No one comes away from meeting Elva Stone without a smile on his face. Her energetic and upbeat approach to life is simply infectious. The story that follows only tells a small part of Elva's life over these past 100 years:
Elva Kelly came into this world in 1901. Her first view of the world was from a small log cabin in Hood County, TX. She is the oldest of 10 children born to Henry and Lula Kelly.
Elva learned early the value of hard work while growing up on a cotton farm near Lipan. Her father, Henry, farmed and worked as a blacksmith. He cared for the horses and mules that the farmers used in those pre-tractor days. Mrs. Stone began hoeing weeds and pulling cotton when she was 7 or 8 years old. She also helped her mother, Lula, raise her younger brothers and sisters.
Daily chores were a major challenge in those years, especially since the family had no electricity. Some women used hand-operated washing machines to wash, but scrub boards were a more common fixture for most families. Her parents did not acquire a washing machine until years later, when their children bought them one.
A full education was a luxury most people were not able to obtain. Elva was only able to complete the 8th grade. There was no high school in their town so her father sent her to the city to go to school. Elva became so homesick that she returned home and helped care for the family. "There's a lot of them that didn't go that far," she said. "I've learned a lot since then."
Children then had to entertain themselves. Parties at friends' homes were one of the most cherished ways to have fun, she recalled. "We'd plan where we'd go next weekend, to whose house to have a party and all that stuff," she said. "Some of us could dance if we had a place." Radios had not yet been invented, so one person might play a banjo while another one banged away on a piano or organ. Her father loved to sing and encouraged people to sing when they came to the Kelly home.
Transportation was very simple back then. Children walked everywhere- unless it was Sunday. On Sundays, they dressed in their best and rode in the back of a wagon while their parents sat up front.
The 4th of July was the biggest day of the year. The entire community was fully involved. "That was the day for sports. "You had to take your lunch and split it. Maybe our dad would give us a dime to spend," she said. Money was scarce, so a dime was a lot of money at that time. Even a mere nickel would buy a candy bar, popcorn and other treats. "The 4th of July was a big day."
Mrs. Stone became a full-time farmhand for her father after she left school. She moved with the family to Brownfield in 1919. "I was my dad's hand to work," she said. "I was just a country girl." Her father farmed for a family in Terry County but eventually bought his own land.
Mrs. Stone married in 1919 at the age of 18. She and her husband farmed near Gomez where he managed a gin. The centenarian said she was not initially impressed with the South Plains. "We didn't know enough about how the dirt would blow here," she said. "It just seemed like it would come in anywhere." Once their 2 sons (Wayland and Preston) became older, they also helped their parents harvest the crops. Both sons later joined the U.S. Army after WWII began.
While her sons were in the military, Mrs. Stone went to work full time at a dry cleaners in Brownfield. In 1950, she moved to Levelland and landed a job with the old Hub Store downtown. She helped opened and closed the Levelland Theater and helped open the first J.C. Penny's store in Levelland. She later went to work for the Dairy Queen, where she worked for 34 years. During the time she worked at Dairy Queen, she earned extra cash in the evenings by ironing shirts for a local doctor. She proudly says that she was never turned down for any job she applied for. She and her husband, Oscar, even worked together for a while. He drove while she delivered prescriptions for Tri Care Pharmacy. She was 92 at the time. She was in her 90's when she finally decided to retire.
Today she stays busy playing card games and visiting with other residents. Still looking the picture of health, she happily serves coffee or does other things for residents. Mrs. Stone said she reads her Bible and newspaper each day. She watches the news but avoids regular TV programs.
Looking back, she says that life today is much better than it was at the end of the century. "I've never dreamed of things a getting better, but after I grew up and moved about, things began to pick up," she said. "I like it better (today), you bet. By golly, you can do a few things."
Longevity is nothing new to the Kelly family. Elva's mother lived to the advanced age of 102. Mrs. Stone is not sure why she has lived so long. "I don't know, it slipped up on me," she quipped. "I just tell them one day at a time."