Aunt Hattie celebrates a century of laughter

Hattie Driskell prepares to blow out the candles on her 100th Birthday cake. Pictured, left to right, nephew J.C. Walker, Mayor Eric Wilson, niece Hattie Bohannon. (Photo/Diane Glidewell)

Hattie Driskell’s family members came from Michigan, California and around Georgia to wish her a happy birthday as she turned 100 on June 17. The well-wishers gathered in the garden outside PruittHealth-Forsyth on Cabaniss Road to cut two huge cakes, take a lot of pictures and tell Aunt Hattie what she has meant in their lives.

Forsyth Mayor Eric Wilson proclaimed it Hattie Moore Driskell Day and presented the birthday girl a proclamation honoring her from the city. As he introduced himself to Aunt Hattie a second time to make sure she heard him in the bustle of those coming to celebrate her century of birthdays, she promptly responded, “You done told me that one time,” bringing peals of laughter.

The nieces, nephews, sister-in-laws and their descendants talked about how Aunt Hattie has always been one to make them laugh. They characterized her as the fun aunt who loved all of the children and was ready to play with them. They recalled her joining in baseball games and sliding into base. They said she always had jokes to tell to keep them laughing.

“I never heard you grumble about anything,” said her sister-in-law. “I want you to stop saying, ‘Im old.’ You’re blessed!”

“I’m blessed all right!” answered Hattie, as she enjoyed all the family and friends who came to celebrate her birthday. “I’ve got people all around. That makes me feel good. I feel like I’m going home.”

Aunt Hattie was born Hattie Moore in Bolingbroke on June 17, 1916 to Guy Moore and Mattie Shockley Moore. She was the fifth child in a family of two sons and four daughters. The family had over 100 acres on which they raised cotton, vegetables and other crops. The children walked to Mt. Zion School, when Aunt Hattie went through about 5th grade.

On Dec. 28, 1938, Aunt Hattie married Hobson Driskell, who was also from Monroe County. After a time, they moved north to Detroit where there were better jobs. Several other family members also moved to Detroit, and they remained close. Niece Hattie Mae Bohannon, who was named for Aunt Hattie, said that nieces and nephews who lived nearby loved to spend time with Aunt Hattie and Uncle Hobson. Other nieces and nephews, including those from Georgia, would come to spend a week or a summer vacation or to stay while working in Michigan for a while. Aunt Hattie did not have any children born to her that lived past infancy. As a young lady in Monroe County, she had worked for the family of Benny Smith, caring for the children. Bohannon said that Aunt Hattie had said that she would like to know what had become of the family and the children she cared for.

After the death of her husband, Aunt Hattie moved to the upstairs of Bohannon’s house in Michigan, a two-family flat. In 2005, they moved back to Monroe County, along with Mattie Moore Johnson, who was Aunt Hattie’s younger sister and Bohannon’s mother, and two of Bohannon’s sisters. Johnson and the oldest sister have since passed away.

Back in Monroe County, Aunt Hattie attended Mt. Zion Baptist Church, which she had joined about 70 years before, where she was honored as its oldest member. Bohannon said Aunt Hattie still likes to sing the old songs she learned growing up in church. At her birthday party, one younger relative recalled hearing the story of Aunt Hattie waking up every morning singing. Asked, “Who does that?” Aunt Hattie answered, “This one, this child of God.”

Bohannon said that when asked the secret for her long life, Aunt Hattie would always answer, “Nothing but the Lord.” Aunt Hattie was active at Monroe County’s Senior Center and has been recognized each October at the 90-100-year-olds birthday party. She moved to PruittHealth Forsyth in July 2014 and enjoys the activities and the people at the facility. While she lived with Bohannon in Monroe County, she would work around the house, sit on the porch and count the cars passing on Highway 87 and “still kick up them legs exercising.”

In Michigan, Aunt Hattie worked at a laundry and sat with people who needed care. Her husband provided for her financially, but she liked to get out and be with people. She was active on the Nurses’ Guild at her church and volunteered with the American Cancer Society to sign up people for mammograms.

Bohannon said Aunt Hattie is an excellent speller, in spite of her limited formal schooling. She can also repeat speeches in whole that other family members gave at programs. But Aunt Hattie’s best talent seems to be holding her extended family together. It seemed that whenever a few members of the family are together, there will always be stories of Aunt Hattie, some of them first hand and some of them already passed down through a couple of generations. They talk of her getting in trouble for running through the flower beds as a little girl and then in trouble again for threatening to tell her papa about being punished. They remember her taking a nephew to the hospital when she found him lying on her floor exhausted after a hard day of playing ball. They remember riding on the bus with her to go shopping and have a meal in town. They remember her singing “Hit the road, Jack” to a young nephew who came home crying, “Aunt Hattie don’t love us any more.” They remember the aroma of greens and black-eyed peas cooking when they walked into her house.

Most of all, they remember Aunt Hattie talking and laughing, even when she was laughing at herself.