Ola Mae Owen Rains, at age 99, still claps her long, slender, soft hands when she hears a good story, says she “eats anything that doesn’t eat her first” and can’t quite figure out how she came to be almost 100 years old.
She was born July 2, 1912, and her 100th birthday party will be June 30 (Saturday) at Grand Saline Hall.
Ola Mae sat down recently to tell a part of her life story. She brought along her daughter Pat Rains Stephens to help with dates, names and places.
Ola Mae says with a little giggle and a twinkle in her eye, “See, I tell her everything, then she keeps it in her head and I don’t have to – so I’m a lot more free!”
Besides being able to recall specific events in her 99 years plus of living, she has that amazing attitude of enjoying the moment. She was quite specific about her hair not being curled at a beauty shop and taking off her glasses – “because I really don’t need them “ – for her photograph to be taken. “I want people to be able to look at it in the paper and know that is Ola Mae!”
She is also quite specific about her upcoming party. “We don’t want no gifts! I just want everyone to come and let’s visit, drink some punch and eat a piece of cake.”
Her three living children have planned the gala event and invite everyone who wants to come.
Daughter Pat lives in Canton, Mike lives in Sunnyvale and Anne Rains Davidson lives in Justin. Son Gaylon is deceased. “I raised four good kids,” Ola Mae says, “And every one of them loves me, they don’t forget me.”
When asked what she does all day, Ola Mae quickly replies, “Nothing – just eat, sleep and go! I don’t sit down much.”
She lives by herself, with the security of an “emergency pendant,” does her own laundry and housekeeping, makes her bed, cooks her own breakfast and supper, watches television, pays her own bills and is always delighted when visitors come.
She is blessed by many visits from members of Main Street Baptist Church because most of her contemporaries have already passed on. Pat says Doyle and Emma Milliorn are especially faithful visitors to her mother.
Pat comes from her home in Canton to spends afternoons and nights with her mother two or three times a week, and Ola Mae always cooks breakfast for her daughter.
Pat likes to get her mother out of the house often, so they go to Tyler once a week where Ola Mae loves to eat chicken and dressing at Luby’s. “When asked about her diet, she says, “I don‘t ever fuss about what I’ve got to eat. We come up poor and didn’t have like what we have now.”
Ola Mae was born in a log cabin in the tiny community of Opelika, between Brownsboro and Murchison. She was the middle of three children born to Luther Tine Owen and Saphronia Bella Zora Rodgers Owen.
Her daddy had come to Texas on the Owen-Knight Wagon Train from North Carolina by way of Alabama, then stopping in Athens. They had planned to go to the gold fields, but Pat says, “The family was full of independent missionary Baptist preachers, and they looked around and declared they were in the Garden of Eden and would stay there.” Ola Mae’s father became Chief Justice in Henderson County.
Ola Mae remembers much about her life as a child. She lived in the country and walked two or three miles to school, depending on the route they took. “It was no life like we had now,” she remembers.
“We three kids had to be sitting on the bench at supper time, right when our parents called us. And I worked in the fields right alongside my two brothers.”
She picked cotton, grew tomatoes in a cold frame, then helped transplant them in a garden, then when the sun had worked its magic, she worked packing them for shipment to faraway places.
Her daddy took his three children to town every Saturday, giving them a nickel each to buy an ice cream cone before they came home.
“When we went to school in Fairview my mama packed us sack lunches. We each got a hot biscuit with a hole in it where she poured butter and syrup. Sometimes we also got a baked sweet potato. I thought I was rich then, didn’t know anything different.”
As a teenager she remembers wearing big skirts with petticoats that made her feel so hot. She could sometimes be found cooling off in the creek, with her skirt and petticoats hanging on a tree branch nearby. “My mama wanted us kids to always look ‘starched and ironed.’”
Just before Ola Mae was about to complete tenth grade, her daddy insisted that she quit school and run the family grocery store. It wouldn’t have done any good to argue. She knew how and took over the store, running it by herself.
At age 20 she and some girlfriends were in downtown Brownsboro on a Saturday, teasing about the young man who sat quietly alone on a bench, whittling. They commented that he would always be a bachelor!
