Cindy Fox Peternell
What’s the hullabaloo about the Titanic lately? Television ads tell us a movie, Titanic 3D, is coming out this week to commemorate its maiden voyage 100 years ago. But, sadly, on April 15, 1912, the Titanic struck an iceberg at 2 a.m. in the northern Atlantic Ocean and sank with its crew and 1,500 passengers.
The life of the ship and those on board was short-lived, nothing to brag about. But nine days before the Titanic sank, Edward Peternell Sr. was born in Stearns County, Minn. and he’s still alive. Yes, old Ed is 100 years old on April 6. Now that’s something to brag about.
Magazine articles and the internet tout advances in medicine and health care are the reasons why so many people are attaining the century mark. But that’s not the case with Ed who still lives at his home on the family farm where he and his late wife Helen raised eight children. Ed takes very little medicine and hasn’t been carted off to a nursing home. Living in central Minnesota, today he still trudges up and down the basement stairs to fill his wood furnace to keep his home warm and toasty during the winter. Climbing the long stairs keeps his heart beating like a young man.
I’ve read from other experts who say we should eat what our ancestors ate to maintain our health. Ed is living proof of this theory. Each morning he fries himself bacon and eggs for breakfast, not health-conscious foods health gurus would recommend we avoid on a daily basis. Ed was born of Slovenian-Austrian immigrants who baked a delectable pastry called potica, a yeast bread filled with butter, honey, cinnamon, nuts and raisins. Before getting dressed in the morning, he’s nibbling on potica or pie or cookies, anything to get his morning fix. Yes, Ed admits he’s addicted to sweets, so much he’ll eat jelly out of the jar if he’s really desperate. But as you might have guessed, Ed still has all his own teeth. However, he often reminds us he no longer eats rabbits and squirrels his mother used to cook up. He lost his taste for these little critters years ago when they were too often on their menu.
Ed’s home is near St. Stephen, just a few miles from the farm where he grew up with five brothers and two sisters. His long life may be in part to good genes. His sister Mary died at 99 years old and his brother Joseph at 98 years old. Ed, the last sibling, outlasted them all. Along with an ideal genetic makeup, living a simple life in the country doing things he loved may have contributed to his longevity.
In 1933, he started farming on 120 acres, milking cows morning and night until his sons John, Jim, Frank and Edward Jr. were old enough to lend a hand. His daughters Helen, Rosemary, Joan and Lucy helped out in the barn and fields, too, but primarily assisted their mother in her busy kitchen. With his family farm hands well trained, he worked the night shift for 25 years at Franklin Mfg. in St. Cloud where he built refrigerators and freezers. But back home, Ed’s hands were never idle.
In his “spare” time Ed did custom threshing in the local area and built his own silage chipper, wagons and sawmills — all necessary implements to make back-breaking work on the farm a little easier. But his Sundays were devoted to rest to honor the holy day.
Ed found some time for fun, too, like attending baseball games. Though he doesn’t venture out to the lakes and woods anymore, he has fond memories of fishing and going to deer camp every November. He stopped driving his old Volkswagen two years ago, now content to stay at home. Ed is a man who loves to visit, especially to reminisce about the good old days. At 100 years old, he has a lot to talk about and his memory is sharp.
Ed chuckles when he remembers a mishap he encountered while doing spring fieldwork in his early farming days. Like the Titanic that clipped the iceberg, Ed veered too close to a slough with his 1927 Farmall Regular. His tractor sank into the mud so deeply, he escaped by walking over the tractor’s hood to dry ground. Ed was a survivor then and remains one today. Ed is a humble man and would never brag, but reaching the 100-year mark, I still say that’s something to brag about.