100 years young
Update: Monica Robertson died Monday, Feb. 11 at her home in Scappoose.
Monica Roberston sat comfortably in the living room of her apartment in Scappoose as her great-grandchildren shuffled around, looking for a secret stash of chocolate or cookies.
Roberston and her daughter, Suzy Worley, had just welcomed relatives in from Chicago for a big weekend. On Saturday, several generations of family gathered to celebrate Roberston's 100th birthday. The retired school teacher hit the century mark Tuesday, Feb. 5.
Robertson can remember growing up in rural Kansas, in what she calls "the middle of America," with a two-digit phone number. Now, she has robots to remind her when to take medication.
A pastel sticky note sits next to an Amazon Echo device.
"Ask Alexa, what day it is," the note reads, placed strategically next to a pill box.
She started her career in a one-room school house equipped with a potbelly stove and children of several ages.
"I had one room, 15 students," Robertson recalled. "We had a few from each grade, up to 8th grade."
Robertson's husband, Ward, had grown fond of the Pacific Northwest during a business trip, and when the two were building a life together, he insisted they move west.
"He said just two things he wanted. He wanted to "marry me and move to Oregon," Robertson said.
The couple and their 3-year-old daughter piled their belongings into a pickup truck and landed in Gresham. The Robertsons lived in Clatskanie briefly during World War II, before settling in Coos Bay, where they spent the next several decades with their four children and Robertson finished out her career as a teacher.
A driftwood clock hangs near a corner in Robertson's Rose Valley apartment, engraved with the years 1962-1981, a retirement gift to note the years she spent teaching for Coos Bay School District.
Now, as she reflects on 10 decades of life, it's the new experiences along the way that color her memory.
"I can remember my first day of kindergarten," Robertson said. "I can remember it plain as day, a little yellow dress I had on had a sash. Marjorie VanNatta was my teacher's name. I stood outside at the mud scraper, and she'd say, 'Honey, I think they're just fine now,'" referring to the young Robertson's shoes, "but I was just scared to go in. I was five."
Robertson is a bit of an anomaly. At 100, she seems to defy expectations. She maintains a quality of life that rivals most her age.
"Your life just kind of comes on gradually," she noted.
Years of learning and teaching new information, combined with traveling the globe and trying new things, have likely given Robertson what the National Institute on Aging refers to as "cognitive reserve," noting the brain's ability to work well even when it is disrupted.
"We're all very proud of her," Worley said, filling in details of her mother's life as she scanned the apartment for old photos and newspaper clippings. Robertson was living independently well into her late 90s.
"Up until she moved here, she was living on her own in an apartment off Keys Road," Worley said.
Robertson's own watercolor paintings of flowers line the walls in her living room, next to framed photographs her husband took. Her own children's art is peppered in, denoting a family history of artistic endeavor.
She didn't take up painting until late in life, taking senior center and community college courses to hone the craft. Robertson's art was even featured in a show at her Brookdale Rose Valley Senior Living last year.
She relied on international travels and frequent trips to Hawaii with her husband for artistic inspiration and what she now counts as some of her most treasured life experiences.
"We kept real active while my husband was still alive," she noted. "We'd go on spring vacations. I take in a lot of detail and have had the opportunity to do some good trips and see some interesting parts of the world, be up in the top of the Blarney Castle."