She just grabbed the microphone and started singing. She’s the family’s go-to person for lyrics of all the old songs. And she’s a voracious reader, mostly of so-called “cat mysteries,” where your friendly feline solves the mystery, or at least helps.
Ethel (Harrison) Seifert was born in 1911 and, at 105, still enjoys a good book, a good song and a good laugh.
“Can you imagine,” said her long-time friend Lillian Poirier. “Getting up and singing like that at a hundred-and-five.”
But no one had to imagine it, because Ethel did just that at her 105th birthday party, held a few days early on Thursday, 4/14, at Whaler’s Cove Assisted Living, where Ethel lives. The festivities included a little speech-making, a big cake, and entertainment by Matty B.
When Ethel Harrison was born, William Howard Taft was president, neither of the World Wars had happened, and the textile industry was booming in New Bedford.
When Ethel was a child, her father had a cottage built on Seaview Avenue in Fairhaven, where she spent many happy summers.
Her parents died when she was only 14, so Ethel and three of her siblings moved into the summer place with their oldest sister, Bertha.
“She was like a fish,” said Ms. Seifert’s daughter Diana Pacheco, adding that her mother would swim all the way from the bottom of Seaview Avenue to West Island.
She has lived in New Bedford, Fairhaven and East Freetown. One of five children, including her twin who died as an infant, Ethel is the last survivor.
Mr. Seifert worked at various jobs, including the textile mills. Her first job was at J. I. Paulings, which made electrical supplies for small appliances. She was 14 years old and made $6.17 a week. And she had to use an automatic screwdriver.
Then she worked at the Tabor Mill inspecting cloth. Eventually she went to the Beryle Hairdressing School in New Bedford. After working there for a few years, she and her sister-in-law teamed up to open their own shop called The Vogue in the North End of New Bedford.
Married twice (her first husband died suddenly in 1960), Ethel has one daughter, three stepchildren, 15 grandchildren and 22 great-grandchildren.
She looked a tad puzzled when asked her secret to living to 105.
“I don’t have any,” she said, just no drinking, lots of exercise, especially outdoors, and reading and staying active.
Well, maybe a little drinking, like a shot of Drambuie now and then.
“I’ll tell you one thing,” said Ms. Seifert. “I never got drunk.”
In Freetown she was active with the Council on Aging and produced many shows, musicals and plays that she perform in and helped to write.
Now, she mostly reads mysteries and does low impact exercises on her own as often as she can.
“I like a good mystery,” she said, but she also does crossword puzzles, mostly from a book now.
She used to do the New York Times puzzle every day, but she no longer gets that paper.
Ms. Pacheco said that when she does give her mother the paper, the crossword has usually already been done, by Ms. Pacheco.
Ethel’s advice is simple: “Be happy.”
She admits she had some sad times, who doesn’t?
“You can’t be smiling all the time. You have to be serious sometimes,” said Ms. Seifert. “Just try to be good to people, and be good to yourself.”
“I never thought I’d live to be this age,” she added.
“She was a very, very hard worker,” said Ms. Pacheco, noting that her mother worked 9 to 9 at her shop. “I grew up in the beauty parlor with her.”
Ms. Seifert is also a big animal lover, feeding birds, deer, squirrels and other animals at her property in East Freetown.
Granddaughter Lisa Pacheco said she remembers the days at the summer cottage on Long Pond and a group of ladies who would get their hair done on Saturday mornings.
“It was more about the gossip than the hair,” said Lisa, who remembers her grandmother hand-feeding the chickadees, and squirrels that would actually sit in her lap. “She always loved animals.”
“She’s always been a nature lover,” said Lisa, crediting her love of the earth to her grandmother.
Ms. Seifert’s grandson Glenn Pacheco said he remembers playing cards for pennies at the cottage, and thought he was quite the big deal for being allowed to “play cards for money” with the grownups.
“I loved the yard in Freetown,” said Mr. Pacheco, with its 3+ acres. “It was a little adventureland.”
“She’s an inspiration,” said Pat Teixeira. “Losing her parents young made her life a little more difficult. But with all the problems she had, she faced them.”
Freetown friends Lillian Poirier and Charles Gray said that Ethel was know as the “cookie lady,” for always having cookies at COA events.
A charter member of the COA, Ms. Seifert was instrumental in putting on shows and plays, and singing and dancing.
“She was fabulous,” said Ms. Poirier.
Evelyn Crawford is one of Ethel’s Whaler’s Cove neighbors.
“Ethel is just…I get choked up,” said Ms. Crawford. “She’s just so special.”
Maureen Costa, Executive Director at Whaler’s Cove, told Ethel it was an “honor” to share her life.
“It makes what I do a better part of my day,” said Ms. Costa. “I love you.”
“I’m not having any more birthdays,” said Ethel. “I’m getting too old.”
But then she stood up, with a little help and a few “It’s tough to get old” comments, and thanked everyone for attending her party.
Ms. Seifert received citations from the New Bedford City Council, the Mayor, the Governor, and Massachusetts Senate; and a letter from Senator Elizabeth Warren that included a Lucille Ball quote: “The secret to staying young is to live honestly, eat slowly, and lie about your age.”