Monday, June 4, 2012

Lady of Three Centuries ~ Luella Patton Charlton

       During her 109 years, Luella Patton Charlton lived in only two houses. She was born in the three-storied, cupola-crowned mansion built across Court Street from the Capitol by her great-grandfather, Edwin Cooke. Her grandparents, Thomas McFadden Patton and his wife also lived there, as well as her parents. The house was razed in 1938, after Luella married and moved away, to make way for the state library. Her second home was built by Luella and her husband Carl on 23rd. Street and she lived there for 80 years. A scullery table from the basement of the great old house, refinished many years ago by her husband, was still in use after all these years. Her piano, which she played even after her 100th birthday, been brought to Salem by ship after a journey around South America.
      She remembered the Salem of her youth by many other sites that no longer exist. One was the ornate East School, located east of the 12th Street railroad track, between Marion and Center Streets where a Safeway store stands today. She remembered a schoolmate caught on the track and losing a leg to a passing train. "What a terrible place to build a school!" she remarked in an interview of January, 2000. Luella remembered Civil War veterans sometimes visited the school. "In those days, we'd have the old soldiers come and tell stories." Although Luella excelled in the school, she was like most other girls her age and did not go on to college.
One teenage experience Luella can share with those of today was her love of driving a car. A car salesman took the Patton family on a test spin and then told Luella to get behind the wheel. "I slid into the driver's seat and it started to snow!" She chuckled as she told the story. "I was a brave kid!" After a minimal written driving test, she drove the family everywhere on the unpaved, bumpy roads. But not very fast: "Once I got up to 35 (mph). Mother said, "You get back down there where you belong!" When the family visited her maternal grandmother in Gresham, Luella drove the open Studebaker. "We'd wrap hot bricks for our feet, take extra coats and a lunch. It was an all day trip." In this car she drove her parents and sister through downtown Salem streets to celebrate Armistice Day in 1918. "Everybody tootin' and yellin'! How happy we were"! She did not give up driving until she was past 90.
      Luella's husband Carl was working for the State Penitentiary when their son Robert was born in 1927. Carl later joined the Salem police force.  He died in the 1950s, having served as a Salem City Councilor following his retirement as Assistant Chief of Police. 
      Luella lived alone after his death, with daily help, but did much of her own housework until she was unable to walk without a walker ~ a contraption she disliked. She did admit that her knees hurt, and told her interviewer, "I should have had knee replacement surgery 20 years ago. If I were a few years younger, I'd sure go at it!" She feels it's too late now: "I'd waste a year getting over it - I can't spare the time!" She never expected her knees to become 101 years old (as she was at the time of the interview with Dalene Strozut): both her parents died before they were 60. Her sight was good, however, and she read magazines without her glasses. She never smoked and enjoys eating fresh fruits and vegetables. She says she owes her long life to "work and determination".

    Part of that determination was to manage her finances. She kept her own records for her tax accountant and checked the figures both before they were sent to him, and after they were returned. One year, a $27 discrepancy was a great concern and she went over the figures many times until the error was discovered. She also made her own stock market investments. On one occasion, when Apple computer shares were selling at about $10 each, she advised me to buy Apple computer stock instead of their new products. (I wish I had!) She confined that she still had her original 1920s Coca-Cola stock. She smiled confidentially and whispered, “They have split many times!”
     Luella had a busy life. It was not unusual for her telephone to ring many times while she was entertaining visitors. She made appointments of all kinds, including with her hairdresser. "I look pretty darn good. I'll admit that," she said during the same interview. She cared about her appearance and kept up a busy social life. Luella told about weekly visits with a next-door neighbor: "We watch television until the weather comes on and then go home. You don't get bored with each other in an hour and twenty...One drink and a little cracker...And you know, that's nice!"
     In her living room were photographs of Luella's seven grand- and great-grandchildren. She lived surrounded by the love of her family, her friends, and more than a century of Salem memories. It was the pleasure of this writer and her son Tom to become friends of Luella's in her last 8 years. We often had lunch together at the small table in her kitchen, using the beautiful amber crystal glasses for our wine. I was fortunate to find the glasses among the household possessions sold after her death. They are lined up in my china cabinet today, a reminder of Luella.
      She died peacefully on December 23, 2007. Two days before, her helper called to cancel a lunch we had planned for that day. She had been to her doctor with her son and the possibility that she might have to move to a facility had been mentioned to her. She really needed more help by then, more than was possible at her home. She went to bed that afternoon and remained there, peaceful but with little communication, until she entered her last sleep two days later. Luella lived her life as she wished, and enhanced the lives of all who knew her.

"Luella Charlton", compiled by Virginia Green, 2001, 

"Lady of Three Centuries", Darlene Strozut, Northeast Senior News, Marion-Polk Edition, January 2000, page 21
"Centenarian keeps history alive", David Kravets, Statesman Journal, Salem, OR 1999

1 comment:

  1. I always love reading this! I miss you Great Grammy xoxo ~Devin