Apron-making keeps 99-year-old young at heart

Published 12:00 am Monday, September 30, 2002

Sarah Burnett has lived for nearly a century.

"I'm very happy," she said. "I'm going to have a nice time."

Saturday, Burnett celebrated her 99th birthday at Bryant Health Care Center. She is a well-known resident because she sells her hand-made aprons to employees and several others.

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This has almost been a lifelong activity for her.

"I've been doing this since I was a little child," she said. "I had a doll that was as big as a baby and I made a dress for it."

With every apron, she also makes a cap to match. She doesn't use a sewing machine, either.

"I just like it old-fashioned," she said. "I sew everything by hand. I love it."

Burnett has spent the past 99 years on the move. Born in Alabama, she spent time traveling in trains with her mother, stepfather and the five other children in the family. Her father died when she was 1 year old. One of their destinations was Native American territory, where she lived

for a considerable amount of time. She then spent most of her childhood in Huntington, W.Va., but she married in Ironton.

Martha Mefford, a nurse at the center, bought one of Burnett's aprons.

"No one else makes aprons in her style," she said. "It's an art form that will soon be lost."

Besides making aprons, activity director Debbie Osborne said Burnett likes attending gospel singing and cookouts at the center. She has no family left, so several visitors from churches have become her family, she said.

"She always teases us about our men," Osborne said. "She says she's going to take our boyfriends from us."

Saturday, she was treated to cake and a requested baked potato with lots of butter.

Mefford said almost anyone can learn valuable lessons from Burnett and other elderly people.

"They're very wise," she said. "They have lived through World War II and sometimes World War I, Korea, Vietnam and the Great Depression. They've seen washers and dryers and cars that we take for granted come into existence. They didn't have grocery stores. They grew and killed their own food. They lived a much cleaner life.

"Their living experience is more than we could ever read about in a lifetime."