEN: It's an honor for us as well. Do you have spare time and if so, what do you do in it?
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
M: I'm supposed to have one day a week off. But they kind of slip by.
HANSEN: It does. What does a week look like for you? I mean, what are some of the things you do in the course of a week?
M: Well, I do try to go into the shop every day. I try - I really sometimes don't get there until 10 o'clock. I used to be there when they opened the door. But sometimes, I wait until 10 and then I try and come home around 3:30.
HANSEN: Your son wrote in that you grew up on a farm in Iowa during the Depression. What was that like for you? Tell us about that.
M: The thing I most remember is my mother was always canning things and taking it to the people who didn't have enough to eat. We never felt that we didn't have enough of anything. There was a time when things weren't going very well and my father just couldn't handle that very well. And he took his own life and it was rather difficult for the rest of us, but we stayed on the farm. You just knew you had to do those things. There wasn't any question about it. So...
HANSEN: You've hit a lot of bumps in your long road of life. You were diagnosed with breast cancer in 1988.
M: Right, right.
HANSEN: You had a mastectomy.
HANSEN: And a knee replacement?
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
M: Right. I've got a new knee, so that gives me a couple of more thousand miles to go, I figure.
HANSEN: What was it like for you when you were diagnosed with your cancer?
M: That was very shocking to me because it was so soon. I had just lost my husband about two or three years before that happened. That was rather upsetting and then I thought, no, this'll be all right. We just got rid of that and I just went on. And it never occurred to me that it might appear again, and it never did.
HANSEN: You were married for 32 years when your husband died.
M: Right. Mm-hmm. Right. Yes, that - I resented I guess more than anything else. I didn't quite think I deserved him to leave me so soon because I still had the boys at home. Two of them were in college yet and that I guess I resented but, I guess you finally think, no, this is all right. And then you find something to do and help other people and I think that makes a big difference.
HANSEN: I also heard your eldest son died of heart failure in 2002.
M: Right. Mm-hmm.
HANSEN: That must have been a blow to have one of your children die.
M: That was. You're just always sure that you're going to live - that they are going to live longer than I will live. I think that must be one of the most difficult things to try and handle is losing a child. And I still miss him.
HANSEN: I bet. There's a lot of people - and I'm about 30 years younger than you are. And I don't think I even have your energy. What would you recommend people do who are about your age? And I can take this advice, too. And strive to be active just like you. But you know, feel a little less mobile and less energetic.
M: Right. I think one thing that I enjoy doing is walking. I try to walk every morning for about a half hour before I go to work. Walking gives you a lot of energy.
HANSEN: I'm listening to you and there's just, like you can't wait to get on to the next thing.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
HANSEN: Finish this interview already. I got to go do something.
M: I'm very fortunate. Every day, I have a place to go and someone to be with and someone to talk to. And I think that's what makes my life so interesting. I just think it's so important for older people to realize, hey, there's still a lot to do out there.
HANSEN: Eldora Wood joined us from member station WUNC in Durham, North Carolina. To share your own life stories, go to npr.org and click on the Contact Us link, or visit our blog, soapbox. Eldora Wood, it has been a pleasure to talk to you; you're an inspiration.
M: Thank you so much. This is a real treat for me.
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