It’s not often that someone lives to celebrate a 107th birthday, but long-time Halifax County resident Katherine McCargo did just that on Thursday at Sentara Woodview nursing home.
Although family members said her health has declined recently, that did not stop her from getting all dressed up for the momentous occasion last week and enjoying the company of friends and family who came in all day long.
Her immediate family joined her in the celebration after they got off work making her birthday a fun-filled day.
She may not have felt well enough to actually get out of bed on Thursday, but that didn’t stop her loved ones from bringing her 107th birthday party celebration to her room.
The centenarian was born Aug. 8, 1912 to Scott and Polly McCargo. She had one sister that was much older.
Her parents owned a farm in the Dryburg community, and as a child, McCargo had to grow up fast taking over many responsibilities of the household after her mom passed away when she was only 8.
McCargo remembers working in tobacco fields, picking up fire chips, gathering firewood, feeding the pigs and milking cows — all a part of her daily chores as a child.
She remembers cooking her first meal consisting of bread and fat back at age 9. Her father had been doing all the cooking, but that particular day he stayed out too long, and she was hungry.
“I went in there and got me some flour, some lard and some milk and made me some bread and fried me some meat and ate me some supper,” McCargo said.
Her father said the food was good, but he told her she needed to ease up on the lard in the bread.
She was the cook of the household from then on.
McCargo attended Dryburg School until she dropped out in her teen years to go to work.
She began cleaning and cooking at people’s houses, and she worked a stint at a restaurant and bus stop in Clover.
In 1940, McCargo began working in Winchester, New York, cooking and cleaning houses. She would leave in the spring and summer and return home for the fall to help with the tobacco.
McCargo recalls the great flood of 1941, which took place before her second work stint in New York.
“Everything was shut down,” she said. She recalled that her church was scheduled to have revival that week, but it was cancelled due to the flood.
According to McCargo, the entire county was covered in water, and she had to take a detour through Lynchburg in order to make it back to New York.
City life was not for her though, she confessed. She never liked the big city and came back to Halifax after six months to tend to her father who had become ill.
He died Dec. 7, 1941.
“He died the same morning they bombed Pearl Harbor,” she said.
She remembers Jeffress Funeral Home handling the funeral arrangements and even coming to her home to embalm her father.
His body lay in the house until the funeral.
“I was scared,” McCargo said of her experience living in a house with her deceased father.
Before her father died, he asked family relative George Coleman to look after her. So, she moved in with Coleman and his wife, Fannie, and referred to Fannie as her foster sister.
McCargo had been working as a cook for a C.C. Camp at Staunton River State Park until the bombing of Pearl Harbor when a majority of the camp’s workers went into active duty.
Following her stint at the park, she became a live-in housekeeper for Lester and Nelly Slayton. She would stay with the Slaytons during the week and stay with the Colemans on the weekends.
She remained employed with the Slaytons until her retirement in the late 1970s.
After her retirement, she continued to do what she did best, taking care of people.
She looked after Fannie’s mother until the time of her death, and then became the primary babysitter for all of her nieces and nephews.
She later became the caretaker of a wheelchair-bound Fannie until she was admitted into Woodview Nursing Home.
McCargo moved into the same nursing home 11 years ago.
McCargo said the decision to come to Woodview wasn’t a hard one, but “it was the best choice” although family members had offered to take care of her.
McCargo said she is grateful to God for allowing her to experience a milestone few live to see — 107 years of life on this Earth — and the opportunity to experience all the changes in technology over the years.
She recalls walking or riding the buggy to get around before cars became popular.
“It was like riding in a buggy. I didn’t see no difference,” McCargo said of her first car ride.
She never learned to drive.
“I was scared,” she said.
McCargo said when she was a little girl she never would have imagined a world with TV, radio, indoor plumbing and electricity.
“It felt mighty good,” McCargo said when asked her feelings about her first experience with some of these inventions.
She said for the longest time all they had was a Victrola for their musical entertainment until the radio came out, then after a while the TV came out.
“I thought it was something wonderful,” she said.
She didn’t have running water in her home growing up and recalls having to “tote water from the spring.”
Neither did she have electricity or central air conditioning in her home while growing up. Cool air then was just fanning with a piece of paper or a tree branch, she said.
And she remembers having to cook on a wood stove before gas and electrical stoves were invented.
Although she said she had what she described as “a hard, rough life,” it also was a “nice life.”
Though times may have been harder back then, she said she appreciates those experiences because it permits her to enjoy the present with its conveniences even more.
She also recalls the many things she has seen change through the decades she has lived in small town South Boston.
“Stores have gone out of business, ain’t nothing like it used to be,” said McCargo.
“Roses, Leggett’s…you use to could go sit, meet and talk with your friends, ones you hadn’t seen in a while. Things have changed so much now from the way they were then,” she added.
McCargo always enjoyed hanging out and talking with the older crowd even when she was younger. Of course, she had her younger friends too.
Her advice to the younger generations is, “trust the Lord and keep going to church. Be nice and don’t be nasty to people.”
She said it seems to her people are terrible to each other these days, and when given the chance she tries to just pass them on by.
For someone who never thought she’d live to see the day she would retire, McCargo has had quite a busy summer leading up to her 107th birthday on Thursday.
According to her niece, Maxine Coleman, on July 6 she was the grand maid of honor in her great-great-niece’s wedding.
She also attended homecoming service at her church – Spanish Grove Baptist Church in Scottsburg.
And on July 14 she proudly represented her family as the oldest member attending the family reunion.
Although she has never married and had biological children of her own, she has spent her entire life — all 107 years of it — taking care of someone.
“I spent my whole life taking care of everyone else, young and old,” said McCargo.
She has spent a better part of her life helping raise children including her nieces, nephews, their children and others, even some elderly friends and family members.
“Her life has certainly been one of service,” added her niece. “Our family cannot begin to express how much we love, honor and appreciate this queen who is God’s special gift to us.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE: A portion of this story includes material gleaned from previous interviews conducted with Katherine McCargo.)