She’s the oldest resident — both in terms of tenure and age — at the Sutliff II apartment building in Cuyahoga Falls.
For those reasons and more, Edith Mae (Starry) Parker is widely regarded as the “queen” of the 12-story building.
When you’re 101 and have been a tenant for 39 years, you’ve earned the right to be treated as royalty. However, it’s Edie’s sense of humor, brutal honesty and joy of living that serve as the ultimate magnet for her friends and neighbors to keep drawing near.
And all of those interesting stories, wrapped in such history and awe, are to be treasured, too.
I recently met Edie, as she prefers to be called: a spectacled, petite woman with a hearty laugh who’s a bit hard of hearing. She has the hearing aids, but she refuses to wear them because she’s afraid she will lose them. No point trying to convince her otherwise.
Besides, whether she hears everything this columnist had to say to her was not really the point. What she had to say was.
I found dear Edie to be even more enchanting than her neighbor Annamarie Hernandez shared in her email:
“There is a lady in my building who is a 101 years old. She has been a widow since she was 49. She is one awesome lady who takes care of herself and gets around pretty well. … She has survived cancer and a lot of other illnesses but she is very strong and just a beautiful lady. … She’s been a big blessing in life for the last 13 years.”
Hernandez, I learned, has a hand in keeping Edie well groomed, as her twice-a-month beautician. “But I wash it [her hair] myself because I can’t sit in the chair with the shampoo bowl,” Edie chimed in. TRESemmé in the black bottle is her shampoo of choice.
Edie continues to maintain a cool, I’m-still-relevant persona by being something of a news junkie.
Now that’s not to say that she’s totally abandoned lessons of living she’s honed over the years. She’s still wedded to getting up early in the morning. And I do mean early.
“I get up about 3 o’clock every morning,” she said, referencing the habit that took root in the “early years” when she worked as a cook in a number of restaurants, diners and drive-ins in her native Greenville, Pa., as well in the Akron/Cuyahoga Falls area.
Among those venues was Kippy’s restaurant, a 24-hour eatery that was always packed with customers. Edie was a cook at the Cuyahoga Falls location for more than 10 years but also put in time at the Akron location.
She walked to work, sometimes even to the Akron restaurant. “I walked every place I went. I never owned a car,” she said matter-of-factly. That meant sometimes walking from Cuyahoga Falls to Akron and back.
Kippy’s, popular in downtown Akron for more than 40 years, closed in 1979, and the Cuyahoga Falls location followed in 1984.
“Sometimes I would have three jobs at a time and wouldn’t get home until midnight,” she reminisced. She was a widow by then with two children to support.
She still knows her way around the kitchen. Only these days she’s a lot more laid back when it comes to meal preparation. “I get Mobile Meals!” she said with a laugh. “And their frozen dinners on Tuesdays.
“I can’t go to the store to buy stuff like I used to anymore.”
One of the concessions of being a member of the centenarian set is that Edie doesn’t get around much anymore. She’s much more fragile and relies on a walker, lest those legs that once walked miles at a time grow too weary.
Fragile or not, Edie still fills her days doing meaningful work, crocheting hats for the babies at Akron Children’s Hospital. “Someone from the hospital brings me the yarn and picks up the hats which I layer in big bags,” Edie took great pride in sharing. “It doesn’t cost me a penny. Only time.
“I first crocheted hats for my neighbor Penny. Then my doctor saw me doing it and thought it would be good for me to do for the hospital.”
Hundreds of baby caps later, Edie shows no signs of slowing down her one-woman production.
Undoubtedly some of that passion for babies and children goes back to her childhood. Orphaned when she was 2, Edie has never forgotten from whence she came.
In fact, up until a few years ago Edie would make a yearly pilgrimage back to “the orphanage” where she spent her early years. “It’s called something else now,” she wanted me to know.
She never arrived empty-handed. She always had gifts.
The beautiful thing about Edie is that she never allowed hard knocks to keep her down or cause her to be bitter.
She always wanted to wring as much happiness out of life as possible for whatever time she had. Of course, she had no way of knowing the quantity of life it would be, but is so glad she paid attention to its quality.
Her keen sense of humor caused her eyes to twinkle when I asked her how she met her husband Mark. “I met him when I was coming home from church,” she said. “He was trailing me home in his car …
“It scared me so I ran into the house and told the people I was living with that there was some man following me, calling me by my name, but I didn’t know him. … Turned out my girlfriends had told him my name.”
The two finally met face to face and hit it off. “The undertaker and his wife who I lived with allowed him to come see me. … Six months later we got married.”
It was a good life, she said in summing up the relationship. “We were motorcycle people and we traveled all over the highway with the wind blowing my hair,” she delighted in saying.
But fate put the brakes on those good times years later when her beloved husband, a railroader, died of stomach cancer. Edie believes the culprit was rotgut whiskey.
That she never remarried wasn’t due to a lack of suitors. “I had a lot of boyfriends,” she said. “But I wasn’t interested in getting married again. I like to be free!”
Asked her secret to long life, a clearly flattered Edie had this to say: “I have no secrets. But I drink a lot of water and take two cups of Ensure every day … I eat my big meal during the day. And I take a lot of pills, and I’m under such protection by all of these people guarding my health.”
What about that flawless complexion? “I just use soap and water. But always Camay.”
Edie enjoys watching golf on TV, and regrets not learning to play.
“I had a chance to learn golf when I was real young,” she said. “I remember the people I lived with giving me the stick and telling me to hit ball in the hole. I just wasn’t interested back then. But as I got older and started meeting the big-name golfers who would come to town and eat at Town and Country restaurant [where she also worked] I got interested.”
When talk turned to today’s fashion trends, the whip-smart Edie was long on opinions.
Tattoos? Especially on women? “Heavens, no. My arms are already bruised enough! Why would I want to do that?”
On some of the trends in teen fashion: “I don’t like the jeans down on the hip. I don’t like seeing their underwear or the creases in their rear ends. I don’t think that’s a very nice thing to show people.”
As the expression on Edie’s face morphed from a frown back into a smile, Annamarie Hernandez — the woman who brokered this meeting, with Gloria Gatian, the neighbor Edie described as her “right-hand person” nearby — broke into raucous laughter: “Didn’t I tell you she would tell you like it is?”
For sure, she didn’t disappoint.
Without even knowing it, Edie is teaching those smart enough to listen to some of life’s most valuable lessons: hard work pays off; so does walking; paying it forward has its own reward; and it’s wise to cover your assets.
Jewell Cardwell can be reached at 330-996-3567 or firstname.lastname@example.org.