She has survived a difficult mother, a failed first marriage, a second husband who died of Parkinson's, numerous miscarriages, a broken hip, the death of friends and family, a blood clot, a heart attack and cancer. But somehow, through her long life, which began in Nashville, Tenn., in 1908, Corrine Gross Green has been happy.
"I really don't have a philosophy, other than be happy," she said. "Get into things and do things. I never did consider myself too old. If I wanted to ride the merry-go-round, I would ride it. If I wanted to wear a dress, I would wear it. I'll never be old, I'm young at heart."
Mrs. Green's daughter, Janet Hurst, gives a loud amen to everything her mother says. Her mother has been living with her in Athens since 2001. There's an older brother in North Carolina and an older sister who recently moved South from Indiana, and they all adore their mother, who is known as MaMaw. Other than hearing loss in one ear and dimming eyesight, there's not much that plagues Mrs. Green. She has both her teeth and her marbles.
Mrs. Green's father, John, had a business in Nashville making hand-rolled cigars. She remembers visiting his downtown shop, Gross Bloodo Cigars, and seeing an employee who was deaf and mute. Her old brother, Raymond, was born with diabetes. Her beloved father was diagnosed with tuberculosis in 1923 and was sent to a sanatorium. To help support the family, Young Corrine dropped out of Lipscomb High School and went to work at the Presbyterian Bookstore, selling Bibles and greeting cards.
Janet Hurst has read the heartbreaking letter her grandfather wrote to her grandmother when John died. She also has read letters her mother wrote to her grandfather when he was in a sanitorium, first in Nashville and then in Denver, where he died. Corrine visited her father in Nashville, but never saw him again when he was moved to Colorado.
As a child, she remembered seeing the ice man making his deliveries and the milkman collecting his empty bottles. She recalls seeing Civil War veterans--"there weren't very many of them and they were very old"--parading through town in their faded uniforms. Everyone took the streetcar then. Few people had cars.
Nowadays, Mrs. Green spends most of her time playing games, either with Janet Hurst or with helper Christa Ramsey, a physical therapy assistant who helps Janet take care of her mother. Years ago, after reading and studying, Mrs. Green became a member of Athens' B'hai Community at age 89--a faith her daughter had found in 1976.
She likes all kinds of board games, almost as much as she likes taking tub baths. Janet says her mother always has loved playing games, and playing with her children.
"Jump rope, hop scotch, she was very hands on with us," Janet says. "As a child, I didn't realize my mother was 20 years older than most of my friends' mothers because she was always out with us."
Mrs. Green moved with her husband to East Point in the 1940s, when he took a job as a mechanic with the fledgling Delta Airlines. She had worked most of her life, so she began working as a secretary at the Georgia Military Academy, which later became Woodward Academy.
Today, to celebrate her 104th birthday, she will head to Dairy Queen for a meal and (sssshh!) an ice cream cake, and then on Saturday there will be festivities with more family members. She remains engaged and upbeat, waiting to see what's coming next. Mrs. Green has already voted, with an absentee ballot, in the Presidential election.
Her daughter tells a funny story about her. In 2008, Mrs. Green voted for Barrack Obama, saying, "McCain is too old. He's old and he's got old ideas."
Janet Hurst said, "MaMaw, that's funny coming from someone who's 100."
And Mrs. Green replied, "Yes, but I don't want to be President."