Ola Mae had other ideas, “She set her mind that he would be her husband, and she got him!” Pat says. It wasn’t too long before they went next door to the preacher’s house and got married.
Some folks in town said, “I give ‘em three weeks before they go their separate ways.” Three weeks came and went.
Ola Mae and Levoy (B.L.) Rains were married for 74 years and 343 days when he contracted pneumonia and died on August 22, 2007. He was 99 years old.
They had been scheduled to be on the NBC Today Show and have a huge party, but that was not to be.
Pat learned from her grandparents the incredibly difficult early life her daddy had endured. He lived in Edom with his parents. His mother was a member of the Cherokee Tribe who died when Levoy was eight years old.
His father remarried, but died when Levoy was only 11 years old. Levoy’s brother and sister were sent to live with great aunts in Alabama. Levoy stayed with a great aunt in Edom and did not see his siblings again until he was an adult and traveled to Alabama and Georgia. After being reunited, the three children saw each other every year until Levoy died.
After his mother died, the little boy quit school after completing the fifth grade and went to work at the Birdwell Lumber Company in Brownsboro. By the time he was a teenager he was driving a log truck!
When Levoy was 18 years old his best friend Reese Holiman was the projectionist at the Brownsboro Theater. In order for Reese to go on a date sometimes, he trained Levoy to run the projecter. Levoy ran the first “talkie” ever seen in Brownsboro.
Levoy was meant for the work, and his career was spent as projectionist and manager of theaters in Tyler and Van and then in Grand Saline beginning in 1948.
Pat has many memories of her “tall, skinny mother” who was always determined about things. She told how Ola Mae dug up a stump in their front yard in Grand Saline. Every day she worked with a hoe, then when a hoe wouldn’t do the trick down below ground level, Ola Mae sat digging with a large spoon. “I don’t know how long it took it, but that stump eventually was gone!”
At the age of 97, Ola Mae had her first health scare. She slipped on a piece of potato peeling in her kitchen and landed on her back. She called 911 while lying on the floor. When help came she was taken by ambulance to Tyler with a broken hip.
Her family feared the worst that happens so often to many older people when they break a hip, but when the surgeon came out, he was smiling.
He had placed a metal rod in Ola Mae’s hip and said he never dreamed she would have such good bones at her age. Ola Mae rehabilitated her hip at Crestwood in Wills Point, then at home.
She is supposed to use a walker, but doesn’t like the idea at all. She would rather go on her own in her home, but does hold the arm of someone when she goes out.
“I’m an ornery peanut, ain’t I? Whooh!” she explains as she claps those beautiful, aged hands.
When asked why she thinks she has lived so long, her answer is poignant, “I’ve just wondered and wondered about that myself. I think about it a lot. I had four babies, but was hardly ever sick. Levoy and I took care of my parents, but it’s been a long life. I never dreamed of a long life when I was a kid.”
Pat attributes the surprising longevity in her family history to two things. The first is diet. Her mother grew up drinking raw milk at every meal, the vegetables she ate had the “proper fertilizer” – manure, not anything chemical. Her family raised their own meat – chickens and hogs, and she didn’t sit in the house in front of a television. She and Levoy also lived simply, caring for a garden and canning their vegetables.
The other reason for her long life, Pat believes, comes from the Bible verse, “Honor thy father and mother that it may be well with thee and thy days may be long upon the earth.”
Pat says Ola Mae and Levoy certainly obeyed that commandment, caring for Ola Mae’s parents in their home until they passed. She said Levoy was especially thoughtful of his mother-in-law and would often say, “Grandma comes first.”
Pat says that her daddy’s kindness alway touched her, remembering that he didn’t have any parents after he was 11 years old.
Good genes, good luck, good food, someone to love, obeying the commandment, whatever is the reason for Ola Mae’s living 100 years, she has certainly adapted, endured and taken a positive approach to life.
That strength of will and determination is a legacy she is passing on to her 13 grandchildren, 30 great-grandchildren and one great-great grandchild.
We can all celebrate a life so well-lived.