Jo Anne Embleton
Jacksonville Daily Progress
COVE SPRINGS —
Turning 100 is pretty incredible.
Turning 100 on Valentine's Day with a birthday “twin” half your age is even more incredible, says area resident James Terry.
James L. Terry, the elder of the two by several decades, just grinned as he described his unusual bond with niece Sue Schulze: “Yeah, me and her is twins,” he said, then laughed.
Their family gathered last Sunday to fete their birthdays. They include his son Billy Wayne Terry and four step-children from his marriage to Lois Terry.
Among his blended family are 13 grandchildren, 31 great-grandchildren and approximately 10-15 great-great-grandchildren, said his step-daughter, Sue Bearden.
Terry, the elder of the “birthday twins,” was born Feb. 14, 1913, in Crockett, the fifth of James Madison and Bertha Terry's six sons. (Or, as he joked, eyes twinkling, “I'm one of six boys … and that's why I'm scared of women!”)
His mother died when he was a toddler, so he and his baby brother were sent to Corsicana to live with their maternal grandmother, who raised them for several years before sending them back to their daddy, a share-cropper at a plantation in Trinidad.
James left home at 17, working for other farmers in the area, and eventually moving to Fort Worth, where he built planes for North America Aviation. After that stint, he decided to move to Jacksonville, where his uncle operated a tomato shed.
“I farmed on the side and worked in town,” he recalled, describing the crops of tomatoes, cotton and corn he grew as a sharecropper. “My uncle had a tomato shed, so I grew tomatoes. I wish I still had those pictures, I took a bunch (of the booming tomato industry decades ago in Jacksonville). It was something else.”
The centenarian also worked at a local icehouse, packing fresh-picked tomatoes in ice for shipment by rail to other areas of the country, was a night watchman at Lake Palestine when it first opened and made cap-pistols at Nichols Industry.
Later – with his brother Ben – he operated a small store outside town.
Bearden said Terry has always been in good health, both physically and mentally, and a massive stroke a couple of years ago barely put a hitch in his step.
In fact, someone meeting him for the first time would have never guessed the spry centenarian had suffered such a serious health condition.
Terry's doctors “said it would be a long recovery, but within about six weeks, he was back at the house,” Bearden said, describing how, while hospitalized, the nursing staff placed him on a heart-patient diet.
“No this, no that” allowed, she recalled.
However, after his doctor examined him, “he told him, 'Mr. Terry, I thought when I come in here I was going to find a man here 99. You're not 99!' And then he put on his chart, 'Mr. Terry can eat anything he wants to eat,'” Bearden laughed.
“The doctor asked 'What do I do to not look so old?' I said, 'Work.' Because I've never stopped working,” Terry said.
“I'm not old yet,” he added. “If I can walk and move around, I'm not old.”
His step-daughter said the secret to Terry's longevity is that “he's an outdoor person, and he works. And secondly, he doesn't hold grudges – he doesn't stay mad at people, and he's not going to worry about stuff.”
He is also an avid reader, a pastime that Bearden describes as “exercise for the brain.”
“My dad used to read to us,” Terry recalled, describing how he developed his love of books. “I like to read anything.”
Nodding at a paperback novel resting on a coffee table near Terry's chair, Bearden added that her step-dad “can read about a book a day … he's pretty smart.”
The secret of a long life? “Treat everyone like you want them to treat you,” he said, not long after embracing a guest in a hearty hug. “Don't get mad.
“Don't ever hate nobody, it doesn't matter how much you didn't like them.
“And,” he added, laughing, “eat a lot of vegetables.”