Thursday, October 13, 2005

Town's oldest resident turns 104

Published in the Current

SCARBOROUGH (Oct 13, 2005): When Blanche Cook’s 98-year-old brother needed someone to look out for him at his Brunswick home, she was the one the family sent.

Cook, who turns 104 Oct. 13, just got back from spending a few weeks up there with him.

During the visit, she and a friend who helps out her brother around the house went shopping, and watched a lot of baseball – including staying up to watch all 18 innings of the Astros-Braves marathon game Sunday night.

She also watched the Red Sox-White Sox series, in which she got to watch her favorite Red Sox player, Johnny Damon, strike out with the bases loaded in what ended up as the final game in the series.

“I felt so bad for him,” she said.

Cook is Scarborough’s oldest resident, and was honored just over a year ago with the presentation of the town’s Boston Post Cane. She is 11 years older than the next-oldest qualifying resident, Joe Lothrop, now 93, according to Town Clerk Yolande Justice.

Born in 1901 in Nashua, N.H., Cook said she is “really a Mainer” because she has lived in the state since she was 1 – longer than almost every other person now living in Maine.

She grew up in North Pownal and Pownal, where she still goes to a bean supper every Saturday night when visiting her brother. She would go in Scarborough, but at home she doesn't have anybody to go with.

“When we were young, we used to go fishing every single day in the summer on the Royal River,” catching pickerel.

The world has changed since then, because “things kept being invented” – like airplanes and radios. “My father had a Stanley Steamer,” an early steam-powered automobile.

“Now they got the computer,” she said. “A kid 5 years old would know more about that than I do.”

She was a teenager when the Red Sox won the World Series in 1918. Last year she watched all the games. In 1918, “I didn’t have anything to watch it on or hear it on.”

In the winter, she walks one lap around the Maine Mall most mornings, and this summer even walked to a nearby store and back, “until I got lazy,” she said.

Even sitting down, she is in constant motion, tapping her fingers and rocking back and forth in her chair. Some of her movements appear related to her hearing problem, as she leans in to hear conversation.

Age has also caught up with her eyes. “I write, but I can’t read it,” Cook said. She can see the baseball game if she gets really close to the television.

So, she listens to the radio a lot (Howie Carr and Rush Limbaugh are favorites).

“She’d be living by herself if she could,” said her daughter, Lorraine Libby, now in her 70s. “I think she’s sharp as a tack.”

Though Cook didn’t go very far in school – only a couple years of high school in New Gloucester – she was a hard worker, packing sardines and dipping chocolates.

“I learned at Haven’s,” Cook said, and later worked at Len Libby’s and then Libby’s Candies, both in Scarborough. It was at Libby’s Candies that Cook’s daughter Lorraine met her husband, Leonard K. Libby.

“She was quick at what she did,” said Lorraine Libby.

The family lived in South Portland – after Cook met her husband, John, at Redmond’s dance hall in Ferry Village – and left Meetinghouse Hill only after Lorraine graduated from high school.

The couple moved to Scarborough, where they bought three acres on Westwood Avenue, where they built a house and farmed the land, selling strawberries, raspberries, vegetables and flowers.

It is where she still lives, now also with Lorraine and Leonard.

Cook also used to work at the cafeterias at Scarborough High School and Scarborough Middle School. “When I stop to think, it’s further back than I realize,” she said. “You forget things. It’s so long ago.”

“She’s quite active,” Lorraine Libby said. Cook is often at local activities for senior citizens, as often as she can get a ride.

“I’m always on the go,” Cook said. She even went strawberry picking this summer.

“When she was in her early 90s, that was her bowling average” at the Big 20 lanes, Libby said. In candlepin bowling, that is a very good score.

Cook said she does not know why she has lived so long.

“There’s no secret. You’re just lucky – or unlucky,” she said, noting that nearly all of her family is gone, including her husband, who died 27 years ago, and three of her four siblings.

“When you get to my age, all your old friends are gone,” she said.

She does try to “stay away from doctors” but goes once a year because her daughter insists. “I don’t worry about much,” she said. “I don’t plan nothing.”

She expects her birthday celebration “won’t be very exciting” – just a small gathering with some cake for her and a younger friend who also has a birthday coming up.

She will approach it the same way she does most things: “Take it as it comes and be thankful for what you get.”