Hundred feels good for Winston

Published 12:56 am Sunday, December 26, 2010

NATCHEZ — When Natchez resident Jessie Winston was asked how it felt to turn 100 years old on Christmas Day, he laughed and answered as though it were no big feat.

“It feels good,” he said.

Since Winston still cuts hair in his barbershop, drives his Oldsmobile around town and takes care of handy work around the house, turning 100 on Saturday was just another annual occasion when he got two presents instead of one.

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Winston was born Dec. 25, 1910, within the Natchez city limits, “not out in the country,” he said.

He cut hair on probably thousands of heads working as a barber in Natchez since 1940, when cuts were 50-cents-a-head. And for most of those years, his shop was located a few yards from his house, in a shed-turned-salon on East Franklin Street.

Winston said he also worked for 10-15 years part time at Armstrong Tire, when it was open.

But his youngest daughter, Helen Owens, said he does a little bit of everything.

Every day, he gets up at 8 or 9 p.m. and finds something to do, whether its working on his car, electrical work in the house, fixing the lawnmower or watch cable news.

She said he also likes to cook, although Winston tried to give his daughter most of the credit for cooking the meals at the house where they both live.

“I do mustard greens, red beans and rice . . . Creole stuff.” Winston said, from his post in his porcelain barber’s chair.

Giving the tour of his barbershop, Winston got distracted when a crack in the ceiling caught his attention.

“See that? I’ve got to take this down and patch that up,” he said.

Winston said his biggest Christmas/birthday gift request was tools.

“He’s the Jack-Of-All-Trades,” Owens said proudly.

Owens said he remembers Natchez without paved roads and when the Bypass was all woods.

Although he never bought a car until he got his first Oldsmobile in 1975, his sister had a Studebaker.

When World War I ended, Winston said he remembers being a little boy when three U.S. planes flew over Natchez and folks in Natchez did not know it was a celebratory demonstration.

“Everyone was thinking, ‘Here come the Germans!”” he laughed.

He also remembers how shocking see stacks of bodies in April 1940 as high as just below hip-level, of those who had died in the Rhythm Night Club fire. He pointed down the street and said he was living just a few blocks away from where it happened at the time.

“I’ve seen a whole lot of history in this town,” Winston said.

He cannot offer a secret to 100 years of being healthy and happy.

“I can’t answer that,” he said, humbly.

Owens said her father does not eat much meat, which might have contributed to his good health.

But Winston said a tight-laced lifestyle certainly could not get credit for his long life.

“I’ve done a whole lot of partying in my day,” he said with a smile.

The partying may have simmered and Winston said standing still for too long in his backyard barbershop is more difficult than it used to be, but his attitude remains young-at-heart.

“I feel good. I like I’m 20 years old.”