Thursday, September 22, 2016

Two Centenarians in My Family

Because it's International Centenarians Day I'd like to honor two family members who lived past the age of 100.  They are no longer living, of course, but no matter how you look at it, 100-plus years is a long time to live and worthy of remembrance.

Mina, Minnie, Wilhelmina Meinzen Harris
The first honoree is Elizabeth Wilhelmina Meinzen Harris.  In her younger years she was known as Mina, Minnie, or Wilhelmina (as recorded on various records).  About the time of World War I, when it seems no one had to go through any legal process to change a given name, she became Elizabeth W. Harris.  We called her Aunt Mina.  She was my paternal grandfather's sister.

I knew Aunt Mina from occasional visits to her home and her visits to my grandparents' home.  She seemed a stern aunt when I was a child in the middle of the last century.  She was a precise, accurate, children-should-be-seen-and-not-heard, and children-should-speak-when-spoken-to kind of aunt.  My mom's sister recalls that Aunt Mina had an excellent memory (could recite the alphabet backward, could name and give dates for relatives and ancestors' births and deaths), and could sew practically anything.  Mina married George K. Harris in 1910.  They had five children before George died of scarlet fever on December 15, 1926.  She carried on alone, working from home, providing for her family, and raising her children to adulthood.  Her stern, non-nonsense demeanor was, perhaps, both a sign of the times and necessitated by being a widow with five children earning an income in the early part of the 20th century.

Aunt Mina was born on January 26, 1885, and died on March 14, 1986.  Aunt Mina's memory never failed her.

Brendice Gerner Davis
I'd also like to honor Brendice Kathryn Gerner Davis, my paternal grandmother's youngest sister.  Brendice was to be my grandmother Beulah's helper after my father's and his sister's births but Beulah and Dad's sister both died soon after his birth.  Our family didn't have much association with the Gerner side of the family because of my grandmother's death.  It's not that ties are broken with the death of a mother but perhaps they are loosened a little and there is less contact with grandchildren and a widowed son-in-law. 

However, there had been enough contact for my father to receive help from Brendice and her husband after he left home.  Brendice's husband, Ray, helped my father get a job and I understand that Dad lived with them for a short while.  We visited Brendice and her family occasionally during my childhood years.  She also seemed a no-nonsense kind of person.

Brendice was born on October 9, 1895, and died on March 3, 1996.

When I think of these two aunts, born ten years apart in the late 1800s, I can't help but think about the changes they saw in the world around them during their lifetimes.  Riding in horse-pulled buggies and railroad cars was probably the norm when they were young.  Kitchen duties may have involved baking bread in wood-burning stoves, hauling water from a well outside the door, and, of course, doing dishes by hand.  By the time they died, people were speeding along the interstates in air-conditioned automobiles or flying to their destinations.  Store-bought bread was the norm, as was indoor plumbing and dishwashers.  How times change over 100 years. 

Just for fun I compiled a list of some inventions they saw during their lifetimes.  Invention dates do not indicate that the inventions were in use or available at reasonable prices.  It often took years for inventions to filter into common use.

Work Around the Home
Zipper, 1891
Gasoline-powered vacuum cleaner, 1899
Electric vacuum cleaner, 1901
Electric washing machine, 1906
Upright vacuum cleaner, 1907
Microwave oven, 1947

Coca-Cola, 1886
Cotton candy, 1897
Frozen food, 1924
M&Ms, 1941
Fast food (McDonald's, White Castle, Wendy's, etc.), 1950s

Telephone, 1876
World Wide Web, 1989

Camera simple, all-purpose, fixed-focus camera, 1888
Basketball, 1891
Motion pictures, 1893
Radio (first practical system of wireless telegraphy), 1895
Tape recorder (magnetic steel tape), 1899
Radio, first long-distance telegraphic radio signal sent across the Atlantic, 1901
Crayola Crayons, 1903
Radio, regenerative circuit, allowing long-distance sound reception, 1912
Motion pictures with sound, 1926
Television, first all-electric television image, 1927
FM Radio, 1933
Kodachrome commercial photographic film with three emulsion layers, 1935
Polaroid Land camera, 1948
Color television, 1951, 1953
Compact disk, 1972
VCR and VHS home videotape systems, 1975

Automobile, various kinds, 1885-1892
Airplane, 1903
Tank, military, 1914
Car radio, 1929
Helicopter, double rotor, 1936
Jet propulsion engine, 1936
Helicopter, single rotor, 1939
Jet propulsion aircraft, 1939
Seat belts in cars, 1962

Office Supplies and Equipment
Ball point pen for marking on rough surfaces, 1888
Paper clip, 1899-1901
"Scotch" tape, 1929
Xerography, 1938
Ball point pen for handwriting, 1944
Electronic mail, 1972

Medicine, Health, and Personal Care
X-rays, 1895
Aspirin, 1899
Safety razor successfully marketed, 1901
Insulin first isolated, 1921
Discovery of penicillin, the first modern antibiotic, 1928
Electric razor, 1928, 1931
Sulfa drugs for antibacterial activity, 1935
Measles vaccine, 1953
Polio vaccine, 1952; safe oral live-virus vaccine, 1954;  officially approved, 1955
Heart, temporary artificial, 1957
Pacemaker (internal), 1957
Heart implanted in human, permanent artificial, 1982

Modern Conveniences
Escalator, 1891
Air conditioning, 1911
Aerosol can, 1926
Bar codes, 1970
Personal computer, 1976

Major Events
First man in flight
World War I
World War II
Nuclear bomb
Man on the moon, 1969

Revolving door, 1888
Electric motor with alternating current, 1892
Bakelite, first completely synthetic plastic, 1910
Radar (first practical radar-radio detection and ranging), 1934-1935
Teflon, 1943

In the case of these aunts I suppose the most life-changing inventions/discoveries would have been the ones they used regularly in the home, such as electric vacuums, washers, dryers, fans, etc.; for transportation, especially automobiles; and in the areas of health care, vaccines, and medications to control pain, infection, and improve health in general.

If I should happen to live 100 years I wonder what the list my descendants would compile might look like.  One hundred years seems like a very long time.


Copyright ©2016 Nancy Messier. All Rights Reserved.


  1. Cool post! It's neat to see all the changes that happened in their lifetimes.

    1. Thanks, Brenna. It really is amazing to me the changes that happen over 100 years -- and to live through them! Whew!

  2. Nancy, I'm glad John chose this as one of his favorite posts this week. I loved reading about the inventions, especially since I was discussing this same thing the other day to a almost 101 yr. old. She is my brother-in-law's mother, who is in a nursing home just 4 miles away. So, I visit her every week, hear the same complaints, but it's enjoyable. She is upset because her g-granddaughter is getting married next month, and it's not in a church! I spent a good deal of time telling her how things have changed...she still is clear in her thinking, but somethings upset her. I'm printing out your list and will ask her about some of these items. Thanks!

    1. Thanks, Barbara. How interesting that you know and visit with a 101-year-old who is lucid, alert, and willing to share her memories. I envy you.

      People do seem to hang on to "the old ways" as they grow older. (I'm not near 101 but I've noticed that there are some old ways I think are better than new ways. Ha!)

      You'll have to add another 20 years or so to the list to be up-to-date with her age but then, you and she both probably remember many of the inventions of those years . It will be interesting to see what she remembers.


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