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Turn of the Century

Eula Marie Emling reflects on her 100 years

Few people live to see a century behind them, and those that have seen much less think it is a nice thing to survive that long. But consider, briefly, what 100 years means to Eula Marie Emling, a widow who lives in the Regency House in Hixson.

In 1912 when Marie was born, Arizona and New Mexico had just become states. The Girl Scouts was forming. The Titanic sank. The first neon sign appeared in Paris. In the first decade on her life on a farm in Sale Creek there was just one divorce per 1,000, and women lived, on average, until they were the ripe old age of 52. She walked five miles to school those days. They had to cut down a tree to cross the river to get to church, she says.

Jaques met Emling when his church Abba’s House, was visiting a senior living center called Creekside at Shallowford. He left a poinsettia at her door and a relationship started. He and Kim were taken by her crisp sense of humor and brutal honesty. They laughed at her jokes and she kept telling them. Over time, they learned what she had survived these 100 years, and it made them rethink their own approaches to problems.

Marie was engaged three times and married twice. She’s seen world wars, depressions and recessions come and go. But the hardest things to come through were the personal losses, she says. The country continued evolving, making her uncomfortable at times, but death was always the toughest pill to swallow.

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Her first marriage was to a Baptist man who was called in for military service and the wedding couldn’t be delayed, she says. In those years she found out that she couldn’t have children. “We lost them every time we tried,” she recalls. Many nights she cried about being barren. This was a time when women were expected to have families and nurture a home. She calls it “the sorrowful time.” Then, after 12 years of marriage her husband died of a heart attack in church.

After she buried him, she says she sunk into some dark places in her mind. The doctors tried to help. They told her to start dating again because she had no children and no income. She prayed about it, she says, and an answer came.

Her sister had made a friend in Florida who saw pictures of Marie and asked about her. After a while the man, whose wife had left him, decided to write, and the two started an exchange. He sent her a picture of his Chevrolet convertible. He did body work on cars and impressed Marie. She told him he could come to Chattanooga to meet her for the first time.

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They called the pastor to make sure that a widow and a divorcee could, under God, marry again. “And the rice flew everywhere,” she remembers.

When he saw her, he decided he would move from Florida to the Tennessee Valley. Not long afterward, he asked her to marry him. They called the pastor to make sure that a widow and a divorcee could, under God, marry again. “And the rice flew everywhere,” she remembers.

“It wasn’t Tennessee he was liking. It was me.” They made their home in Florida where she says she got involved in a church and “bloomed out.” She was living again, she adds. Her husband drove her places. She had nice jewelry. Late in the evenings, they would go to the beach and watch the pelicans feed. She went deep sea fishing.

“Really, I didn’t know that,” says Jaques, listening to her. “Did Mansford go with you?”

“No,” she answers. “He didn’t care much for deep-sea fishing.”

The couple lived in Florida for 29 years until Marie says her kinfolk begged and pleaded enough to get her to come home. She says they bought a trailer close to some of her family and lived happily until Mansford fell and broke his hip. “The poor thing went down till he died in 1996.”

This time, Marie remembers she got so sad she thought about ending her life. She had terrible migraines. She thought: “I have no husband. I have no children.”

When she couldn’t go on, she says her faith kicked in. She had been involved in church and found her purpose there. She tried not to focus on what she had lost. “The Lord prolonged my life because I didn’t live for self,” she says. When Jaques hears the story he nods his head.

It’s cliché to say it, but it’s true. The world has changed. These days, Marie passes time.

She talks to aides at the Regency House or chats with other permed women in wheelchairs.

She has no family that comes to visit. Her main help is John Jaques, a Chattanooga MRI technologist, and his wife, Kim.

They take her to church and wash her clothes and ask her questions about the past. They bring their children to visit with her once a week.

Marie knows technology has advanced dramatically in the last 20 years. But she admits she doesn’t know how to work any of it and probably never will. The aides at Regency House promised to teach her to use the computer but haven’t yet. Now, she is too blind to read the newspaper like she did. She watches little news.

Still, overall, even though things move faster in 2013, even though everything is bigger and better in 2013, she isn’t sure the world has gotten too much better in a century. Why do people need so many upgrades on everything? During the Great Depression, her mother taught her to take care of what they had. She knew she wouldn’t get new dresses. She knew they had to eat what they grew. Why do so many people shoot each other? She doesn’t remember that kind of violence when she was growing up.

Watching Marie has taught Jaques about strength and fortitude. He says he enjoys hearing her stories and seeing the impact his family has in her life. Marie always emphasizes how her spiritual life has helped her get through difficult seasons. At the end of her life, she says the most important tools to getting through are community and faith. “To see how she presses on, I have seen her resilience,” he says.