Newspaper articles

The secret to a long life: No smoking, no short skirts and no alcohol

The feisty Sophie Grand

How a New Orleans newspaper came to interview Sophie Grand for her 100th birthday is unclear. Mrs. Grand lived in downtown Baton Rouge, more than an hour from the Crescent City. Regardless, the interview is a hoot and far from the last time Mrs. Grand would entertain the media.

Mrs. Grand grew up in France, where she went to work for a hotel peeling potatoes at age 4 to help support the family after her father died young. Her brother fought in the Napoleonic wars.

How she came to the United States isn’t made clear in the article. What is clear is that Mrs. Grand was a woman of strong opinions. She didn’t approve of women wearing short skirts (their legs look like broomsticks) or men going out drinking (it causes them to come home and beat their wives). She also didn’t care for the use of tobacco in the home (it’s unclear if she thought it OK to smoke in the yard). As for women voting? Oh, absolutely not.

During the “pioneer days” of her marriage to a man not named (according to their shared tombstone, it was Louis) but described as being in the “livery stable business,” she sewed for a local merchant. After putting her seven children to bed, she’d sew late into the night, producing four pairs of trousers before turning in herself. Is it any surprise what happened when she hired some men to chop down a tree in her yard? Unhappy with the pace of the work, she took up the ax and cut it down herself.

No doubt chagrined by missing this news scoop, the Baton Rouge newspaper beat a path to Mrs. Grand’s door on her 101st birthday. She was in bed but still feisty. She would walk around the yard on pretty days and confessed to enjoying rides in automobiles as much as a 10-year-old boy. However, she admitted she was ready to die.

A year later, on her 102nd birthday, Mrs. Grand may have been getting a little punchy. She’d given up housework and now boasted of once being a bootlegger – or maybe all the secrets were now spilling out. She talked of making $100 a day selling whisky, cakes and pies to soldiers during the Civil War.

She also wished she would just die already so other people wouldn’t have to take care of her.

A few days after Mrs. Grand’s birthday, the Baton Rouge newspaper quietly retracted the bootlegger story. It seems that Mrs. Grand was just having a bit of fun with the media.

For her 103rd birthday – no, I’m not kidding – I can’t tell you what Mrs. Grand did to celebrate. Perhaps still smarting from the bootlegger joke, the media seem to have skipped the event.

A year later, a reporter found Mrs. Grand sitting in front of her fire on her 104th birthday. She was no longer able to speak or walk. She seemed to like watching children play, accepting bouquets of flowers and going for those fun automobile rides.

Mercifully, it seems, she died a few months later.

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