NORMAN — Surrounded by framed aging photos in her Heartland Plaza room, Estelle Young said she could fill three books with her memories. With no apparent regrets, Young will turn 100 years old on Aug. 2. Friends and family are traveling from all over the country to attend her party at 1 p.m. at Heartland Plaza, 301 N. Eastern Ave., on Friday. About 80 or 90 people are expected to show up.
Young’s memories start early. She remembers monitoring her papa’s grocery store at age 6 when he’d go out to the country.
“They just wrote down what they bought, and they’d eventually pay papa,” she said.
She said she learned to drive at age 11 after her mama wrecked the car and wouldn’t drive anymore.
“Nobody had cars much ... Papa just thought we had to have one, and seemed to manage to make sure we did.”
Eighty-one years later her family members would make her give up her car.
“It hurt me more than anything when they made me give up my car,” she said.
She attended a one-teacher school outside of Ardmore. By eighth grade, she was “ready to go somewhere else,” so she took her famous homemade biscuits and a few girl friends to a baking contest at Oklahoma A&M, now called Oklahoma State University.
“We didn’t win a thing, but we didn’t care. We was having such a good time,” she said. “Country girls had never got to go to anywhere, and to get to go to A&M ...”
Life was all about hard work back then. Young remembers her papa taking her out west to pick cotton. She’d hurl a 100-pound bag of cotton over her shoulder, and when her husband Claude — they were just going together at the time — would ask how much she’d picked, she’d always lie to make him feel better.
“Well of course I picked a lot more than he did,” she said.
Their first mattress was made out of cotton he’d picked, Young said.
Living in southern Oklahoma during the Dust Bowl was horrible, she said. Young’s son, Don, said she’s still saving money as a result of growing up during the country’s worst economic crisis.
“The Depression made such an impression on her,” he said. “She was still trying to save money at 92, off of her savings. She didn’t want to ever have to take the welfare. We’re still spending her savings.”
For two years during World War II, Young had to take care of her three boys by herself while Claude spent the tail end of the war on a U.S. Navy tanker. Claude came out on the G.I. Bill and moved into a Quonset hut in the veteran’s village at Oklahoma A&M until he got his degree in refrigeration and air conditioning, she said.
Both got jobs at the Sears department store in Shawnee. She was a master of sales when it came to women’s fashion.
“They knew I could sell just about anything they put out there,” she said.
She remembers when she and Claude bought their first television — it had a 6-inch screen, and she thought it was beautiful.
The couple moved to Moore in the 1960s. Claude wouldn’t let her drive all the way to Norman to sell women’s fashion at the Sears there, so she got a job at Anthony’s, a local clothing boutique.
One of the biggest impacts on her life was traveling to Israel with her pastor, she said.
Young stayed young, in part by staying active. After Claude died she helped create the Brand Senior Center in Moore. Now, about 100 people come in every day to quilt, play cards and pool or participate in other activities.
In 1999, Young survived the tornado that hit Moore on May 3 by holding two pillows to her body as her house was torn apart.
“I never did go back,” she said.
When she turned 90, her sister-in-law told her it would be all downhill from there. Maybe it was. She broke her ankle and her son Don said it would be best to move to Heartland Plaza Retirement & Senior Community, where someone could help her if she needed it.
If that was going downhill, Young hasn’t let it dampen her spirits. The staff calls her “Sunshine” and “Beautiful.”
“That’s a nice thing to start the day with, and I’m just tickled to hear it,” she said.
Young has lived through two world wars, the passing of women’s suffrage, the Great Depression, the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights Movement, countless technological inventions and two destructive tornadoes. Through it all, she survived.
“I just did hard work,” she said. “I don’t remember when I wasn’t working. Hard work developed my muscles and everything I guess. But I’ve had a wonderful life. I can’t complain about anything.”
Young’s positive attitude may be a contributor to her long life.
“You know I’ve been here nearly 100 years,” she said. “You can know how much things have changed from where I started out. But try to live a visibly good life, like people — I have. Or you wouldn’t have the people that I’ve had come call.”