WATERVILLE — Woodrow Wilson was president in 1913 when Leola McCaslin was born.

She was so tiny, at 1.5 pounds, that the family placed her in a shoe box and put her behind the stove to keep her warm.

“The doctor told my father and mother, ‘Don’t get too attached to her, because she will not even live to be a year old,'” said McCaslin, whose last name is now Roberts. “They didn’t know, did they? I was something else.”

At 102, Roberts is still “something else,” celebrating her eighth book, “The Four Seasons,” a collection of her poems dating back to the 1950s.

The book is a popular item at Oak Grove Center, a nursing and rehabilitation center on Cool Street, where she lives.

On Monday, she signed her books at a tea hosted by center administrator Sara Sylvester and recreation director Jean Young.

Twenty of her fellow residents attended, as did a handful of relatives, including her only child, a daughter, Charlene Ellis, 77.

The 4-foot, 10-inch, 82-pound author sat at a pretty table, her white hair curled up and her green eyes sparkling, though her eyesight is poor.

Everyone was talking at once, making it difficult for her to hear what was said, but she rolled with it and enjoyed the party.

“I was born in Winslow, lived in Winslow and married in Winslow,” she said. “I graduated from Winslow High School in 1932.”

After her husband, Ralph Roberts, died many years ago, she remained in her home until age 99, when she went to live with her daughter. She moved to Oak Grove several months ago.

LIFE STORIES

Roberts has been writing poetry and short stories and researching her family’s genealogy for many years. Her great-nephew Bruce McCaslin helps compile her works, which she illustrates herself with paintings, and the books are printed locally.

Born on Halloween, the youngest of seven children, Roberts grew up on a farm in Winslow where the family always had vegetable gardens and chickens and where she hayed and played with her siblings. Later, she worked at Diamond Match International in Oakland, was a short order cook and a nurse’s aide, taught Sunday school, and wrote and painted.

Her poems are colorful, whimsical, humorous, sad — and full of detail.

She writes about childhood, growing old, nature, animals, traveling by train, holidays, having a home in the country, love and loss of loved ones.

In “By the Window,” she describes herself sitting at the window, thinking of loved ones, watching the sunset, observing nature, remembering the past and wondering what the people think of her as they whiz by in their cars: “Little do they know or care, what I am going through. As I watch from my window, I see some of the things they do. I just forget the fast lane, and stick to the memories I hold dear. Beautiful memories that come and go, that keep me smiling through the year.”

She spent many years painting nature scenes, as well as memories of childhood, including her school bus — a large box on runners, pulled by horses.

A self-described loner in childhood, Roberts nevertheless loved children and took her birth on Halloween seriously. More than 50 years ago she invented Eldora, a witch, and began dressing as Eldora on Halloween, hosting parties in her basement, where her nieces, nephews, grandnieces and grandnephews would come to get spooked, eat blueberry pie and bob for apples. She continued the practice for more than five decades.

She has led a mostly healthy life, with the exception of a bout with breast cancer many years ago, from which she recovered by taking radiation only, according to her family.

McCaslin, her great-nephew, read aloud some of her poems to Oak Grove residents who attended Monday’s tea.

The poems included “Under the Sink,” about a mess she encountered when a pipe under her kitchen sink sprang a leak; and “The Little House Out Back,” about her family’s outhouse and how sad she was when the town passed a law that resulted in it being torn down.

Roberts never drove a car but she was active, had a vivid imagination, was a wonderful cook and continues to have a strong faith in God, McCaslin said.

“If people asked me about my aunt, I’d say she’s got a zest for life,” McCaslin said. “She was a collector. She has a massive doll collection, a pencil collection, a fountain pen collection. She painted on the dolls that she had. She’d make a lot of the dresses. She displayed the dolls 17 years at Winslow Public Library, where they had a glass cabinet full of her dolls. She was very interested in being historically accurate, so she’d research the dresses and make sure they were right. She’s interested in a variety of things. She was never one to sit and watch TV. She always wanted to do something.”

SOMETHING ELSE

One night six or seven years ago, she called McCaslin, with whom she spends a lot of time and has a special connection.

“She said, ‘Bruce, you and I are not just something — we’re something else.’ She looked up ‘something else,’ in the dictionary and called me about 11 p.m. She said, ‘You’re awake — OK, I’m going to read you something.’ And she read the definitions of ‘something,’ and ‘else’ and said, ‘I wanted you to know this is what we are.'”

Asked what the secret to her longevity is, Roberts said she does not know.

Ellis, her daughter, also could not pinpoint the reason but said her mother has always believed in vitamins.

“She was big on vitamins. She was big on taking her vitamin pills,” Ellis said. “She ate oatmeal as often as she wanted. She was a good cook. She lived in the country and they had their own vegetables. They grew their own and always had a garden. She liked to walk.”

Sylvester, the Oak Grove administrator, said Roberts is independent. She uses a walker, as well as a wheelchair, makes her own bed every day and likes to talk.

“She’s a delight. She knows what she wants,” Sylvester said. “She’s so alert and she knows when something’s wrong, and she’ll let us know if the food’s not good. She’s the kind of resident you love because she’s got a mind of her own. She’s involved in everything going on, and she has her own life.”

Anyone interested in buying a book or books may call Young, the recreation director, at 873-0721, according to Sylvester.

Long after the tea and book signing ended Monday and the residents had gone back to their rooms, Roberts continued to tell stories, recounting in detail fun times she had with her dog, Rosie, a black-and-white terrier, and cat, Blackie, now gone.

McCaslin’s sister Barbara Lambert and brother Rodney McCaslin stayed to listen.

“I loved that dog,” Roberts said of Rosie. “We roamed around. She always minded. I had a whistle that I blew and she was right there. I’ve got a picture of her and she’s going to be buried with me — her ashes.”

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17


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