Recalling 103 years of memories

October 28, 2008

By Kathleen R. Merrill


  Billie Smith, an Áegis of Issaquah resident, describes the sound of singing with the friends of her youth, while recalling memories of her nearly 103-year life.Photo by Greg Farrar. Billie Smith, an Áegis of Issaquah resident, describes the sound of singing with the friends of her youth, while recalling memories of her nearly 103-year life. Photo by Greg Farrar.

On Nov. 4, Billie Smith will reach a milestone many of us never will: That’s the day she turns 103 years old.

Billie, an Áegis of Issaquah resident, has lived in the city since 1999. The other residents in her building — in their 70s and 80s — call her Mom.

And although her hearing is starting to give her trouble, as she describes it, she has great recall of memories from her lifetime and a great sense of humor.

The former music teacher also has a clear and sweet voice when she sings, something she loves to do.

She can’t give you dates anymore, which frustrates her. She reaches with her hand, as if she could pull the detail she’s trying to recall out of the air.“Boy, when you get old, you even forget your own name,” she said with a faint chuckle.

She does remember trips that took her around the world, to places including Europe, Asia, Mexico, Canada, Alaska, South America and Hawaii.

“Are there any more continents?” she asked with a girly laugh, again trying to remember. “When you’re younger, you can see things better and enjoy them better.”

Billie has been a trailblazer. She was the first female mayor in West Yellowstone, Mont. She traveled with female friends before it was fashionable. She fished, snowshoed and skied.

“It’s just lovely,” she said of being on the slopes. “You have control of it. As a rule, you know which way you’re going.”

She talked of skiing tandem with an old friend, holding onto his belt and laughing all the way down.

“We’d go down some bad hills,” she said wistfully.

“I loved to be out in the sun. I caught fish all the time,” she added while looking at an old photo of herself holding a line of seven good-sized fish.

Billie was married for 34 years, marrying at age 28, late for women in those days; her husband is deceased. Her parents, two siblings and only daughter are also deceased. She has two grandchildren.

When she spied the photographer moving around the room trying to unobtrusively take pictures of her during a recent interview, she blushed. Then, she flirted with him.

“Who’s that handsome young man hiding behind the davenport?” she asked, and winked at him.

He hugged her and they chatted for a few minutes, which ended with them both blushing and grinning from ear to ear.

She may have been a bit of a party girl in her day, judging from some of her stories. She laughed freely when recalling being with a girlfriend at a hotel in Tokyo.

“The men there, they didn’t think anything about coming in naked. My girlfriend and I went in to swim and here they all came,” she said, shaking her head and giggling.

She recalled singing with friends, and a recent karaoke session at Áegis, which she enjoyed very much.

“My life has been music,” she said, singing another line from an old love song.

She doesn’t recall titles or artists, but she knows the words.

“Tell me do you still love me?” she sang, before drifting off on another memory.

“I’ve always been one that’s ready to go and do everything,” she said after a bit. “It’s kind of hard to let down and not do anything.”

Other residents came in from an exercise session and she perked up again, chatting and laughing with them, reminding them about singing karaoke.

She’s so vibrant and alive that one has to wonder — is there a secret to living a long life?

“I’ve just felt good all my life and people have been good to me.”

Reach Editor Kathleen R. Merrill at 392-6434, ext. 227, or

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