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After 100 years, Mildred Caskey McWaters continues to grow in the kind of grace refined by fire.
No, it’s not the kind of fire that emanated from the birthday cake she enjoyed during the celebration of her 100th birthday on Feb. 16 at White Oak Manor.
McWaters’ grace comes from family flames that spark when one your four children accidentally sets the car shed ablaze and fire trucks show up, sirens blaring, in front of your home on West Gay Street.
Everybody knew that furniture store owner W.A. McWaters’ family lived in a house between the old Masonic Lodge and American Legion building on West Gay Street.
That meant that it didn’t take very long for word to get out.
Mildred McWaters stayed calm through the incident, but she was about to impart a “don’t play with matches” lesson without uttering a single word.
This lesson wasn’t for her late sons, Bobby and Jimmy, or her oldest daughter Mary Ann.
It was for her youngest daughter, Nancy McWaters Crolley.
Crolley estimates that she was about 11 years old on that Christmas Day in 1948. Before sunset, the youngster learned that dried-out Christmas trees, cotton and empty coal bins turned into makeshift playhouses don’t go well with matches.
“I was definitely playing with matches, lighting them and throwing them into the cotton,” Crolley said. “It caught the tree on fire and when I tried to pull the tree outside, it caught the garage on fire. I caused quite a stir that day and I was lucky that it didn’t burn the garage down along with the house.”
But it was how the McWaters matriarch handled the mishap that Crolley remembers more than the fire.
Although there is no doubt in Crolley’s mind that she should’ve gotten a spanking, Crolley said it never happened.
“She was calm about the whole thing and never spoke a word,” Crolley said. “Mama never punished me and I deserved it, too. Mama had this way of making you feel guilty by just looking at you. She was mad, but she never spanked me and I’ve always remembered that.
“To this day, my mother is still the kindest Christian woman I know. She is unique and one of a kind,” Crolley said.
“She sure is,” said Crolley’s older sister, Mary Ann Wade. “Mama has this way about her and when she called us down, we had best behave.”
There was also a deep love for all the McWaters children, Wade said.
“When I was a little girl, I’d wake up from time to time after having a nightmare,” Wade said. “When I’d go to Mama, she’d comfort me and tell me, ‘honey, it’s going to be alright; just go back to sleep and think about something pretty or somebody nice. It always worked, too.”
The sisters learned just how special their mother is at that Feb. 16 birthday party. What was planned as a small family event turned into much more when more than 200 family members and friends showed up to help McWaters’ celebrate reaching the century mark.
“The only invitations we sent out were to her Sunday school class at First Methodist,” Crolley said. “The rest found out by word of mouth. We were trying to keep the whole thing a secret so she wouldn’t find out.”
Having that many show up, along with four children, 12 grandchildren, 15 great-grandchildren and two great great-grandchildren, speaks well for the kind of woman McWaters is.
Two of her friends, Lallage Jones and Sadie Sweatt – who are also 100 years old – were there, too.
“I might have one of the rarest pictures around,” said Art Swain. “You are very fortunate to get a photo of a 100-year old woman, much less to get three 100-year-old friends together at one time like this.”
Crolley said the opportunity to celebrate her mother’s 100th birthday is nothing less than a blessing.
“It’s just a miracle,” Crolley said. “She still has her train of thought and as a family, we’ve been blessed. Not many people are this fortunate.”
Wade said watching her mother age so gracefully in the Lord is a visible reminder that her life is still bearing fruit.
“A life lived for God leaves a lasting spiritual legacy,” Wade said. “Thank you mother for our legacy.”
Looking back to 1909
Here are a few of the highlights lifted from the March 31, 1909, edition of The Lancaster News, the first issue published after the birth Mildred Caskey McWaters.
– It was reported that former U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt was allegedly assaulted by a fellow passenger onboard the steamer “Hamburg” while en route to the Azores.
– Local businessmen W.T. Gregory, R.E. Wylie, C.D. Jones, T.M. Hughes and G.W. Williams were in the process of forming the Lancaster Ice and Coal Company. While a location had not been selected, the men had contracted with a Pennsylvania firm to build an ice plant at the cost of $10,000 that could produce 10 tons of ice per day.
– With the help of Miss Nancy Johnson, designer Miss Miller of Philadelphia was in the process of putting on a fashion show for the Lancaster Mercantile Company. The show was guarenteed “to show a line of millinery as stylish and up-to-date as ever been shown in this market.”
– “J.W. Walker of the Bear Swamp community showed us last Monday quite a curiosity in the shape of a fork-tailed lizard of the streakfield species. While plowing, he turned the little reptile out of the ground. It was about seven inches long, each prong of its forked tail being about a inch and a half in length. That split-tailed critter must have migrated here from Chester, where all sorts of freaks abound, from the abnormally large spider and the two-story turnip to the vest-pocket porker and the patent leather-lunged hot air performer.”
– It was announced that magician and ventriloquist Daniel Breen was coming here in April for three performances at The Savon. Admission prices were set at 10 cents and 15 cents.
– A circuit court judge set the execution date for Lawson Addison at April 23. Addison, of Chester, was to be hanged for killing two Chester women in 1906.
– “Master Elliot Springs, who is attending school in Asheville, is home for a brief vacation.”
– The local chapter of the Women of the Confederacy had set up a committee to help raise funds for a state war memorial to be built in Columbia.