Family ties help keep Grimes going strong

February 16, 2005|by JANET HEIM

WILLIAMSPORT - Ida Grimes' prescription for long life doesn't include doctors and medicine. It's family support that keeps her going.

"I tell you, there's not many people that have the help I do ... If I wanted or needed anything, I just ask," Grimes said. "I think our whole family sticks together."

Grimes is celebrating her 100th birthday today, still living in the house in Williamsport she grew up in with her aunt.

A schoolteacher in Washington County for more than 50 years, Grimes looks decades younger than her age.

"You know what, I don't feel any different than I did when I was 70," said Grimes, whose hair is just starting to turn gray.


Grimes was the sixth of seven children - three sons and four daughters - born to Samuel and Nettie Grimes. The family lived on South Vermont Street in Williamsport, with other relatives living on the same block.

Emma Grimes, whom Ida called Mamie, lived across the street in the house Ida's grandfather built, and helped raise Ida.

Emma, who never married, said to Ida's mother, 'Nettie, you have all these other children. I'll take Ida.'

For Ida, it meant that she had two mothers and two homes.

After graduating from Williamsport High in 1923, Grimes completed the two-year teaching program at what is now Towson University. She began teaching in Washington County in 1925 and taught first and second grade at Pinesburg, Broadway and Surrey schools before retiring in 1978.

Grimes lived all of her life in Williamsport, except for several years when she and Mamie moved in with Mamie's brother in Hagerstown after his wife died. They helped care for him and his young daughter until the girl was of school age.

At the store

Family members say Grimes is known for helping everybody. Jeanne House, 82, who married one of Grimes' nephews, remembers how Ida and her sister, Ann, would help her run her store, Jeanne's Confectionery in Williamsport.

Ida, who considers Jeanne as close as a sister, continued to help at the store until Jeanne closed it in 1999, after running it for 53 years.

The store would close for the evening at 10 or 11 p.m., but the women often wouldn't get home until about 2 a.m., following hours of cleaning. Ida would be still be up early to teach.

"I worked practically all my life," Grimes said. "It hasn't hurt me at all. I think, really, it's good for you."

Long-lived family

Longevity runs in the family - Nettie and Mamie each lived to be 99 and another aunt lived to be 103. Grimes has cared for many family members as their health failed, using the "long room" in her house as a makeshift hospital room.

"This room has put more people to rest...," House said.

Grimes said she received several marriage proposals, but declined because she wanted to take care of her family.

She still cooks and cleans at home, sharing her evening meals with House. "There's nothing wrong with my appetite," Grimes said with a laugh.

Known for downing two pots of coffee daily and eating just about anything except fish - she won't even serve her cats anything related to fish or seafood.

Cat care

Grimes loves her two housecats, Nuisance and Outside Cat. Every evening she fixes six trays of cat food - two for her cats and four that she takes to the basement for the stray cats that find their way through her open basement window.

"Well, I hate to see an animal go hungry," she said.

Debbie Hale, 36, Grimes' great-great-niece, keeps her stocked with coffee and cat food, keeps the pellet stove burning during the winter and takes care of paying the bills.

Grimes still enjoys reading, saving books and magazines for bedtime reading at night. She recently renewed her driver's license, passing the vision test without trouble, but depends on others to do most of the driving.

"I still drive when I can find the keys," Grimes said. Family members make sure her driving time is limited by hiding her car keys, Hale said.

'Pretty good life'

As the oldest member of Zion Lutheran Church in Williamsport, Grimes got to dig the first shovelful of dirt at the groundbreaking for the new addition. That addition was dedicated on Saturday, Feb. 12.

Asked to recall any funny stories of growing up, Grimes replied, "Our whole life's funny - it'd be kind of hard to pick. I think we've had a pretty good life."

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