As the oldest living American at age 113 and a half, Elsie Thompson might be forgiven for not changing from her nightgown each morning. Or, for that matter, for not getting out of bed at all.
But when her caregiver asks if she's ready to get up, Mrs. Thompson -- a Beaver Falls native now living in Clearwater, Fla. -- replies with a cheerful "you betcha," washes and dresses each morning with some help, and faces the day with a cheerful attitude. Then she walks under her own power to the kitchen of her condominium and has breakfast and then coffee with the neighbor lady who visits each morning, said Mrs. Thompson's caregiver of more than 13 years, Susie Porter.
"She's just a joy and a blessing," said Mrs. Porter, a fellow Beaver Falls native who met Mrs. Thompson in Clearwater through a mutual acquaintance. "She's just a delight, and such a happy person. She loves people, she loves everything, and it's such a blessing and an honor to be taking care of her in her later years."
Due to hearing loss, Mrs. Thompson could not be interviewed for this story.
The widow of the late former Republican state legislator Ronald L. Thompson of Mt. Lebanon, Mrs. Thompson became the oldest living American after the death Jan. 23 of South Carolina resident Mamie Rearden, who was 114. She now is the fifth-oldest person in the world; the oldest is 115-year-old Jiroemon Kimura of Japan.
Last month, the two oldest Americans then living, 116-year-old Besse Cooper and 115-year-old Dina Manfredini, died.
Born on April 5, 1899 in Beaver Falls, Mrs. Thompson grew up in East Liberty, where her father ran the local branch of the Carnegie Library, according to her son, 72-year-old George Thompson of Thousand Oaks, Calif. She met Mr. Thompson after his return from fighting in World War I, and the couple married in 1921. After representing Mt. Lebanon in the state Legislature for 22 years, the couple retired and moved to Clearwater in 1971.
After her husband's death in 1986, her son asked her to move to California to be closer, but Mrs. Thompson didn't want to leave her friends and her home behind. And while her eyesight had begun to deteriorate in her 70s, she continued making annual pilgrimages at Christmas to visit her son, her grandchildren and her great-grandchildren until she got sick during a trip when she was 102, and a doctor told her to stop traveling.
Now her son and his family visit her.
"She's a great lady," Mr. Thompson said. "She has a very positive outlook and always has been very spiritual, and she's always loved music -- she even danced at her 100th birthday party."
Through the years, his mother never lost her thoughtfulness toward others, her son said.
"She'll sit on the couch and say, 'Isn't it a beautiful day? Do you have everything you need? Can I get you anything?' " he said. "She's one in a million."
Until about three years ago, Mrs. Thompson went out to lunch, followed by some shopping, every Sunday. And even now, with her eyesight too poor to read and her hearing failing so badly that her speech has become difficult to understand, according to her son and to Mrs. Porter, Mrs. Thompson enjoys the pleasures of her comfortable home, and her friends and family, and a sunny day in Florida.
"She'll say, 'It's beautiful out, just beautiful,' " Mrs. Porter said. "She just loves her home, she loves being at home, she loves where she's at."
After breakfast and coffee, Mrs. Thompson will talk or sing awhile with Mrs. Porter or one of her other two round-the-clock caregivers. Then she often rests in her new recliner until lunchtime. After that, the caregivers might do some exercises with her, throw a beach ball back and forth with her, take her for a walk if the weather is nice, or play some music -- her favorites include the music of Lawrence Welk, Perry Como, Frank Sinatra and the hymns she always has loved to sing and play at church.
Mrs. Thompson will pretend to play the piano, there at the kitchen table, and sometimes her family or her caregivers can persuade her to sing "You Are My Sunshine," Mrs. Porter said.
"She'll sing it and then she'll laugh," Mrs. Porter said. "She's a gift -- she's a gift for everybody."
Amy McConnell Schaarsmith: email@example.com or 412-263-1719.