RIPLEY – Line up all of Ora Jamieson’s yesterdays and they’ll stretch back to 1908.
“Lord, I don’t know why I lived this long,” she said. “The Bible tells me if you live a good life, you’ll have a long life. That’s what I’m going by. I tried to have a good life. I know I done a lot of things I might oughtn’t have done, but for some reason, I’m still here.”
She turned 107 this year. She’s Ripley’s oldest resident, and Falkner Baptist Church made a big fuss over her.
“They had a special day, gave her a plaque and took her picture,” said Jamieson’s daughter, Joan Wright.
These days, she mostly stays at home. Family members know not to call at 6:30 p.m. because she’s watching her favorite program, “Wheel of Fortune.”
“I don’t do very much,” she said. “I don’t remember as well as I used to, and that’s aggravating. Sometimes, I remember things and people don’t believe I remembered it.”
She was born in Petal, and those were tough days for the family.
“We were poor people,” she said. “My daddy, he didn’t have nothing.”
After her mama died, Jamieson was sent to a Jackson orphanage, and later put on a train to Falkner. Young Ora Courtney, as she was known then, was 7 or 8 at the time.
“A man and his wife came to get me in a two-seater buggy – you called that a surrey – with two horses pulling it,” she said.
Wardie and Egbert Hill adopted her in the days before electricity reached Falkner.
“We used coal oil lamps. That’s the only light we had. You didn’t have but two or three in the house. You couldn’t hardly see nothing with a coal oil lamp. When it got dark, you had to go to bed,” she said. “Saturday morning, it was my job to clean all the lamps and fill them up with coal oil. I got them lamps ready for next week.”
She remembers doing dishes and other household chores, as well as plowing the field and milking cows. Her duties included plucking chickens. She was taught to tie their legs together, hold them upside down and get the feathers.
“That sack was full of feathers. They sealed it up,” Jamieson recalled. “Mama Hill, she said, ‘Ora, this is your pillow.’”
Jamieson slept on it one night, then made a troubling discovery the next morning.
“I put my head down. I was worried a little bit,” she said. “I heard scratch, scratch, scratch. I said, ‘There’s mice in it.’”
Mama Hill didn’t believe her at first, but they opened the pillow.
“There were three mice in it,” she said. “I never did like mice.”
She had an animal encounter of a different sort when she was sitting on a bench at the kitchen table.
“I was barefoot and I felt something slick,” she said. “I looked and saw a chicken snake. It wasn’t a very good house to let a snake get in. I never liked snakes. They killed it.”
Jamieson added that the snake “didn’t offer to bite me. I didn’t step on him hard enough. I did scream.”
Eventually, she got to know a young man named John Jamieson.
“We grew up together, I guess, going to the same school out in the county,” she said. “Me and another girl were walking. He had an old-timey car.
“He pulled up and said, ‘Do you want a ride?’
“That was the first time I ever saw him. We drove a little piece and he said, ‘I don’t know. My car might be on fire.’
“Oh, that set me off, and that girl with me, she was wanting to get out.
“But he got out and looked at it. He said, ‘No, it’s fine.’”
She was 17 when they married. Mama Hill convinced them not to elope, so they spent their wedding night at the Hill house with Mama Hill just outside the door.
“You can imagine,” Wright said. “They were too scared to do anything.”
John Jamieson ran a service station in Falkner, and it was there when crews were first building Highway 15.
“He made good money filling those trucks making that highway,” Jamieson said.
Her husband died about 55 years ago, and she has outlived two of her children. Wright lives in Texarkana, Arkansas, but spends every other week in Ripley. Somebody sits with Jamieson at her house between her daughter’s visits.
She’s reached an age when it’s easier to remember what happened 100 years ago than what happened yesterday, but she certainly has stories to tell.
Some folks also believe she has a secret.
“So many people can’t imagine why I’m living so long,” she said. “They say, ‘What is she doing?’ Oh, lord.”