Elizabeth Hawks is member of a select group — and she in fact might be the only member of that group, at least in these parts.
First, she is 106 years old, having marked that occasion last Saturday with the help of a well-attended birthday party at her home in the Pine Ridge community.
Secondly, Mrs. Hawks enjoys great health for a person her age, accompanied by a razor-sharp memory that enables her to easily recall times long ago where there were no automobiles in Surry County or homes with electricity — much less television, computers or cell phones.
To top it all off, she regularly votes in elections — while enjoying the distinction of being the county’s oldest-registered voter — and has an awesome sense of humor for someone who’s 106.
“Well, I don’t feel that old,” Mrs. Hawks said during an interview several days ago. “I don’t even feel like I’m 100 years old.”
When asked to choose an age that might be more accurate, she replied, “I don’t know — about 80, I guess.” As one might expect, Elizabeth Hawk does visit her doctor from time to time, but it’s usually to check on his welfare rather than hers.
“I tell him I have to go see how the doctor is, ‘cause I’m not sick,” she joked. “He don’t find nothing wrong with me.”
Not bad for someone who’s lived from the horse-and-wagon era through two world wars, the Great Depression, 18 U.S. presidents and numerous other challenging times spanning two centuries.
“Yeah, there’s been a lot of changes,” the 106-year-old agreed.
Elizabeth Hawks was born on June 27, 1909, in the Red Brush community, one of 11 children of Sam and Drucilla Seal.
“And I’ve lived in Surry County all my life and I’ve lived on a farm all my life and I loved it,” Mrs. Hawks said.
“I was the 11th child,” she added. Other family members besides her have had long lives. Although Mrs. Hawks is the last-surviving member of her immediate family, the youngest sibling, a sister, died in 2013 about two weeks shy of her 101st birthday.
Mrs. Hawks’ mother also lived to be 100 and her father, 97. Her grandfather on her mom’s side, Newell McHone, died at age 102.
“We never had any modern conveniences,” Mrs. Hawks recalled of her early years growing up in Surry, which included her dad farming the old-fashioned way without tractors or other mechanized equipment.
“He loved horses and he tended the land with horses until he was 90 years old.”
“I grew up in Antioch Church,” Mrs. Hawks said of her longtime association with the church on N.C. 89, where she’s been a member for 92 years and still attends regularly. “I’ve not missed but a few Sundays,” she added proudly. “I was baptized when I was 14 years old.”
Her family rode to services in a wagon pulled by two horses in those days before cars were prevalent. Mrs. Hawks’ parents “put hay down and put a quilt on it” on which the children rode.
Among Mrs. Hawks’ vivid memories was seeing an automobile for the first time, which was driven by Ben Taylor, a prominent local man who many people know from his ownership of Taylor’s Garage, a longtime local business.
“That car was making so much noise that I climbed up on the bank until it went by,” she said. “The first cars that came about, they made the most noise and you had to crank them in front.”
While her father didn’t have one of the newfangled conveyances, he sometimes got the last laugh in the matter. The roads in those days were horrible and cars would get stuck in mudholes, with her dad called upon to pull the vehicles out with his horses.
“Things like that you don’t forget,” she said.
“I had two brothers in World War I,” Mrs. Hawks also said of those early days. “One of them (Luther Seal) got gassed. He was the forerunner for his company — he had to run ahead and see if everything was safe.” Luther was wearing a gas mask at the time, but still found himself in a treatment facility.
“We didn’t hear from him for three or four months,” Mrs. Hawks said. “And we finally got a letter from a nurse.”
Woodrow Wilson, who was president then, is the nation’s first chief executive that Mrs. Hawks has knowledge of, though she was born during the presidency of William H. Taft, Wilson’s predecessor.
Mrs. Hawks can remember her first foray into public education at age 10, attending a proverbial one-room schoolhouse near Antioch Church.
“An elderly man was the teacher, and he had 70-some students he taught from the first grade to the seventh.” Another room subsequently was added to the school to allow that situation to be better accommodated.
The youngster later migrated to another campus.
“When Beulah School was built, I was in the first graduating class,” Mrs. Hawks said of its Class of 1931.
Although it was a new campus, there were some drawbacks in those fledgling times.
The school was not equipped with electricity. “We didn’t even have water, we didn’t have bathrooms — they were outside.” There was a well and a pump, and even less at first. “When the school opened up, they got water from a neighbor’s home,” Mrs. Hawks continued.
She regularly attends Beulah School reunions, including the latest one last fall, and also recently has spoken to modern students about the good old days.
After high school, the young woman wanted to become a nurse. “But it was hard times,” Mrs. Hawks said of the Great Depression that was in full swing during the 1930s.
She fulfilled her nursing desire by sometimes doctoring the families of brothers and sisters who had gotten married and moved away, including helping deliver babies.
Her main occupation outside the home was working at Quality Mills.
Mrs. Hawks got her first automobile in the late 1930s. “It was a big old Dodge car,” one she thoroughly enjoyed driving. “I was a little afraid when I first started driving — I didn’t know much about a car.”
Being a motorist was a relatively inexpensive proposition in those days.
“When I got my first license,” Mrs. Hawks observed, “they cost a dollar.”
Most folks today can’t remember a time without television, but Elizabeth Hawks does. Yet her family’s first instrument of communication with the outside world was a radio.
“And you had to get up close to the radio then to understand it,” she said.
When TV did come along, only a few folks in the area had sets, which would draw crowds of curious neighbors in to watch, especially on Saturday nights.
In later years, of course, have come new technological developments such as smartphones, which Mrs. Hawks’ only child, Nancy McPeak, said have been a fascination to her mother.
“She told me one day, ‘I don’t see how these little things hold as much as they do.’”
Mrs. Hawks always loved to sew and was reputed to be an excellent seamstress, including making her own clothes, and a quilter. The latter stemmed from her childhood, when the only heat in her family’s house was a central fireplace, and those in outlying rooms had to rely on quilts to stay warm at night.
Her sewing abilities have been undermined in recent years by her declining eyesight, which also diminished two other favorite capabilities, writing letters and cards to relatives and friends and hopping into the car to visit neighbors.
“And she genuinely cares for people,” her daughter Nancy said, praising the “excellent” attitude her mother possesses.
“Not being able to read and not being able to drive is two of my biggest problems,” Mrs. Hawks mused. “I try to not worry about things I can’t do anything about.”
Elizabeth Hawks has become somewhat of a celebrity due to her long life, which included special recognition from the Surry County Board of Commissioners earlier this year.
She was puzzled by the request to come to Dobson for a meeting of the board. “I said, ‘What do they want me to meet with them for?’” Mrs. Hawks said, jokingly thinking county officials might have wanted her for political purposes, “to put my hat in the ring to run for some kind of office.”
Mrs. Hawks married her husband Clarence around 1940, a union that would last until his death in 2002. He served in the Panama Canal Zone during World War II and later worked for the state highway department.
In addition to her daughter, who was born in 1950, Mrs. Hawks has two grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
Some of her family members live close by, which she says is a big help to her.
In discussing her longevity, Elizabeth Hawks credits being active all during her life as a factor along with a good diet. She raised a garden for decades and just two years ago canned more than 100 jars of fruits and vegetables before deciding to give up that activity.
“I said, ‘I’ll hang up my hoe this year,”’ Mrs. Hawks said of her 2013 decision.
Aside from dietary considerations, she credits her faith for allowing her to be around for 106 years and counting.
“It’s no secret what God can do,” said Mrs. Hawks, who has no other firm explanations for why she has been able to live so long.
“I didn’t think about getting old — I’ve always just lived a day at a time and enjoyed living.”
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.