Living a century: the world through the eyes of 105-year-old Murfreesboro resident

Photo by Steve Barnum / Staff Writer

Mary Soper of Murfreesboro has lived through an entire century. The 105-year-old was born on June 19, 1911, and she has more spunk than people half her age.

It’s hard for most people to imagine living as long as she has. Soper has lived through both world wars, seen the rise of technology, women’s suffrage, segregation and the civil rights movement, yet after all this time, she still has the energy to light up a room.

Soper’s father was born in 1860 and owned a 400-acre farm in Tennessee where she grew up. She was one of ten siblings, and life was simple back then.

Her father killed everything the family ate, and she recalls being a teenager before she knew there was anything other than chicken and pork to eat. They cured their pork by smoking it and canned their sausage to keep it fresh. They also made their own clothes and their own bars of soap from scratch.

“You never had much money, but you didn’t know what being poor was,” Soper said.

As a child, Soper would walk a mile and a half to a little one-room wooden schoolhouse every day. The same teacher taught her and the other children from first grade to eighth.

“We didn’t even have toilets where I went to school as a child,” Soper said. “We went out to the edge of the bushes.”

She recalls there being only a two-gallon water bucket that they would take turns fetching water from a creek near the old schoolhouse  for all the kids to drink. They would all drink from the same dipper and use it to wash their hands.

“My mother would threaten to spank me because…if I had to wash my hands I’d pick up my dress and dry my hands off on my petticoat,” she said with a laugh. “Now you can imagine what that’d look like. But I just can’t imagine having no paper towels, paper napkins or anything. That was so unsanitary. Yet we never got sick from it.”

Soper was seven years old by the time the first world war ended, and it ending is all she remembers of it. Around that time, she does recall seeing her first airplane flying over the fields where she used to live.

“That airplane was a two-seater,” Soper remembered with a smile. “It was up there flying around, and we thought it was a bird. We were so excited.”

No one was quite used to seeing any kind of motorized vehicle back then.

“1921 was when they first started getting cars in the little town where I lived,” Soper said.

Even then, she was still more interested in riding horses. One of her fondest memories in life is riding horses through the woods and over the hills of Tennessee with her black shepherd dog following her when he could keep up.

As she grew into a woman, the times began to change. Women were not allowed to vote until 1920, and if you ask Soper when the first time she voted was, she will tell you proudly and without hesitation that she first voted for Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1932.

“Everybody was in the same boat, and me being here in the south living on the farm, you are kind of naïve. You didn’t think about it,” Soper said in regard to women’s suffrage. “But I thought it was wonderful when you could vote. And I think it’s terrible that women were denied the vote for as long as they were.”

In 1929, the Great Depression took over the United States, and by 1933, when the Great some 13 to 15 million Americans were unemployed and nearly half of the country’s banks had failed. However, individuals like Soper were lucky enough not to feel the damaging effects of it.

“I went to Ohio in 1927, and I worked for BF Goodrich tire and rubber company until the depression hit. We were laid off. And so (Soper and her husband) came back and lived with my father until work picked back up,” Soper said.

Being able to go back and live on the farm with her father again kept her out of the soup lines and made it so the Great Depression did not affect her much.

With World War II beginning in 1939, Soper remembers everything being rationed. She recalls being allotted a limited number of necessities, such as butter and soap.

Around that same time, though, Soper and her family finally got electricity in their home along with motorized tractors for the farm.

“The first thing we got with electricity was a pump to bring water from the spring to the house,” Super said. “Now you didn’t have running water of course, but by using a pump you could pump the water from the spring to have an inside toilet.”

One of Soper’s fondest memories was to see the end of segregation within the United states in 1964.

“It was good to see that change,” Soper said. “It was very sorrowful to see those things during the time. Awful thing – the way the south handled that.”

But in our current state of racial turmoil in America, she feels that people still carry too much prejudice. For today’s youth in dealing with such prejudice, Soper gave some wise advice.

“If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything,” Soper said, quoting Peter Marshall. “Stand up when things are wrong, and don’t be afraid to speak up and say it’s wrong.”

Even though Soper has lived through WWI, WWII, the Korean war, Vietnam, Desert Storm, and the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars, she has adopted a peaceful mentality. “I don’t believe in wars unless we’re attacked. Most mothers didn’t bring their baby boys into this world to go off and be killed,” she said.

As time went on, Soper thought it was a wonderful thing to see the change in technology throughout the years with the rise of colored movies, television and radio.

“I was a devout Christian, and I was more interested in Godly things than I was worldly things which made my life a little different. I was not very wild, I guess you could say.”

Throughout her long life, Soper has seen the changes of America and can see how different life has become within our society.

“The America when I was growing up was entirely different, because people were unselfish. To begin with, politicians were not as partisan as then as they are now. They worked together. When Obama was elected, congress said they would do everything they could to defeat him. Years ago, they didn’t do that, they worked together. The government was quite different. And so were people,” she said. “If my father had a lot of hay that they had cut down and wanted to put it in the barn and say it was about to rain, the neighbors would come and help you. They wouldn’t do that now. They don’t do things like that now. And if your house got burned down or a cyclone came and blew it away, the neighbors would come and help you build it back up. They don’t do that now. There was a lot more love and a lot more cooperation. It was just different in that respect.”

Unfortunately, Soper feels that we won’t see America any better than it is now. She feels that we are on a downward trend, and she has quite the perspective from living through so many years of the country.

If you ever meet Soper, you would never guess that she is 105-years-old. If you ask her about her health, she might tell you that she broke her leg when she was 102 and that set her back just a little. Other than that, she manages just fine on her own.

“I’ve been blessed. I’ve always had a good home to live in. I’ve always had plenty of food to eat,” she said. “I’ve always had nice clothes to wear, and now that I’m this age and not having to go to a nursing home, being able to live in my own apartment and having a full-time housekeeper. Oh, I’ve been greatly blessed.”

So, what is her secret to living such a long, healthy and happy life?

Her only advice: “Make it simple.”

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  3. Avatar
    Alexa Neff
    May 31, 2017

    After reviewing this article, not only is this post interesting, it has beneficial advice to give. This woman has seen a lot and has continued to press forward with advice we as young people need to hear. Now I truly believe that people years ago faced many more hardships than the people in my generation today. Back then people had to actually work for something they wanted instead of it always being handed to them. In this day and age, we as humans have started to steer off in the wrong direction. We all think that if we were born into it or earned a degree, that we should be given a higher advantage. It saddens me that our civilization has taken a downward turn and I feel that we need to start learning from people like this woman, then the other way around.
    It amazes me how long Mary Soper has been living and all that she has seen. I can’t imagine the stories she has to tell and what she has seen with her own eyes. We as a community should spend more time with people like Mary and less time scrolling through social media. I appreciate articles like this and hope we can meet more women like her.

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