This week we celebrate Mrs. Lorena Miller, more affectionately known as Aunt Rena. She turned 100 years old Tuesday, March 7, born 1917. She has lived through several wars, the great depression, the inventions of radios and TVs. Through it all, she says she is grateful for the life she has lived and looks back with fond memories. She said, “God gave me a clear mind, He must be keeping me here for something.” She herself cannot believe she is turning 100 years old. She was married to the late She graduated in 1933 from Warsaw High School and studied business for two years. Her first job was in Dunaway’s Department store and then Millers fountain.
When Miller turned 99 all she wanted was 99 birthday cards, she received 210, this year she received over 163 cards. A post on Facebook went viral and the cards rolled in from friends and strangers. Miller celebrated her 100th birthday on Sunday, March 5th at Menokin Baptist Church. Over 100 guests attended, family and friends and former neighbors form her hometown, Tallent Town. Her pastor, Jason Patrick, spoke about how special she is to him and the close bond that the two of them share. She has crocheted many afghans for family and friends over the years. As a tribute, her works of art were draped over the pews, which gave them a regal appearance.
Miller lives with her great niece, Ms. Pam Bragg and family they openly enjoy each other’s company. I found Aunt Rena sitting in her sun-filled room, watching TV while her bird chirped in the background. She was doing what she does best, crocheting.
Every corner of the room has a display of her handiwork. Her mother taught her how to crochet when she was around 13 years old and she has never stopped. She is an expert at her craft, a hidden celebrity and entrepreneur. She told me she has some pain in her back and legs sometimes, but no pain or arthritis in her hands, and she wiggled her fingers to prove it.
Her hands are as nimble as her mind. She makes everything—baby clothes, tablecloths, dishcloths, scarves blankets, afghans, and hats. One popular item with the teenage girls is the hat she calls a “messy bun hat.” The hat is like a skullcap with a hole in the top where a ponytail comes through. The saying “I can do this with my eyes closed” is very real. ” Bragg said, “She recorded her aunt crocheting in her sleep and she does not miss a stitch.”
Her big blueish grey eyes filled with life as when she recalled her years growing up in Richmond County. Her father was a farmer; she enjoyed her days on the farm and the big garden. One day her Father promised to pay her five cents a basket for the tomatoes she picked. She thought she was going to make “big money” she said. She only picked two baskets before she got tired. Another time she helped with thinning the corn and might have finished one row before she became tired. Picking black-eyed peas was another challenge for Miller. Black-eyed peas vines were full of bees and she remembers being stung. Still she said, “we never went hungry or without decent clothes.” They raised vegetables, pigs, hens, so all they had to purchase were the staples—coffee, sugar, salt, and material so her mother could make clothes for her sister and her. Her mother used a foot pump sewing machine, which her father later converted to electric. Her father would sell the fresh eggs at the country store. She remembers a large barrel of molasses in the middle of the floor. You would bring your pint jar and pump the molasses; it would pour out of its spout in the jar.
She walked about a mile to a one-room school and studied by lamplight. However, she remembers when Northern Neck Electric finally came into their area. When they got a radio, neighbors would come by and listen to the Grand Old Opry. Her father would have to turn it off at midnight or one particular neighbor would stay all night.
Aunt Rena says life has changed a lot. “We were satisfied with what we had, if we didn’t have it, we would make it, and we didn’t know the difference.” She believe kids are used to having so much and too much. For Christmas, she and her sister would get a shoebox with an orange, apple, raisins and a piece of candy. Her mother would hold back a bag of candy so they would have some later on. That got candy at Christmas time only. Once Santa left a doll and a carriage under their tree with a note attached, which read, “if you fight over it, I am going to come back and get it” They did not mind sharing.
Aunt Rena talked about her beloved Menokin Baptist Church, which she still maintains her membership and is delighted her pastor comes to see her every week. She spends her days crocheting, in between naps, and she likes flowers and the Baltimore Orioles. She humbly thanks everyone for being a part of her life and takes the good and bad all in stride.
Before leaving I asked Aunt Rena, “what is the secret to a long life?” She said, “Never go to bed angry, treat people how you want to be treated, and mistakes make you stronger.” I think we all should take her advice