09/25/06 — Sharing memories across 100 years

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Sharing memories across 100 years

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on September 25, 2006 1:55 PM

Mildred Newman still gets lost in the music every time her fingers caress the soft ivory keys of her black piano.

Her hands have aged some since her first lesson.

The notes on the page seem smaller than they used to.

But when she hears that first note, the 100-year-old goes back to a place she's been a million times before.

"I just forget everything when I play," Mrs. Newman said. "It's a wonderful medicine to take when I'm down. I've played for years. It's just kept me."

Four Wayne County women were honored for reaching the century mark Friday at the Alterra Sterling House of Goldsboro. Friends, family and representatives from the city and county governments joined them for an afternoon of celebration, reflection and storytelling.

Lila Fagan was born in Wayne County in 1903. As she walked into the room with her niece, she was overwhelmed to see so many guests at the party.

"Oh my," she said, taking a seat next to family members.

As Mayor Al King paid tribute to the "guests of honor," he said he couldn't believe "these beautiful women" had reached the milestone.

"I just can't believe it," King said as he leaned over to embrace Mrs. Fagan. "You might want to check this young lady's birth certificate."

"What can't you believe?" she asked.

"That you're 103 years old," he said. "There's no way."

"Let me tell you something," Mrs. Fagan told King. "I can't either."

The two shared a laugh with the others in attendance. Time was clearly no match for her quick wit.

"I hope I look that good when I'm 60," one woman in the crowd said.

Wayne's oldest living resident was also among those honored Friday.

Catherine Davis turned 106 last month.

Although she didn't speak, as Sterling House staff shared her life story, a smile ran across her face.

And while age and longevity were the talk of the afternoon, Mrs. Newman's daughter Emily Weil said it is the person, not the number that means the most.

"Whatever her age, I'm lucky to have her," she said.

Most days, the mother-daughter team can be heard playing duets -- Rachmaninov some days, Rodgers and Hammerstein tunes on others.

Maybe it's the connection she shares with her daughter when their hands grace the keys together that makes playing at 100 feel like it did decades ago, Mrs. Newman said.

But there's something else, too, she added. Something she finds impossible to put into words.

"Oh I don't know," Mrs. Newman said. "I just love it. If I tell you, I'd probably leave out the most important part."

But Friday's party wasn't about the music, Mrs. Newman said.

Still, if you ask from the heart, she might just wow you with one of her favorite numbers.

"If you come back, maybe I'll play for you sometime," she said.