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Local women celebrating life at 102-years-old

By Laura McMillan

Spending all day weeding the garden is a chore for most people under the age of 30. Eva Mae Fuller is not most people, and she is not under 30. For her, weeding was a beloved all day event until the age of 96 according to her daughter, Marjorie Fuller Cato, 72. In the eight years since then, Mrs. Fuller has not been able to enjoy the outdoors as much due to illness, but, at 102 years old, she is still has a good time - just not in the dirt.

"When we went out there to help her, we were in her way. It's her will power," said Fuller's granddaughter, Cathy Raines who remembers when her grandmother would take on the yard work single-handedly. "If her sight was good, she'd be out there right now," said Raines of the 102-year old.

Fuller was born in Zebulon, Ga., the second of four children on Dec. 13, 1902 to what she called a "poor dirt farmer." "My father made good crops. My father really worked hard and I appreciate that," said Fuller.

What she remembers most vividly from her childhood is her mother. "I miss her so much... Oh she was so smart," said Fuller of her mother.

"I'm doing for my mother because she birthed me and raised me. She's been there for me," said Cato who shares her mother's love of family.

When Cato stands in her basement she is surrounded by cherished family artifacts, but what links Marjorie Cato to her genealogical history more than the marriage certificates and portraits of her great-great grandmother, is her still conversant mom. Fuller has lived with Cato since 1953.

Fuller has no problem with the living situation. "She's very sweet to me. She was my baby daughter," Fuller said of her daughter who called lovingly from the kitchen, "And you're my precious mother."

Both women remember when the roles were reversed and Fuller was still taking care of her daughter. "When I was five years old... remember you took me - the baby- on a train ride?" Cato asked her mother.

"I wanted my daughter to ride the train," said Fuller, who went on to remember details of the rest of the afternoon.

Prior to the illness Fuller suffered at age 96, her morning routine included emptying the dishwasher, taking out the trash, and feeding the dog according to Cato.

Long before she spent her days tidying up at her daughter's house, Fuller worked as a homemaker. She married at the age of 17 and had seven children between 1921 and 1933.

Cato described her mother as a perfectionist in the home. "She was a good housekeeper, a good cook. If she wasn't raking leaves she was pulling weeds and she didn't care if it was raining or snowing," said Cato.

"She worked in the fields for wages, but it was hard times and she needed more money," Cato said.

For nearly 20 years starting in 1935, Fuller worked in a cotton mill as a weaver. "She really worked hard," said Cato. "She said she was happy to get the job."

A farm hand, a mother, and a weaver, but Eva Mae Fuller was not yet finished. During the early 1950s, she became a full-time baby sitter. "And even though they paid her to be the baby sitter she did their cooking and cleaning," said Cato. She could not leave her mother in that situation more than two years.

In 1953, Cato brought her mother back to Georgia from the baby sitting position in which she was overworked. Cato married in 1955, had four children, and had both her parents living in her Riverdale home until her father's death in 1976.

Now Cato and Fuller, both retired, live alone in that home. Although nurse aid, Brenda Hale visits regularly, the two manage just fine. "She enjoys her family when they come around," Hale said of what her 102-year old patient does for fun. "They check on her a lot."

Cato said that her mother's idea of fun has always involved family, and her memory has stayed as strong as her love. "She remembers all these kids' birthdays. Her memory is very good," Cato said.

When quizzed about her extended family, Fuller immediately recalled that she had 21 grandchildren, 32 great grandchildren and 14 great-great grandchildren.

Fuller has lost neither her memory nor her lust for life according to Cato who is not afraid to fix her obviously hearty mother a drink. "She likes a little totty for the body," Cato laughed. "She likes her peppermint Schnapps. She loves peppermint candy."

Having that occasional drink or enjoying a peppermint stick before bed is just fine for Fuller according to her nurse aid who speculated on Fuller's secret to longevity. Hale said, "I guess she thinks well. She's got a very positive attitude."

Cathy Raines thinks that "working hard and staying busy" is responsible for her grandmother's success in life. Perseverance may be the only thing that Eva Mae Fuller has depended on for over a century. Raines said, "Through all the hard trials and tribulations, she has taught us the meaning of family."