“I turned 101 this March,” says Edith Libby, a resident of New Marblehead Manor’s phase III development who has lived there since its completion in 1989. It’s a remarkable statement to make. So much ties into the time that passed. “My relatives are all gone. I’m kind of alone,” she reflects without a hint of sadness. Throughout her life, Edith has outlived siblings, friends, a husband, and a son. Her perseverance is nurtured by her strong independence.
There have been many points in Edith’s life where she needed to do things on her own; she left home right out of high school and took the train to New Jersey to take care of her ailing aunt. When she returned to Maine, much to the dismay of her mother, she remained in Portland (taking a room at the YMCA where she worked as a housekeeper) instead of returning to her hometown, Rumford. “I knew if I went back I’d never get out. I was too ambitious for that,” Edith explains.
It was in Portland that Edith worked her way through the Great Depression. “No one had any money. I remember living on crackers and marshmallow, but a lot of what I learned going through the depression helped me in my senior years.”
One night at a friend’s party, Edith met Stanley. He asked her to leave the party with him to go to a boxing match. Edith reflects, “I said no, I didn’t want to see that stuff. But then two weeks later, I went with him to a different boxing match, by then his fiancé and we’ve been boxing ever since.”
Stanley worked at a local shoe factory while Edith raised their only son. “When Stanley came home one night and said he got a raise to $8,000 a year, we thought we had it made,” Edith says. This was not to last as Stanley suffered a head injury while working. Luckily their son was old enough that Edith could go work at the local IGA. Edith balanced work and taking care of Stanley until he passed away in 1968. She worked 5 years after that until she was 62, living in Windham in a mobile home.
“I’ve spent the rest of my life knitting,” Edith explains. She knit professionally to help pay her bills in her mobile home for nearly 20 years, but eventually she had to move. “I couldn’t go on that way. It was too expensive.” She heard of the new Avesta development which was underway just up the road from her house, and she applied for affordable housing. When phase III opened up at New Marblehead Manor, Edith was the first resident to move in. “Avesta has been good to me. I’m comfortable, and I feel as though I’m living better than I ever have. My biggest fear is that I will have to live in a nursing home. I can’t imagine being boxed into one room.”
Certainly at this point there are no indications that Edith will need to move anywhere. She is quite mobile and lucid even as she’s entered the triple digits. And at the end of our time meeting with Edith, we notice two awards framed in the far corner of the living room. Without prompting Edith may never have told us that she has won two Governor’s Service Awards for her donations through The Friendship Club, a group that donates beautifully hand-knit clothing to newborns and patients undergoing chemotherapy at Mercy Hospital. Edith directs us to a large burrow in a side room that is completely filled with hats, pajamas, pants, shirts, and winter-wear. Her productivity is prolific for someone in their prime. At her age it is simply astounding.
While many are in a position to be charitable, often aid comes not from the wealthy or those who could easily afford it, but from those who coexist with the needy. Edith Libby lived a blue collar life through the Depression to this very day. She learned to live simply enough so that now she can take one of the many troubles off the minds of others; something she may have needed when she fell sick or when she was a struggling, new mother so many years ago.
Resident, New Marblehead Manor