My only memory of “Aunt Jen” is visiting her at the Harding Nursing Home in Waterville, NY when I was a teenager in the 1970s. I was with my grandfather, Fred Merry, who had taken on the responsibility for his aunt’s care once she ended up in the home. I’m sure that the nursing home was a fine establishment, but I found it sad. And smelly. In addition, Jen was confused about who was who and where she was. It is not a fond memory.
Aunt Jen spent many years in the Harding Home. In spite of her health issues, she lived to a remarkable 109 years old. I believe that she had the longest life of anyone in our family tree.
In 2015, I started exchanging letters with my Uncle Jim Merry about our family history. Jim is the unofficial keeper of our oral history. He loves these stories and is always willing to talk about his memories of our relatives. The following excerpts are from a letter dated March 16, 2015. Jim was recalling what he knows about Rose’s daughter, Jane Fielding.
“Due to the fact Jen was so much older than Henry, she was a fitness and health nut. She did at least 1-2 hours exercise, kept her skin healthy, ate health foods. She concentrated on staying young and succeeded. Her life was dedicated to taking care of Henry. She did a good job. He worked like a slave. She read the occult. She was off-beat. The first I really knew her was when Henry retired and they moved to Connecticut for some reason. Trot and Fred helped them. I don’t know why they moved to Connecticut. I think something to do with Henry’s family.”
“Jen did NOT get dementia. What happened to her was, after Henry died, she lived alone in New Hartford NY. The next-door neighbor (Shirley) and her husband took very good care of her. She paid them well; she had the money to do it. Shirley went on a vacation (Jen paid) and Jen fell in the night, broke her hip and laid there for a few days. By the time someone found her, she suffered brain damage, from dehydration, I think. They repaired the hip, but her mind never came back. Fred Merry oversaw her arrangements. She was close to 90 when she fell. She was not senile.”
It’s heartbreaking to think about Aunt Jen lying there with a broken hip and nobody to help her for days. Sadder still that she spent so many years in the Harding Nursing Home.
But, senile or not, it seems that Jen’s healthy lifestyle helped to keep her alive for 109 years. Her husband, Henry Hurst, died in 1961. Jen, who was 13 years older than Henry, lived another 23 years!
I think I need some “health foods”!