Bryant woman’s memories cover more than a century

By Wayne Bryan Published February 2, 2014 at 12:00 a.m.
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PHOTO BY: Rusty Hubbard

Viola “Dutch” Cowling blows out the candles on her birthday cake at her 104th birthday party Jan. 25 at the Mount Carmel Community senior living center in Bryant. Her party was held on a Saturday, three days before her actual birthday, so multiple generations of her family could attend.

BRYANT — The big moment of the party on Jan. 25 came when it was time for Viola “Dutch” Cowling to blow out her birthday candles. The number of flames had been reduced to three, but she still needed help from her great-grandchildren; but it was not a bad effort for someone who is 104.

While she enjoyed having family members gathered at the Mount Carmel Community senior living center in Bryant, she said she has never liked the idea of a party, especially since she hit the 100 mark four years ago.

“I don’t do those froufrou things,” she said before the party.

She lived for 94 years in an old farmhouse east of Nashville, Ark., where she was born on Jan. 28, 1910. Crowley said she has had a simple life and doesn’t like the fuss and fancy of her annual party and the attention it brings.

Her son, Harvey “Curly” Cowling, said his mother always says she doesn’t want the party, but she also makes sure one guest is always invited.

“One of my buddies comes and plays the guitar for her every

year,” Curly said. “Every year, she tells him to keep practicing so he can come next year. She just doesn’t want anybody to make a big do over her.”

Her descendents have always been amused by Cowling’s reserve and her desire to keep things simple.

“If one of the youngsters says, ‘I love you,’” Curly said, “she’ll reply, ‘I think I like you a little bit, too.’”

Some of the great-grandchildren call her GG or Granny G. Curly said that not only stands for great-grandmother, but Granny Grump — a title she seems to enjoy.

Cowling said being 104 doesn’t feel much different than she did when the family celebrated her 100th birthday.

“Of course, I don’t know how being 104 is supposed to feel,” she said.

She has the same low-key tone when it comes to her condition, even when talking about why she is now in assisted living and in a wheelchair.

“I broke a hip, and then an infection set in,” she said. “I must have enjoyed that so much I broke it again 10 years ago.”

Curly said his mother broke her hip when she was alone in her house, and she was saved by her mail carrier.

“We had one carrier around the area, and she knew my mother had been hurt,” Curly said. “First the carrier moved the mailbox to the front of the porch, and then it went on the wall of the house beside the door. Eventually, the carrier would just come in the door and hand Granny the mail.”

On the day Cowling fell, the mail carrier came in the house with the mail and found her on the floor.

“She called me and the ambulance, and then called the post office,” Curly said. “The post mistress closed the post office and came to the house so she could stay with my mother until the ambulance arrived, and the carrier could go on with her route. Can you imagine that?”

One thing that remains strong for Cowling is her century of memories. She remembers how she gained the nickname Dutch which she still uses more than 100 years later.

“When I was a baby, my father would talk to me, and I would mumble with baby talk,” she said. “He would laugh and say I sounded like a Dutchman, so he started calling me Dutch and I guess everybody did, too, in a little while.”

Asked about one of her earliest memories, Cowling thought back to when she was around 4 years old.

“I heard something coming up the road,” she said. “I had never heard anything like that, and I went outside to the porch.”

From there she got her first sight of an automobile.

“It was a big car with the canvas roof pulled back,” she said. “I remember seeing the white sleeve of the driver as it went by.”

Only eight years after seeing her first motor vehicle, she was driving one.

“I have been driving since I was 12,” Cowling said. “I drove the big old 1922 Buick we had. My father didn’t drive, so I was driving after my two brothers got out of the house.”

A good driving record is still an issue of pride for Cowling.

“I was driving for more than 90 years,” she said. “I never got a ticket or had an accident.”

However, Cowling knew when it was time for her to stop driving.

“I drove to the grocery store, and when I got back, I realized that was one of the stupidest things I had ever done,” she said. “I knew I was getting too old, and I had had enough.”

Cowling tells of going to school in a one-room schoolhouse through the eighth grade. After that, she went to a school four miles down the road for two more years.

“After that my father got sick, and I stayed home,” she said.

After her father died, she and her mother worked the farm with the help of neighbors. One of those neighbors was Lester Luck Cowling, who was hired to do the hard work around the farm.

“His daddy said he lost his best worker when I married him,” Dutch Cowling said. “We were happy together for 53 years.”

The couple had a very self-sufficient farm, Cowling said.

“We raised cotton, corn and cucumbers,” she said. “We had a contract with a pickle company for years.

“I had a garden and raised all the food we ate. There were no tin cans around our house.”

After her husband’s death, she stayed by herself on the family farm, in the house that was built before the Civil War.

“It was a big house with most of the rooms 18 feet square with 10-foot ceilings,” Cowling said. “You could never get that place heated; it all went to the ceiling.”

She said she was alone, but never lonely. To pass the time, she read.

“I love Western and romance books,” she said. “My favorite is Gone with the Wind. I have read it twice.”

Even after she moved to Bryant to be near her son, Curly, after she fell, she filled her hours with reading.

“She used to check out three books a week from the the library,” he said. “We got her a big magnifier-reader to help, but she really can’t see well enough now.”

Asked about the secret of her long life, she admits she has no idea.

“It is not that we had a long-living family,” Cowling said. “Both my parents died young. They were 58 and 65 years old.”

Curly said his great-grandmother did live into her 90s, so there are some long lives in her family background.

When Cowling turned 100, she was asked then for the secret of her longevity.

“Country living, climbing trees and riding cows,” she replied.

Staff writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at (501) 244-4460 or at wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

Tri-Lakes Edition Writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at 501-244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

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