Crosby resident packs a lot of living into her 107 years

Published 12:00 am Sunday, June 24, 2001

CROSBY – She has lived through six wars, has seen the turmoil of the civil rights movement and came of age before either women or black people had the right to vote.

She has seen the arrival of automobiles and airplanes, television and computers.

She raised corn and cotton on Mount Rico Plantation in Wilkinson County – and raised 12 children along the way.

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&uot;You know that was a big job,&uot; she said, referring to the children with a twinkle in her eye.

Meet Altha Cage Wilson of Crosby, who will turn 107 on Thursday. She will mark the occasion with an estimated 200 family members who will travel from all over the country to attend her birthday party.

She doesn’t know what to think of all the attention surrounding the occasion. After all, her own mother is said to have lived to age 110, and another of her sisters, a resident of Baton Rouge, will soon turn 100.

It’s quality of life, not simply length of life, that Wilson treasures. &uot;I can’t hear, and I&160;can’t see too good – old age – but I’ve still got my mind,&uot; Wilson said, pointing to a head of gray hair pulled neatly back.

Wilson has been in a wheelchair since 1995, when she broke her hip, but otherwise she is in good health, although she said she doesn’t follow any particular diet.

&uot;I eat whatever I want to,&uot; said Wilson, whose favorite foods include ice cream and all types of vegetables.

Perhaps that stems back to the days when her family grew vegetables, along with corn and cotton, on the 365-acre Mount Rico Plantation in Wilkinson County.

Wilson was the oldest of 15 children born to William Henry Cage Jr. and Elnora P. Cage, and she, like all her siblings, had to work the land.

&uot;Everybody had something to do on the farm,&uot;&160;she said.

In an age where computer games and Cartoon Network are the order of the day, Wilson can remember playing with marbles and a ball made of rags – and with her first baby doll.

But most of the toys Wilson played with were the kind not bought at the store. &uot;I didn’t see a nickel or a dime until I&160;was five years old,&uot;&160;she said.

She had some adventures along the way, too. Once a bear came across her path while she was working the field.

&uot;I just stood there and didn’t move, and he stood there and didn’t move, and guess after a while he just got tired of staring at me and left,&uot;&160;Wilson said.

Wilson said she attended school through the fourth grade and excelled in her lessons. But the lessons she remembers most are the ones she learned on Sundays.

&uot;My first memory (is that) my grandmother and grandfather used to take me to church every Sunday,&uot; Wilson said. On most mornings, she can still see well enough to read her Bible.

In fact, Wilson attributes her long life to obedience to God and treating all creatures -humans and other species alike – the way she would want to be treated.

&uot;Being nice to everybody -people, whether they’re white or black – and being good and obedient, and being kind to all the animals,&uot;&160;she said. &uot;That’s how I&160;got to be so old, and I&160;thank God for it.&uot;

Wilson also thanks God for the experiences she has had along the way. She has visited New York, Chicago and California and has even traveled to Hawaii twice – once when she was in her 80s.

In Hawaii, she said, &uot;I got to go down under the water in a submarine, miles under the water. … It was like magic to me.&uot;

Wilson flew there in an airplane, an experience she enjoyed immensely. &uot;I wasn’t scared,&uot; she said. &uot;I’ve been a brave woman my whole life.&uot;

Along the way, she has also seen many inventions become a part of everyday life, such as the automobile. When she saw her first one as a youth, &uot;I didn’t know what to think,&uot; she said.

Now she would be hard pressed to do without some of those inventions. For example, Wilson loves watching television, particularly nature documentaries on the Discovery Channel.

But what would the little girl who grew up at the turn of the 20th century think of advances that have taken place in the computer age?

&uot;I don’t know what I&160;would have thought,&uot; she said, laughing as she gazes out from the front porch of the same house she and her late husband, Pole Wilson Sr., built in the early 1900s.

Wilson’s husband died 47 years ago, and she now lives in her house with daughter Elnora Wilson and granddaughter Daisy Wilson.

Wilson now has seven surviving children as well as 39 grandchildren, 53 great-grandchildren, 13 great-great-grandchildren and six great-great-great-grandchildren.

Wilson said now, she is just looking forward to seeing and having a chance to talk with all the family members who will attend her birthday celebration.

But with all the things she has seen and all the places she has been in her 107 years, is there anything else Wilson would like to experience?

&uot;Not really – I&160;just want to stay around home sweet home,&uot; she said. &uot;There’s no place like home.&uot;