Mary Ellen Grimshaw smiled and her eyes sparkled as she spoke about Christmas nearly 100 years ago. “My father would go out into the woods and cut down a Christmas tree and set it up before we went to bed, while we hung our stocking along the mantel on the grate. That’s what we called the fireplace back then,” she explains, “The next morning when we got up the tree
was trimmed. Mostly with strings of popcorn and a few Christmas things, but we always thought it was gorgeous. In the stockings we would find a stick of candy and an Orange. If my brothers needed shoes, sometime they got shoes.”
In the early 1900’s there was nothing artificial about Christmas, its true beauty was the simplicity
and joy of its true meaning. Mary will turn 100 years old on December 15th. It has been a long journey since her childhood on a hill farm in Jefferson Township in the area of Dry Run, till today where she now resides at the Minford Retirement Center. Mary Ellen was one of nine children, two sisters and six brothers. Her father and mother began with a two-room farmhouse and simply added rooms as the family grew. “It was a small farm, but in those days almost all of the farms were small. My father was a farmer and my mother canned. This was how we got our food.”
Childhood memories are embedded upon all of us. Today our lives are bombarded with high
speed Internet, ipods, cars and cell phones, but for Mary her memories are far different. “We
just didn’t have toys back then, but I do remember having a beautiful doll with eyes that opened
“We never had a car, but we had a two seated surrey that was pulled by mules. My father
thought horses were too fast, so we had mules.” She pauses, “The longest trip we would take was every summer when we would go to visit my father’s aunt in Maloneton, KY. We would leave very early and get there before noon. We rode the Ferry across the Ohio River and that was always a big thing. When we went up Morton Hill over in SouthShore, KY, everyone would get out and walk up the hill, even my dad. He would hold the reins and walk along side the surrey. The only one who would get to ride up was my mother, who almost always was holding a baby or small child. We would have the noon meal there and then start out for home again.”
She attended a one-room school and walked a mile to get there for the day. Her sister was 10 years older so she looked out for Mary the first year of school. “I was double promoted from the fourth grade to the sixth grade, so I did not have to take the fifth grade,” Mary stated proudly. “I took the eighth grade twice because I was too young to go to work.”
Mary always had dreams of becoming a nurse, "After the eighth grade, I worked all summer cooking and serving dinner for a family on the West Side, and saved my money to go to Portsmouth High School. It was the only High School in the area. I had to walk a little over two miles to catch a bus on Ohio 104 and paid .10 each way, I bought my own books and my lunch was .07 a day for a bowl of vegetables and a slice of butter and bread."
After one year of High School, Mary was financially unable to continue; she went to work as a live-in housekeeper. "My salary was $3 a week and my room and board." Mary stated, "I saved enough money in three or four years to buy my first car. It was a '26 Model T Ford Coupe and cost $65.00. It was the only car I ever owned."
In late November close to her 21st birthday, Mary was introduced to Clinton Grimshaw, her future husband. He was a farmer and a widower with 9 children. They fell in love with each other and Mary could see that he was in need of help, so they didn't prolong their courtship. They were married in February and she moved into an eight-room farmhouse on Blue Run Rd. As all the children grew, Mary and her husband added another seven children together, two boys and five girls to their family (totaling 16 children).
Mary stated, "It was really a nice house in those days, only two years old with four bedrooms and a big kitchen. The house was wired with the Delco Power System, which worked like electricity. Not many people had this power system: most were still using kerosene lamps."
So many conveniences we take for granted today with nearly everything available at any store, but not so, even 80 years ago. Every other day she baked eight loaves of bread for her family. Mary laughed, "We would still run out and I would make cornbread or biscuits to fill in. I also sewed a lot and made clothes for the whole family."
Mary attributes her longevity to being active. She and her family attended the Blue Run Methodist Church, where she taught the .Adult Sunday School Class, along with being a head cook for the Church booth at the Scioto County Fair. She also was a 4-H adviser for 25years.
Simplicity of the times never meant it was easy with farm life and children. But Mary enjoyed her children. In the winter months the house became a gathering place for youth to go sleigh riding down the hill, with Mary making hot chocolate and popcorn balls for all.
Christmas with her children and stepchildren was celebrated a little different from when she was a child. Her husband would cut and bring in the tree and the younger children would help decorate it. Each child in the family was assured one toy for Christmas.
Remembering back, Mary stated, "My husband was much older than I was but I never really thought about that. We had a really good life together and were married 38 years." Her husband passed away in 1971 at the age of 85.
Mary's children gave her a reception at the Minford Retirement Center on December 11th to celebrate 100 years. Recently she received a commendation for her 100th birthday from The House of Representatives signed by Rep. Todd Book, also a commendation from Ohio Governor Ted Strickland. A big surprise was a commendation from The White House signed by the President and Michelle Obama.
Mary just got her first pair of glasses and still does not wear hearing aids. She always has a smile and is enjoying her life at Minford Retirement Center, as she makes new friends. Her son Richard visits her every day at the evening meal and her son Kenneth visits every afternoon. Her daughters all live out of town. She has 16 grandchildren and 17 great-grandchildren.
When asked how she lived to be 100 years old, she answered, "Well, I really don't know, but I have never smoked a cigarette and I have not had a cup of coffee since the 1940's. In the 40's I had an ulcer and had to stop drinking coffee. I switched over to Postum. I have drunk Postum since then every day. It is hard to find now since it has been discontinued, but I still have about one more jar of it left and I am always looking for some where to buy it. I also have had very little leisure time in my life. I have kept busy and worked hard."