Nell Rice celebrates 100th Thanksgiving
Nell Flack Rice admires her doctors so much, she keeps photographs of them.
She has a framed portrait of the late Dr. Glenn Frye, who delivered all three of her babies.
There’s a snapshot of her with the late Dr. John Blount, who diagnosed her pernicious anemia.
She has a photo of Dr. Richard Martin, taken at the party for her 92nd birthday. He operated on her stomach.
And recently she added a photo of Dr. Tom Ginn, making a house call to check on his 100-year-old patient. Daughter Pat Whitley points out that she’s outlived several of her doctors.
As her 100th Thanksgiving rolls around, Nell Rice is grateful for family, friends, physicians and countless other people who helped her reach this milestone.
“I never expected to be here this long,” she says.
What’s the secret to a long life? Why does she think she has lived so long?
” ‘Cause they couldn’t get rid of me, I guess.”
High on her list for Thanksgiving are her twin daughters. Six years ago she moved from Conover to Salisbury to live in Forest Hills with Pat, who teaches teacher education at Catawba College.
Peggy Sherrill, Pat’s twin, stays with them during the week, while Pat teaches, and returns to her home in Asheboro on weekends.
Their brother, Jim, recently moved into the family homeplace in Conover, and Nell is thankful for that. Unfortunately, Jim’s wife died just days after the move.
And then the list gets into grandchildren and great-grandchildren and the people at Hospice and Palliative Care on Klumac Road who help take care of her.
Her blood pressure dropped last week, which prompted closer care and a hospital bed in the house. In the photo of her lying in that bed, talking to Ginn, she looks frail.
But she can still get around with a walker. And on this day, she is seated in a chair in Pat’s den, leaning forward to hear questions and sitting back to share her life story, which jumps around here and there.
In the last three years, she says, she’s been forgetting things. “I’m very short-minded. I’ll start a story and get off on another subject.”
That’s true. But you accumulate a lot of stories in 100 years.
Her life stretches back to Oct. 27, 1909. She grew up in Rutherfordton and McDowell County, she says. Her parents had had three boys who all died young, before she was born ó two in one month from a fever, she says.
A group portrait of the boys, based on separate portraits, hangs on the wall now.
Though her mother and father parted ways and he remarried, she describes a happy childhood. A half-brother and half-sister came along. She remembers being close to her family and playing with her cousins ó hide and seek, jump rope, softball. “I couldn’t pitch,” she remembers.
She met her husband, Oscar, when she “went uptown one night.”
She remembers anticipating the birth of their first child. “I was so afraid the night Jim was born that Dr. Frye wouldn’t be there,” she says. But he was, and everything went fine.
When she was pregnant again five years later, she told the doctor that she must be having twins.
“They’re all the time kicking each other around,” she remembers telling him. “They moved around so much.”
No one believed her until they arrived ó Peggy first and Pat five minutes later.
“She kicked me out,” Peggy says. “Said I ate too much.”
While raising three children, Nell and Oscar Rice ran Rice’s Upholstery. She kept the books and was the seamstress.
“Didn’t you know I had a good mother-in-law?” Nell says. “She helped me raise the children.”
Later in the conversation, she pauses.
“Isn’t there too much to be thankful for? A good life, good children, good family …
“I never had any trouble from any of them.”
Son Jim says their parents taught them to have a strong work ethic and to believe in putting in a hard days’s work for their pay. “They didn’t say it,” Jim says, “but they did it themselves.”
Nell could make anything, according to her daughters, including draperies, dolls, quilts, baskets, clothes ó though Nell says she didn’t have much time to sew clothes.
But she remembers the cute little dress she saw at Spainhours. She wanted two of them, since she was dressing the twins alike. There was only one, but she got around that.
“He let me borrow it and take it home,” she says, referring to the store owner. She made two just like it and returned the dress.
“She could talk Mr. Spainhour into anything,” Peggy says.
Though she wasn’t much of a student herself, Nell was strict about her children’s education. When Peggy and Pat got to highschool, she wanted them to take more courses instead of study hall.
“She made us take French, Spanish and shorthand,” Peggy says.
And she and Oscar made sure all three children got a college education. Peggy is a teacher. Jim is an entrepreneur.
Though their house was in town, they had a big garden and several fruit trees ó apple, peach, pear ó plus grapevines and pecan trees.
“I used to can a lot,” Nell says.
Pat says her mother canned 1,200 jars of vegetables in 1996. After that, she gave away her jars.
Jim found some of those canned vegetables when he moved into the homeplace ó still as fresh looking as the day they were canned, Pat says.
Oscar died in 1986 of congestive heart failure. He and Nell had been married 52 years.
She doesn’t say much about the years between then and when she moved to Salisbury six years ago. There was a bus trip to California to visit her brother. Probably too many things to mention.
She stayed very active until just a few years ago, Jim says. As long as she could.
Now she has round-the-clock daughters, and she does not take that for granted.
Pat recently retired and teaches only part-time. “I know it’s my fault,” Nell says.
And Peggy stays on the go helping to take care of her and being involved with her own children and grandchildren.
“I didn’t come over here to stay, but I’m here,” Nell says. “The people are so nice. … I felt like I’ve known them for years.”
She has counted 17 friends gone now, passed away, including her across-the-street neighbor in Conover who died this year.
But she has made new friends here, and she enjoys watching preachers on TV and being with her daughters.
Peggy brings out some of the angels her mother collects, along with crosses.
Nell has her favorite foods, too. She eats a lot of chicken breasts, she says, and confides she’s “kind of getting tired of it.”
But she has high praise for the meatloaf that friend Judy Johnson brings over now and then.
Pat mentions that Betty Chester, a nurse who lives nearby, comes over to give Nell shots of B12 every three weeks for her anemia.
Peggy shares some information she’s written out for her mother. For the record, grandchildren include Andy, Jeff and Brad Rice, Kim Sherrill Cothran and Christy Sherrill Joyce.
Great-grandchildren are Drew, Katherine and Will Rice; Jackson and Ben Rice; Sarah Rice; Meade Reamy; Brayden Joyce.
And grateful is the entire family for Nell Flack Rice and the fact that she’s still with them.
They’ll gather at Pat’s house ó expect lots of cars on Roundknob Avenue. Their ages will range from Nell’s 100 years to a great-grandchild who is 5 months old.
“Certainly,” Jim says, “this is a time to be thankful.”
*Correction: Doctor Dick Martin was referred to in the original version of this story as “the late Dr. Dick Martin”. Dr. Martin is alive and well. We regret the error. Our sincerest apologies to Dr. Martin.
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