Nellie Sowell wasn't very happy when her car broke down last spring. No matter that she just turned 100 years old; she claims she can still drive as well as anyone.
"She will let you know she's not very happy about it," said her daughter Elise Brady, who was preparing for a party Sunday at Statesboro's First United Methodist Church, where her mother is a member.
As people mingled and greeted Sowell, she juggled photo sessions, interviews and well-wishers with a grace obviously learned long ago.
She has a large family — daughters Brady, Freddie Alliffi (in Newnan), Faye George (in Dallas, Ga.), Jean Deal, and Susan Hailey (in Nashville, Tenn.). She has two living brothers, Felton and Lawson Ussery, and outlived two sisters (Willie Mae DeLoach and Molly Moore) as well as three brothers (Jim, Harry and Fred Ussery).
Born in Claxton, which was part of Tattnall County at the time, Sowell grew up a farmer's daughter after her family, who once owned a plantation in Mississippi, returned to Georgia where her father, Oscar James Ussery and Sudie Mae Colson Ussery, raised the family while he worked with others sharecropping.
Sowell enjoyed life in Georgia and was rarely sick, except for a bout of malaria as a child. A bottle of "Three Sixes" (quinine) was a constant in her life for two years, but she recovered.
How did she live to be 100? No big secret, she said. In spite of being a cancer survivor ("female trouble," she said, resulting in a hysterectomy), she explained her longevity: "The Lord took care of me."
She married Mose Elbert Sowell at age 19. He was always known by "Elbert," but when he was given his Social Security Number in 1937, he started using his first name for legal matters, she recalled.
The couple farmed until Elbert Sowell started "working in town" to make a better living and became a police officer in 1941.
She worked for 34 years with a local dry cleaner after a stint working "at the 10-cent store to buy for Christmas," she said.
After retirement, Sowell traveled, visiting places such as England and Niagara Falls.
Over the past century, Sowell has seen so much about life change, it is hard for her to remember it all.
When electricity and lights came to Statesboro, "I thought it was wonderful," she recalled. "I would read — I was crazy about history!"
The telephone "scared me to death" because she didn't know how to use one, and "I had my children call to order groceries." As far as computers go, "I don't know how to use them and I'm too old to learn," she said with a laugh.
TV arriving in the 1950s "didn't change my life because I had to work all the time," she recalled. "But it was entertainment for the children."
Her spare time was spent playing ball with her children and when they grew up, playing canasta and bowling filled her leisure hours.
"I have lots of trophies I don't know what to do with," she said.
Sewing club activities also kept her busy, and she highly recommends the community senior center activities.
What's her advice for others?
"Live a clean life, enjoy life and trust in God," she said.
She has pretty much done what she wanted throughout life and doesn't diet.
"I like salt and pepper and eat anything I want," she said. "I love vegetables, but I am not a crazy meat eater."
As party guests enjoyed a beautiful banquet of fresh fruit, finger foods, sandwiches and a graceful white cake with pink accents, Sowell barely sat down, instead making sure she greeted each guest with trademark Southern style. Scenes from her life were shown on large screens, and it was apparent Nellie Sowell was having a ball.
Still, she wants to continue driving.
"I don't like to have to wait on somebody to take me places," she said. "My nerves are still good and when I want to go somewhere, I want to go right then."
Holli Deal Bragg may be reached at (912) 489-9414.