At 108, she’s writing a memoir and taking life as it comes


The secret to her long life? Celery and living with no regrets. Photo: Unsplash

Harriet Harley’s secret to a long life was eating celery every day. Now, on her 108th birthday, she said the secret isn’t much of a secret at all.

“You just take it one day at a time,” she said.

Born in 1913 in Keokuk County, Iowa in the United States, Harley lived alone at home in Bettendorf until she moved into assisted living in 2018 at age 105. Her apartment was filled with photos, flowers and one unique chocolate-bar bouquet.

Up until she turned 100, the Oaks Community Church would send Harley 100 red roses. After that milestone they started sending an additional white rose for every year past 100. A couple of years ago she mentioned how many flowers she had to find a spot for, so they started sending a bouquet of 100 chocolate candies instead, along with the white roses.

Harley doesn’t eat any herself though.

“I don’t care for chocolate,” she said.

During the Covid-19 pandemic Harley didn’t get to do much, but she was able to see some family while masked and distanced for her birthday.

She still receives cards and letters from family and old friends, including three men she taught as boys in a rural, one-room school house in the 1930s. They’re all over 80 years old now, but she still trades letters with them.

One boy asked her to marry him while she taught, after helping get a library book and carrying him by the suspenders.

“He said, ‘I was heavy, wasn’t I? Do you know that in 20 years I’m going to marry you?’” she said, still remembering almost 90 years later.

Her favorite birthday present this year was her great-great grandson, who was born in December 2020.

Staff at The Fountains Senior Living keep her pretty occupied, with games and church services. She’ll also hang out with friends, which make up almost the entire resident population, she said with a laugh.

“There’s not too many I don’t know,” Harley said.

She used to enjoy sewing and knitting, her daughter, Sandra Harley Carey, said. She would make skirts and sweaters for her two daughters until they were in third grade, putting in details like embroidery on the sleeves.

“We always had the nicest clothes of anybody because she made them,” Carey said.

However, the thing she’s enjoyed doing most her entire life has trying to be a good mother.

Harley doesn’t have any regrets, though if she could have done it all over again she would have tried to travel more. She’s been to many European and Southeast Asian countries, as well as Canada.

Since 2016 Harley has been writing a memoir, getting things down on paper as she remembers them. She’s not sure if she’ll ever be able to finish it, but she has yet to write anything down that she wishes she didn’t have to.

“Like all of us I’d probably do things a little differently, but I can’t think of anything I really, really regret,” she said. – Quad City Times, Davenport/Tribune News Service

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