‘Ma’ Eller, 105, celebrates joys of a simple life
SALISBURY — Tuesday, July 9, was Mary “Ma” Eller’s 105th birthday.
On Saturday, at her birthday party at Millers Ferry Fire Department, she sat and smiled while friends and family shared refreshments and paid their respects.
Her daughter, Dot Graham, told a story that sums up her mom’s tenacity.
When Eller’s husband, passed away at 60, Graham said, “The doctor told us she might only live a few more years, without her husband to depend on.”
After all, they had been married for decades, and Eller didn’t even drive a car.
That was 45 years ago, Graham said.
“That just goes to show that doctors don’t know everything,” Dot said. “It’s in God’s hands, it’s not always in the doctor’s hands.”
The question of dates and years sparked a conversation among guests and family members about all the things “Ma” Eller has seen in her lifetime.
She was 3 1/2 years old when the Titanic sank.
During her lifetime, two World Wars were fought. Communism rose and fell in Russia. Humans learned to fly across continents and into outer space, and landed on the surface of the moon.
But Eller’s life story is a lot simpler. It’s the story of a woman who moved to Rowan County, married and had three daughters of whom two lived to adulthood.
For most of her life, until the age of 102, she lived by herself in a house her father-in-law had helped build.
Eller said she never wanted to leave the Ellis Crossroads area where she’s lived for so long.
“I just liked it down here,” Eller said.
She said there’s nothing special about her life, just good living.
“The Lord’s been so good to me,” Eller said.
Asked what advice she would give to young people, Eller said simply that they should have faith and love the Lord.
Those who’ve known “Ma” Eller throughout their lives say she’s a woman who knows how to laugh, who loves kids and knows how to smile.
Her great-granddaughter, Mallory Graham, used to spend summer days with Eller, who she calls Mawsie.
Graham, 24, said she and her cousin would play games with Eller — pretending to be waitresses, taking Mawsie’s “order” and delivering food.
Other times, they’d pretend to be doctors, with a little black “medical bag” with a play stethoscope and reflex hammer.
Mallory said that Mawsie was the perfect patient.
Dot Graham, Eller’s daughter, said her mother has been a longtime member of Trading Ford Baptist Church.
When she was younger, Eller helped with Vacation Bible School and other activities there, Graham said.
Today, Eller lives with her daughter Jean, right next to the house where she lived for 70 years.
Eller is thought to be the oldest living resident of Rowan County.
“I don’t know about the county, but she’s the oldest one at Trading Ford Church,” Dot said.
“She was good to us,” Graham said, recalling childhood with her sister, Jean.
The daughters recall Eller’s years of gardening, a job she kept doing until she neared her 100th birthday and wasn’t able to carry on.
On Saturdays, they would go into Salisbury to shop at the dime stores, especially Kress, Dot said.
Despite never having learned to drive, Eller has remained determined and self-sufficient.
Dot said her mother once refused to get a cane or walker by saying to her doctor, “A walking stick is for old people.”
“That was when she was 102,” Dot added.
At the same time, Jean said, “she told us to try to be nice to everybody.
“She didn’t send us to church, she brought us to church,” Dot said.
While guests enjoyed birthday cake, punch and other goodies, family friend Lelia Poole arrived.
She took out an old hymnal, and sang some of Eller’s favorite hymns: “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” and “When They Ring the Golden Bells for You and Me.”
Poole sang, while Eller smiled and listened.
“I love you, my lady!” Poole said at the end, “It’s been a privilege being with you today,” Poole said.
The drop-in party was a way for friends, family and fellow church-members to gather.
Joe and Sue Clark, of Salisbury, attend Emmanuel Baptist Church, where Dot sometimes brings Eller for services.
“I just feel blessed that I’m able to know somebody that’s 105 years old,” Joe Clark said.
On a nearby table, with cards and gifts, were two paper lanterns.
Mallory said those are one of the things her great-grandmother would make, along with strings of paper dolls.
After she helped Eller to cake and helped serve refreshments, Mallory said that these days, she’s glad to be able to sit and talk with her Mawsie.
“We’re going to get together and go through old pictures, sometime soon,” Mallory said.
“She’s just amazing. She doesn’t talk as much, but when she was younger, she used to tell me stories all the time.”
Her father, Wayne Graham, has similar memories.
“She used to keep me before I started school,” Wayne said.
“And she spoiled him rotten!” his mother, Dot, said.
Wayne recalls trips made with his grandparents to Sears in Charlotte, and elsewhere.
He admires his grandmother for having always lived “a clean life, and always being a good Christian.”
“She’s seen so much in her life,” Wayne Graham said, looking at his grandmother as she greeted friends and enjoyed her gifts.
“Life was a lot slower then. If things were like that now, things would be a lot better,” he said.
Contact Hugh Fisher via the editor’s desk at 704-797-4244.
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