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January 27, 2014

A life well lived

-- — Since she was a child, Nettie McLeod, born Nettie Fletcher, has had a love for crafts and for helping people. At 99 years old, just two weeks away from 100, she hasn’t slowed down with either of these passions.

Born on Feb. 8, 1914, the young Nettie Fletcher was the oldest daughter of her family’s 11 children. Being the oldest girl, Nettie helped raise her brothers and sisters, kept the family home in order and performed the daily chores of life during the time. She and her siblings worked hard on the family homestead, picking pecans, walnuts and cotton, shelling peanuts and picking up “cow chips” for fertilizer.

“There wasn’t much fun to have back then. There was work to do,” she explained.

The Fletcher family worked hard inside their home as well. Nettie remembers making their clothes and even their mattresses. Their home never had a refrigerator, though it did have an ice box. They killed and cleaned their own chickens and hogs, collected eggs from the hen nests and drew water from their well.

As a teenager, the family water well was the location of Nettie’s first kiss.

“We were at the well on our back porch. When you drew the water you always had to take a drink from it because it was cold when you first drew it. I took a sip of the cool water and then my boyfriend took me in his arms and kissed me. It felt like someone poured hot water over me.”

That boyfriend was Carlton Hamilton. They married when she was 20 years old and had one child together, Louise.

Nettie and Carlton had been married for one year when he was killed in 1935. In the middle of the Great Depression, Carlton went to Jacksonville, Fla., for work. Right after receiving his first paycheck, he was robbed and murdered, leaving behind Nettie, who was pregnant with their child.

Nettie would give birth to Louise in her family home, the same home she had been born in 21 years earlier. Two years later, she married F.H. “Mack” McLeod. They had two children together, George and Mary.

McLeod has been a hard-working lady throughout her entire life, beginning when she was young and continuing today. As a young mother, McLeod worked for Robinson Mayonnaise Factory in the late 1930s and at the Clyattville School lunchroom in the 1950s. While she was busy, she didn’t let work get in the way of being there for her children. She was active in the PTA and was a 4-H club leader.

“She was an active woman. But she was always a great mother,” said Louise.

Age hasn’t taken McLeod’s memories. She can still recall what she took for lunch while working in the fields, “I took a salmon sandwich. The bread was biscuits not white bread.”

She even remembers the treats she ate as a child, “When they would boil cane, we would take a cane peeling and scrape the side of the cooker to get the extra. It tasted just like candy.”

Growing up making her own clothes, Fletcher has had a passion for sewing from an early age. She enjoyed quilting and quickly became one of the most talented quilters in the region.

“I won a quilting contest, they called it a quilting bee back then, when I was 12 years old. I was the youngest person there.”

Her love of sewing also meant that her children’s clothes were all handmade.

“I didn’t own a store-bought dress until after I was married,” recalled her daughter, Louise.

Despite being just shy of 100 years old, McLeod still enjoys sewing. Until just a few years ago, she continued to quilt. Redland Baptist Church, her church home, has quilts sewn by McLeod all over their building. She is no longer able to quilt, however she continues to hem quilts and sew clothes and crafts often.

She also continues to have a heart for helping people. For the last 20 years, McLeod has made an annual ornament for all of her church family, totaling hundreds of ornaments each year. She also makes corn-husk dolls and dough figurines. Just a few weeks ago, she even made 300 bookmarks for her church.

Living to 99 years old and remaining active is impressive. What is even more impressive is her wonderful health. Most people half her age take multiple medicines a day for a variety of issues. McLeod takes only one medication each day, a breathing treatment.

As for her secret to living to 100, “I talk to the Lord every night. That’s the only secret I can tell you. I thank him for everything before I go to bed and I thank him for waking me up.” She also shared a bit of life advice, “Be just as good as you know how. Talk to the Lord every day. And behave yourself.”

In honor of her 100th birthday, McLeod’s family will be hosting a birthday party for her. The party will be on 2-5 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 8, Redland Baptist Church. Everyone is invited to celebrate the occasion. McLeod requests that no one bring gifts and instead make a donation to Redland in her name.

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