After Estella Radant celebrates her 105th birth Sept. 11, she will only be 11 years younger than the world’s oldest person, Besse Cooper, who turned 116 Aug. 26, according to the Guiness Book of World Records.
“My mother made 96 and I had a sister that made 97, and I thought ‘Golly, they’re old.’ And here I am,” Estella said. “I made it so far. I really think I’ve had a good life, all the way.”
Born in Ridgeway, Mo., in 1907, the youngest of six, Estella and her family moved to Oklahoma City when she was 10 years old.
“Dad was an outside carpenter, and he couldn’t work up there in the winter,” Estella said. “So we moved to Oklahoma City and my sister-in-law decided she didn’t want to live up there either, so she just got on the train with us and down we went.”
Selling candy in Oklahoma City led to a new career for Estella – modeling clothes. However, this job required her to work late and the walks home were always dangerous. But this danger was alleviated when she bought her first car.
“I had that car and boy did I love it. I’d get in that car and I’d go up north 20 some miles and there was Edmond, Oklahoma, and I’d get on that highway there and drive back. I’d do that all alone, over and over. It was just a case of driving,” Estella said.
Her passion for driving was a constant throughout her life, and she still had a driver’s license at the age of 90.
Looking back on her family life, Estella fondly remembers her mother.
“I can just see mama. She wore a blouse and a skirt with a tie-on apron. And she was always clean. She wore her hair in a knot on top of her head, and one day I told her, ‘Mama, what if I shampoo your hair? Would you like that?’ And she looked at me with the biggest smile you ever saw.”
Following her father’s death, Estella’s mother was very well cared for.
“There was a grandson that would go and spend the night with mama so that she wouldn’t be alone all night. And I asked him what he’d do if I took mama to live with me, and he said he’d go live with his sister, and I took mama home to live with me and she stayed with me for 25 years,” Estella said. “And bless her heart, she crocheted and crocheted, and I had them framed.”
Their dog is another memory Estella cherishes.
“I’d go sit on the porch step and our dog would come over and lay down beside me.”
And the love of the porch was one shared by the entire neighborhood.
“One day I’d been gone, I don’t know where I went, but I came home and there were two neighbors, a mother and a son, sitting on my front porch in the chairs that we had there. They were handmade by dad. They all liked that front porch. Everyone wanted to sit on it, even the dog.”
After her mother passed away, Estella found another roommate – “a woman who came down and wanted to live in the city.”
“I told her this: She would eat breakfast with me and then she could do whatever she wanted for the rest of the day, but at 6 o’clock, I lock all of my doors and she better be here by then. And she was,” Estella said.
In 1995, Estella moved to Wisconsin to be closer to her only child, Bill, so he could take care of her.
“I depend on my son. He came to take me for a ride one day, and I came back and a woman I had been sitting with said, ‘Who was that good looking young man that came and got you?’ and I said, ‘Why that was my son!’ She didn’t know I had any children.”
Today Estella has three grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.
“It’s a long life but it’s been a good one. There’s just a lot of experiences, and you look back and wonder ‘How could that have happened?’ Well, so be it – it’s over and done.”
Her 105th birthday celebration is going to be a surprise.
“Last time they had the biggest cake for me and ice cream, and I don’t know what they’ll do this time. They won’t tell me. They said I have to wait and see,” Estella said.
But she has a simple birthday wish.
“Just peace, that’s all I want.”
Sarah Hirsch may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.