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Halifax County woman earns membership in the 100 club

Miss Hattie Hart will turn 100 years old on Sunday.

I don’t think I’ve actually ever met someone who was 100 years old or older except through the written word in newspapers or the spoken word on television. 

To me, Willard Scott of the NBC television network’s “The Today Show” is synonymous with centenarians nationwide because of the recognition he gives the aged weekly on that show.

I could have called the newspaper offices and requested they send someone to interview Miss Hattie, but that would have been difficult for them and for Miss Hattie.  She does not hear very well, and it is excruciatingly slow for her to pull things from her semi-locked memory.

The legendary actress Bette Davis was once quoted as saying,  “Getting old ain’t for sissies.” 

I agree with her statement, and Miss Hattie proved it to be true time and time again these past 10 years as she aged from 90 to 100 years old. 

Don’t misinterpret what I’m saying, Miss Hattie is indeed a refined Southern lady, but she is also a tough old lady disguised in fragile old lady skin!  She’ll fool you in a heartbeat.

Hattie Louise Cassada was born Oct. 17, 1910.  Up until May 2010, when she came out the front door of her home and stepped onto her front porch and turned her head to the right looking south on Old Grubby Road, she would be gazing at land that has been in her family for longer than a hundred years. 

If she turned her head to the left and looked north where Grubby Road intersects with Old Grubby Road, she would see land that has been in her husband’s family for over 200 years. 

She has always lived in the Grubby Road community, a stone’s throw from her birth home and her husband’s birth home.
I don’t think you can adequately convey that kind of heritage in the written word.  She has never really known another home — until now. 

She is a resident of The Woodview in South Boston where they are taking excellent care of Miss Hattie.  It has been a difficult transition for all of us as this fine lady reaches the 100-year-old mark.

Miss Hattie is the oldest of four children born to Newton Jefferson (“Jeff”) Cassada and Ella Oakes Cassada.  There were two boys and two girls —her brothers are both deceased, but her sister who is the baby in the family still lives on Marshall Avenue in South Boston.

Of course, we do not know much with regard to Miss Hattie’s adolescent years.  There is a 20-year age span between the sisters, so memories from each with regard to one another and the young years are sparse. 

We do know that Miss Hattie adored her father and learned to cook from her mother.  We know about some of her cousins from stories she used to tell, and the names she assigned them and the abbreviated way she used to refer to them.
In 1931 Miss Hattie married a neighborhood kid, Major Riley Hart.  He was 23 years old, and she was 21—kind of old for marrying in that day and time. 

We do know that Miss Hattie worked at what used to be Raylass Department Store located on South Main Street in South Boston.  She worked in the dry goods section, which featured productssuch as textiles, ready-to-wear clothing and sundries. 

Miss Hattie loved to sell fabrics.  She loved the feel of the fabric and to this day will veto the acceptance of a new garment simply because of the way it feels when she places it between her fingertips.

Miss Hattie never talked much about her young married years.  We know that she was still quite tied to her parents, and this must have made it somewhat difficult for her young husband. 

There have been stories of their going to dances (I think the Polka has been mentioned several times) and going to and from Florida to pick up produce. 

Miss Hattie was from a time when you did not share your problems with anyone.  You kept them to yourself and dealt with them the best you could.  I’m sure there were people she confided in, but she never chose to share that information with any of us.  She is that way now, never complaining, never voicing anything negative and always, always displaying a sweet disposition.

In 1946 Miss Hattie and her husband had their only child — a boy!  Miss Hattie was 36 years old — again kind of old in that day and time to be having children. 

She enlisted the help of a neighborhood woman, Annie Woods, to care for the infant.  Miss Hattie has said in the past when this topic was mentioned that

“ . . . Annie would get up with the baby during the night when he cried.”  And we know as the baby grew Annie Woods was there to help nurture the boy, even discipline him.  Later, Fannie would aid Annie Woods.  That boy is Riley Jefferson Hart, Major and Hattie’s only son.

During these early years the young family took vacations, and there are old photographs which show a young couple in their 40s with a very young child enjoying the scenic sites in places like Gatlinburg, Tenn., and Cherokee, N.C., and eating fruit from the orange trees in Florida.  However, picture taking has never been a big thing for Miss Hattie, so there are few photographs of these adventures.

It wasn’t long before public work and the girl pals she worked with at Raylass Department Store were a thing of the past.  

While her husband ran a dairy farm and raised tobacco and small grains, she perfected the art of cooking, keeping house and raising her son. 

Interspersed in her day to day living was her church work in the neighborhood’s Union Methodist Church, which relatives from both sides of the family attended.

In the 1950s when Miss Hattie was in her 40s, the Harts added to their livelihood by purchasing and operating the community store which helped sustain the sharecropping families throughout their area. 

She took care of her home, stayed at the store when her husband had to be in the tobacco fields with the workers, helped make stews for the church, filled other administrative positions within the church and became involved in the Henry W. Woodall Chapter #80 Order of the Eastern Star and in politics working at the polls.

Willard Scott and others who interview centenarians always seem to ask the question “What is the secret to living to be 100 years old?” or “To what do you credit your longevity to?”  

Miss Hattie has spent her entire life in service to others.  I’ve never heard her complain one single time about anything in the 48 years I have known her. 

She does not sweat the small stuff — heck, she does not sweat the big stuff either.   She has always operated on a very even keel.  She has always chewed her food very, very slowly and has always used Vaseline petroleum jelly as a face cream.  

She doesn’t get in a hurry when she walks, preferring to stop and tell whomever is walking with her something about what she sees every five steps.

She is engaging and funny.  She loves clothes; she loves shoes and has been quite vain about her appearance for many years. 

She loves her old Grubby Road schoolhouse home which is the front part of her home and the new part of the house she and her husband built in 1959; the furniture she has accumulated from deceased family members over these many years “...because every piece tells a story;” she loves her church — the actual building that stew money helped build as well as its members, the ones who have gone on before and the faithful who continue to worship in Union United Methodist Church today. 

She loves to eat, loves her cat, loves to hear the birds sing and loves good piano playing and singing.  And oh yes, she loves watching The Andy Griffith Show and the antics of Andy, Opie, Aunt Bee and Barney in Mayberry. 

She used to love the Lawrence Welk Show but has dropped him recently for Bill Gaither’s crowd of singers.

Miss Hattie is not able to answer the question Willard and others would ask. 

In fact, her great-granddaughter and I placed a banner on her door at The Woodview, which reads “Happy 100th Birthday Hattie.” 

When she read it and looked at it she laughed and said, “I didn’t know that!” 

She does not sweat the small stuff.