Mrs. Ernestine Braswell Furlow turned 100 on January 23, 2018. Woodrow Wilson was President the year she was born. Gas was 15 cents a gallon. It was also the year that a global flu epidemic claimed millions of lives, including over 500,000 in America. That’s a sobering number, especially so to Miss Ernestine. One of those deaths was her mother.
Miss Ernestine was nine months old when her mother died on October 28, 1918. She has a picture of herself as a smiling baby that was taken a month earlier. Her father remarried, but he died when Miss Ernestine was only five. She lived with grandparents, uncles, and aunts, and came to Vienna in the fourth grade.
In July of 1934 she had a blind date with Anderson Furlow. She married him in September of 1935 when she was 17. They were blessed with three children, Belinda, Anita, and Andy. Anita passed away in March of 2000. Mr. Furlow died in 2001 after 65 years of marriage.
In November of 1948 Miss Ernestine joined Avon Products Inc. She worked in outside sales for forty years. She was a regular member of the President’s Club, a recognition for agents in the top ten percent. Another former Avon rep, Mrs. Martha Brown, lives just two miles away and will be 104 on February 23rd.
It’s remarkable that a rural community has two Avon ladies whose average lifespan is 102. If you see me wearing makeup, please don’t laugh. It might be worth giving it a try.
While making her customer calls, Miss Ernestine also did volunteer work for her church, Vienna First Baptist. She was the Extension Director for decades, delivering magazines and visiting the sick. One of her longtime fellow church members, Mrs. Bobbie Odom, is almost 101. It didn’t surprise me to learn that Miss Bobbie was an Avon customer.
Miss Ernestine celebrated her milestone birthday a few days early in Loganville surrounded by 21 family members. Her Sunday School teacher, Murray Stephens, organized a second party held in Miss Ernestine’s home. Her dining room table is filled with cards, pictures, and a giant scrapbook.
She enjoys her scrapbooks, which are of library quality. There are clippings about churches, community events, family, and friends. She had saved an article about her next-door neighbors, Jim and Debbie Bolton, who have been helpful in countless ways.
Miss Ernestine has lived in the same house for 70 years and is not saving any boxes for moving. She smiled when talking about her long life but added that she’s not about to buy any new furniture. With a confident faith, she said that a much better home is being prepared for her.
I squinted through my glasses to read some of the news items that she’s kept. Miss Ernestine wasn’t wearing glasses. Nor was she using a cane or walker. She stood for over 90 minutes as we slowly circled a memory filled table.
The memories she treasures most are of family. She mentioned Anita’s piano lessons from Mrs. Louise Lewis and her gift for classical music. She talked about Belinda, also a student of Mrs. Lewis, serving for many years as a church organist. An article about Andy notes that he developed a computer program so the Georgia Board of Regents could modernize college registrations.
Miss Ernestine recounts childhood memories of ringing the dinner bell when it was time to eat or listening to her uncle play his fiddle. But she’s even more interested in what’s going on right now, in keeping up with her family, church, and friends.
She told me that she enjoys my columns, and that she’s noticed I like to include some humor. She said I could tell folks that she was recently looking for her coffee jar and found it in the refrigerator. I didn’t tell her I had just stuck my head through an arm opening while trying to put on a vest. That wouldn’t be so bad, except it took me a while to figure out what was wrong.
We paused at the front door as I was about to leave. She smiled and said with a hint of mischief, “Neil, I was just wondering if you would mind playing the piano at my funeral?”
I said, “Miss Ernestine, I’d be honored to. But I was just wondering if you would be willing to speak at mine?”