Margaret Guerra of Spring Hill, Florida has experienced much in her hundred years. Born June 9, 1917 in Michigan, she has viewed new inventions come along; a World War in which she served; and has experienced many changes in her personal life. On Saturday, June 17 her family and friends held a birthday party to celebrate Margaret’s achievement in longevity.
Margaret’s memory is impeccable She reminisced about her early childhood.
“I liked to roller skate, but I was always falling on my knees & I always had patches on my knees.”
Margaret’s parents were strict, yet loving. She recounts one incident of parental discipline that stands out in her mind.
“Once my mother broke the hairbrush on me. I had to cross street car tracks on my way home from school. This girl who lived across the street was supposed to walk with me. Instead of coming straight home we stopped at another girl’s house to play. My mother didn’t want me crossing the streetcar tracks by myself. When I came home, here was my mother walking down the street looking for me. When she saw me, she said ‘You get in the house and you get on that bed.’ We had a wooden hair brush. She took that hairbrush and Wham! It cracked, so she could only give it to me once.”
Margaret describes what happened later that day.
“When my father got home, my mother told him what had happened. He said to her, ‘Did you give her a spanking?’ She said ‘Yes.’ And he said, ‘Well I don’t have to give her one.’ My father was real nice. I just adored him.”
Margaret attended business school to learn bookkeeping and office skills. She worked twenty-five years for a plumbing company in Chicago.
“They sent me out into the field. I was there just one day and at the end of the day I went up to the supervisor and said ‘I am sorry, but if I was here ten years I wouldn’t know any more than I know now.’ He sent me back to the company and told me to tell them I wanted a job in the office. I went back and they said ‘We don’t have anything.’ I said ‘What are you talking about? You have an ad in the paper everyday.’ So they transferred me to the big building and I worked there the rest of my time at the company.”
During World War II, Margaret joined the Navy and worked in an office.
“We took the place of men so they could go out and fight. I served for a short while and then the war ended. I was in Chicago when President Roosevelt died. Another girl and I went out and saw his casket go by.”
When asked if she thought life had improved since she was younger, Margaret states emphatically, ““No. Every place you go somebody’s shooting someone. Or else they’re in a big place and they bomb the place. When I was younger in Chicago you could walk up and down the street, even at night.”
Although Margaret never had children of her own, she spent a lot of time with her nieces and nephews, especially one of her niece’s children.
“I took care of five great nieces and nephews on weekends in our two bedroom apartment. My husband and I took them out to dinner on Sundays. They would sit at that table, no running around. If they wanted a piece of bread my husband would say. ‘You eat what you ordered. Then you can have a piece of bread.’ We never had any trouble with them.”
Eventually, Margaret and her husband re-located to the Dallas area. After he passed away she and her sister moved to Spring Hill. It was here that she met her second husband.
“I joined a bowling league even though I didn’t bowl very good. He was on my team. I noticed he had such beautiful hair. I loved his hair. Right away I start talking. I asked him, ‘Do you know how to play Pinochle?’ He said, ‘No.’ ‘Well, I could teach you.’ He said, ‘No, no.’ Finally, one day he said, ‘Do you think you could really teach me to play Pinochle?’ I said, ‘Yeah. I could.’ He says, ‘Well, I’ll come over, but before we start even looking at the cards, I’m going to take you out to dinner.’”
Sadly, they were only married for twelve years when he died of cancer.
“The time I spent with my second husband was the favorite time of my life. We took a lot of nice trips on the bus. We went to Canada and a lot of other places.”
Amazingly, Margaret still lives in her own home and does her own cooking and baking. The only outside help is her great nephew, James Zavesky (Jimmy) who does her grocery shopping. He also takes her to the beauty parlor and out to lunch every week. A lady comes in to clean once a month and someone helps her take care of her personal needs on a weekly basis.
Freddi Gill, Margaret’s CNA states, “Aunt Margaret is one of the most wonderful people I’ve ever met. She’s very wise and spiritual. She prays for everyone and is kind to everyone. She loves children. I felt like I had known her all my life when I first met her. She’s very patient.”
Her husband, Sonny Gill, pastor of Josephine Street Church of the Living God in Brooksville, phones Margaret several times a week to check in on her and to talk about their favorite team, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Reverend Gill comments, “Margaret accepts people for who they are. She doesn’t judge or see color. There are no barriers. She loves people, in general.”
The Gills, along with their daughter and son-in-law and their grandchildren were among the eighty guests at the birthday celebration.
Margaret’s great-niece, Barbara Poe recalls happy times they spent at a family cabin in Michigan and one humorous incident.
“We’d all go out on the pontoon boat. One day Aunt Margaret convinced someone to let her drive the boat. She drove it into a marshy, weedy area where the men had to jump off and push the boat out. It reminded me of the movie The African Queen.”
As people who have reached a certain age sometimes wonder, Margaret questions why she has lived so long and seen so many friends and loved ones pass away. Barbara has an answer for her.
“I tell her, ‘Auntie Margaret, you’re not finished teaching people lessons about being a good person.’ I only hope I learn those lessons well. She’s the ‘go-to’ prayer list person and she never quits.”
Margaret’s nephew, Bob Benda, relates another amusing anecdote.
“Aunt Margaret taught me how to drive when I was twelve or thirteen years old. We were staying at the cottage for summer vacation. We’d get to a cross road and she would holler ‘Bob, you’re supposed to stop. Stop. Stop!’ It was a lot of fun.”
Margaret’s large extended family came from as far away as California to gather with her many friends at the Hernando Beach Club for the party. They feasted on hors d’oeuvres, a buffet meal and, of course, birthday cake. Her great nephew, Jimmy, acted as DJ.
Margaret’s celebration was a week after her birthday. Sort of like the Queen of England whose official birthday celebration is different from her actual date of birth. I’m sure Margaret Guerra is as loved and held in as high regard by her family and friends as any monarch.