It was avoiding canned soup all these years, that’s how Jessie Tooley lived to be 100 years old. Or at least that’s what she told her grandson, Raymond Young, on the day before her 100th birthday.
“She said, ‘I always make my own soup because you can’t read or pronounce the name of the stuff that’s on those soup cans,’ ” said Young to a crowd of family and friends gathered at the Turf Tavern in Scotia on Saturday. “So she says she has a new slogan that she wants to pass around the countryside and it is: ‘If you can’t read it, don’t eat it.’ ”
The slogan’s a catchy one. But on Saturday, a day after the birthday, surrounded by friends and family at a big bash, the Schenectady native had a different idea about how she has lived so long.
“All I can say is God’s been good to me,” she said. “For some reason, he must know that I’m a good person. Look around — all of my family is here. My grandchildren, my great-grandchildren and even their children are here.”
Tooley was born on March 21, 1914, delivered by a doctor who arrived by boat at her family’s River Street home. She still lives in Schenectady at a home where she has raised her own family, a two-family flat on Glendale Place that’s been hers since 1941.
These days, she lives downstairs and her daughter lives upstairs. But Tooley still does her own cooking, cleaning and laundry. She likes to garden. She doesn’t need a wheelchair or a walker. She is often surprised by mirrors and recent photographs — surprised that she’s not still a young woman.
“I don’t feel that old,” she said. “When I have my picture taken or look in the mirror, I don’t recognize myself. I think maybe I’m still 65, something like that, you know?”
Her parents were born in Poland, but eventually moved to America, where they had five children. She was the middle sibling. Her father worked at American Locomotive Company until he died.
“My father and mother were 76 and 78 when they died,” she said. “I have a sister-in-law, but I’m the last one of my siblings alive. My youngest brother just died at 91, or was it 92?”
Her greatest accomplishment in life was being a good wife and a good mother, simple as that, she said. In all, she has two daughters, Joan and Anita; five grandchildren; seven great-grandchildren; and four great-great-grandchildren.
“Don’t you think I have a beautiful family?” she said Saturday, looking around at the room full of people. “They’re all the same lovable. I just love them all the same. Growing up, we kissed and hugged a lot. When we visit, we kiss and hug. That’s our hello. I preach to them all the time that love is the most important thing. I never say money. I say love. Being in a small town, we have all this love. You can see it in this room.”
Assemblyman Jim Tedisco, R-Glenville, also showed up at Tooley’s birthday party Saturday to present her with a state Assembly citation.