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During her childhood, Lida Wood never celebrated birthdays.
Times were tough. She was only 4 when her mother died and she went to live on her grandparents’ farm. Lida nearly died herself while battling typhoid fever at age 10.
Today, she’s 100. Her centennial celebration occurred Saturday at Red Hill Baptist Church, where she’s the oldest member. In attendance were her 11 children plus most of her 30 grandchildren, 56 great-grandchildren and 20 great-great-grandchildren.
It took her children a little time to tally up the number of Buel and Lida Wood’s descendants. The family matriarch said she had no idea what the total would be.
“I knew there could be a lot of them,” she said. “When you have 11, it can soon add up.”
Her life has been defined by family, faith and hard work, which started early.
Born in 1911, before electric lights reached rural Kentucky, one of her earliest chores was tending the coal oil lamps, which illuminated her home.
“I would tend the globe because I had little hands and could reach inside it.”
It wasn’t long before her workload expanded to cleaning, cooking and being a farmhand. She recalled doing laundry on a wooden washboard and raising everything her family ate on the farm.
As a treat, she sometimes would enjoy walnut kernels “but you didn’t go to the store and get them in a little bag like you do today,” she said. “If you wanted to eat them, you had to crack the shells.”
An afterschool snack often consisted of a piece of cornbread and onions. For entertainment, the family often sat peacefully watching dancing flames of an open fireplace. She would be married with children long before radio came into the house and television was not even a dream.
Once as a young girl, she rode a horse to town to see a movie that was going to be displayed outdoors.
“When we got there, it started pouring down rain,” she said. “All we could do was get on the horse and ride back.”
Describing her earliest memories, she mentioned the clamor of dinner bells across the hillsides that announced the end of World War I. She also can offer first-hand recollections of the Great Depression.
“I remember that other depression. I can’t feel this one (thanks to Social Security) but that other one I sure did.”
Lida Knight met Buel Wood through church. They never dated. A few couples would walk together now and then and that constituted their courtship.
They never had been alone together before deciding to elope. It was 1930 and Buel had accepted a farming job in Illinois. He didn’t want to go without her and they feared her family would not give permission for her to marry and move so far away.
“So we just walked off.”
The wedding had to wait another week. The groom left her with friends in one Illinois town while he went to his corn harvesting job. He wanted to tell his employer before showing up with a wife.
“He worked that week and came back after me,” she said. “We got married in a town along the way.”
Her new husband paid $1 for the marriage license and $1 to the preacher.
It wasn’t long before the young couple moved back to Kentucky near her Russell County home. Roughly 18 years and nine children later, they loaded a truck and moved to Hardin County where Buel’s brother knew of opportunities.
After a couple jobs as a tenant farmer, the Wood family moved to property off Red Hill Road near Vine Grove.
“Buel had been gone one day, all day long. I did not know where he was,” she recalled. “He came back and said he’d bought a farm.”
She still lives on the property. But initially she wasn’t especially impressed with the tiny four-room farmhouse.
“I didn’t complain. I didn’t think we could do any better,” she said.
Construction was the first priority of the new property owners.
“He said he’d have to build a barn first before adding onto the house,” she said. “That was understandable. We had to have a place to put the cows in and the corn and such. But it didn’t help me very much.”
She would help a lot in developing that farm. Many days involved tending tobacco, feeding animals, planting or harvesting. But that was just part of the daily toil.
“I’d work outside and then come in and cook.”
What once was a dirt trail leading to that farmhouse now is a formal street named Knightwood Lane, a combination of her maiden name and their family name. Buel died in 1989 but the family remains entrenched on the property. Over the years, five of their 11 children built homes on that ground and a decorative sign near the entryway declares it to be the Wood’s Family Homestead since 1948.
After a broken hip six years ago, when she fell after tugging on a sticky dryer door, she moved in next door with her daughter Pauline Baxter.
Until cataract problems developed last year, she kept busy sewing quilts or making baskets. Now most days are spent “just sitting here rocking.”
Content with modern conveniences brought about by indoor plumbing and electricity, she has no desire to go back to tending coal oil lamps.
“I enjoy it like this,” she said. “But it takes more money to keep it going.”
Growing up, Lida Wood never had a birthday cake. She can’t exactly recall her first cake but she knows she had long been married because her children baked it for her.
She’s not sure who made the cake for Saturday’s celebration. She was more focused on family and the fact that “they’re all here.”
“I thank God for my kids every day.”
THE WOOD CLAN
Lida Wood’s 11 children are Reba Hunt, Randolph Wood, Reoma Pence, Earl Wood, Pauline Baxter, Paul Wood, Earline Mitchell, Mac Wood, Linda Latiola, Shirley Armstrong and Michael Wood.
Ben Sheroan can be reached at (270) 505-1764 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.