County woman reflects on over a century of life
WESTFIELD, Maine — Viola Currie celebrated her 102nd birthday at Southern Acres Boarding House in Westfield on Thursday, May 10.
She was born in 1916 and has lived to see 18 U.S. presidents; the effects of two World Wars, the Korean and Vietnam conflicts and the most recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; and the inventions of radio, television, microwaves and the internet.
Currie considers her greatest accomplishments to be raising her four children largely on her own and living to see her 10 grandchildren, 20 great-grandchildren and 20 great-great-grandchildren.
She was one of 13 siblings during her childhood growing up in Oxbow. Although she has struggled with her memory in recent years, she still recalls attending a one-room schoolhouse during a time of year when many children today would not want to be stuck in a classroom.
“There was a schoolhouse to the east of where we lived and another to the west. We went to school in the summer because everyone walked or rode in carriages back then. During the winter a lot of the horses and carriages couldn’t get to people’s homes because the snow got so deep,” Currie recalled. “But we didn’t mind because that’s all we knew.”
Currie’s maternal grandparents came from Ireland while her paternal grandparents were from England. Her parents were farmers and the family moved to the town of Merrill in southern Aroostook County when she was around nine or 10 years old. The nearest hospital was in Presque Isle over an hour away and motor vehicles hardly ever travelled on the road where she and her family lived.
“I remember the first time my siblings and I saw a car, we were outside and a Buick came down the road. It wasn’t very big, but we thought it was huge. We got scared and ran into the house,” Currie said, laughing.
In 1932, Currie met her husband, Osborne, at a local dance when she was 16 and he was 36. They married several years later and moved to Masardis. Osborne was a veteran of World War I, during which he was injured after one of the planes he flew in got shot down. He suffered from both the physical effects of that accident and from being exposed to mustard gas. But it wasn’t until later in life that his circumstances took a turn for the worse.
While hunting in the woods one winter, Osborne Currie’s brother accidently shot him in the back of the head after mistaking him for a deer. As a doctor brought Osborne across the river on a snowsled — the only way to get to medical attention — the ice cracked behind them.
“I’ve heard that the only reason he survived was because of the cold temperatures and ice hitting him,” said Julie Michaud, Viola and Osborne Currie’s granddaughter, of Mapleton, who visited her grandmother at Southern Acres on May 10.
Osborne was brought to Togus VA Medical Center in Augusta, where he stayed for the remaining 10 years of his life due to disabilities that arose from the hunting accident and injuries sustained during the war. He died in 1958.
After Currie realized that her husband would not be able to come home, she was determined to provide for her four children — Martina, Marion, Sherman and Herschel — in any way she could. But one challenge came early on when the town manager of Ashland ordered Currie’s children be taken away from her based on the belief that a woman could not raise children on her own.
“There were four selectmen that came to my house and I told them, ‘I’m not talking to you,’” Currie said. “I had neighbors and friends from church who helped me because they knew I was a good mother. The head of the bank in town said he would call some people in Augusta to ‘get to the bottom of this.”
“A couple weeks later I got a call from him and he said, ‘No one will bother you anymore, or else we’ll call the sheriff,’” Currie continued. “I can’t remember who he spoke to, but I was able to get benefits from Togus for my children.”
Over the years, Currie worked at department stores such as Zayre and J.J. Newberry, the Ashland Nursing Home and Harold’s Restaurant in Ashland. She also earned extra money for her family through other jobs such as picking potatoes during the fall harvest season, selling mittens and socks that she knitted, and babysitting or cooking for neighbors.
“I didn’t think it was hard at the time because as a mother you do what you have to do to get by. It wasn’t until years later that I thought, ‘How did I ever do that?’” Currie said.
Currie gives much credit to her neighbors, who she said were always there to help if she needed a ride to work in Presque Isle or extra care for her children if she got sick. She said that people seemed friendlier to her back then than they do today and remembered a time when a church service held at her home took a funny turn thanks to one of her young sons.
“We had a cat and Herschel wanted it to sit on his lap, but it got up and hid behind the couch. Then the cat crawled underneath the stove and Herschel, who was only a year-and-a-half then got him by the tail and pulled him out,” Currie said. “Everybody laughed so hard. The pastor said that that was the best service he ever had.” Herschel later served in the Vietnam war. He died of cancer five years ago.
In recent years, Currie’s health has taken a turn for the worse and she is now unable to live on her own due to frequent falls and problems with her heart. But she is glad she was able to stay independent for so long, noting on May 10 that she had only been living at Southern Acres for a few weeks after a short stay in the hospital.
“I never smoked or drank, so that might have something to do with it,” Currie said, when asked about why she thinks she has lived such a long, healthy life. “I get tired more easily now, but I don’t complain.”
“It’s been rugged,” she said, about her life. “But I think that’s what makes a person who they are.”