107 and ‘blessed’Published 7:31pm Saturday, November 24, 2012
By Stephen H. Cowles
Special to the News-Herald
To hear Mary Elizabeth Bingham tell it, work has been the defining feature of her life.
“God has blessed me to live a long while,” said Bingham, who turns 107 today. “If the Lord kept me here for some purpose, I don’t know what it is.”
A resident of Consulate Health Care in Windsor for five years, she’s labored on a farm, done domestic work and taken care of her mother, who lived to be 98.
“I worked all the time,” said Bingham.
Even in her 90s, she was still tilling her garden. Bingham lived at home until she was 102.
She’s never learned to drive a car, married or had children.
“No husband… I don’t want none either,” she emphasized with a noticeable rise in her voice.
Born in 1905 to Martha Wonder and Daniel Bingham in Surry County, Bingham was the oldest of five. Siblings Herman and Roxiana are deceased. Cora Lee Pleasant, 90, and Gracie Ann Mason, 93, continue to live in their mother’s home. Miss Bingham lived next door.
Pleasant and Mason have their own ideas for why their sister has lived so long.
“The goodness and mercy of God,” Pleasant said.
“Obedience to our parents and God,” Mason added.
“I knew how to do farm work,” Bingham said. “I used to plow with the mule. It was, ‘Mary, do this. Mary, do that. Mary, go yonder.’ I hated it.”
Bingham said there was no time for fun.
The only dancing allowed was at home, and the closest to any free time came on Sundays.
“Oh, I loved the church. I used to sing,” she recalled.
At 21, Bingham went to live with cousins in New York City, where she became a maid. Eventually living on her own, Bingham stayed there until the early 1970s, and only returned to help her mother. Bingham’s father died at 48.
Work — again — is all Bingham remembered of city life. But Harriet Smith, her legal guardian, said that in past years Bingham told of trips to the famed Apollo Theater, the zoo and other sites.
Smith is connected to Bingham through Smith’s late mother, Mozelle Taliaferro.
“My mother, who was two years older, was her good friend,” said Smith of Surry County.
Smith said that Bingham took some convincing to move into the nursing home.
“She loves it here now,” said Smith. “They call her ‘Grandma.’”
At 3:30 p.m. today, a choir from her home church of Lebanon Baptist will serenade Bingham and fellow residents, including Rose Graves, who will be 98 on Wednesday.