“Now don’t you write anything bad about me, or I’ll get my gun.”
I thought Frances Rossi was kidding, but I wanted to be sure.
“You have a gun?”
I caught the twinkle in her eye and the whisper of a smile.
“I’ve got a stick, right over there in the corner,” she said, pointing toward the sliding porch door. “And I could whack someone on the head pretty good.”
Frances was throwing me some curves in this interview, but maybe that’s what I should have expected from someone born on April Fool’s Day. That’s April Fool’s Day 1912.
Frances could have fooled me; she doesn’t look 100 years old. For that matter, she doesn’t look 80.
Frances lives alone in an apartment complex not far from the Beacon, and I would have never learned of her if it hadn’t been for a characteristic that had guided her life. She’s a pinch-penny.
Last week, Beacon circulation manager Karen Cole passed a birthday card around the office for Frances. The age of our subscribers is not something we usually know, so I was interested in learning more.
“Well,” explained Karen, “Frances called not to renew her subscription. She’s having difficulty reading.”
Evidently, one thing led to the next and Karen learned of the birthday. The card was just the beginning. Graphic artist Lisa Bourque-Yuettner designed an official certificate renewing her Beacon for as long as she lives. Karen gave me Frances’ number, and on Saturday I gave her a call. She picked up on the third ring.
“Well, when would you be coming over,” she said, getting right to the point.
I suggested now was as good a time as any.
She didn’t hesitate. “Come now,” she said, and gave me directions.
Frances keeps a pin-neat apartment. It’s tastefully decorated and surprisingly absent of the clutter I would imagine would be amassed over all those years. One of 10 children, Frances was born in Coventry. She is the only surviving sibling. She went to work in a weaving mill at the age of 15. When she was 52, a niece informed her that she would be applying for a job at the state hospital. Frances went along and submitted an application as well. Both got jobs and Frances stayed on for 10 years, at which time her husband made her quit. Now she gets a state pension, which she’s very pleased with.
Frances never had children and her husband died after 52 years of marriage. She found a companion, who she talks about affectionately, and they lived together for 17 years before his death.
For many years, Frances lived on an acre of property on Church Avenue that she kept well mowed with a lawn tractor and tended a vegetable garden. But Frances is practical and, as she aged, she understood she would have problems. At the age of 93, she voluntarily gave up her license, although there was not a single accident to her record. She sold her house and moved into the apartment.
Several great-nieces and -nephews remain in touch. Plans for the big day included a luncheon party at Twin Oaks followed by coffee and cake at the home of her great-nephew.
Frances wonders how she will spend her remaining years. She’s thought about an assisted living facility but the cost puts her off, although she can likely afford it.
“You know,” she said, “I spend about $1,000 a month here.”
She could do Meals on Wheels, but notes the suggested donation is $3 and that would be $15 a week. She already gets frozen TV dinners for $1.25 that she stretches for two meals and she doesn’t throw food away.
There was a time when cooking was her thing. She once made two appearances on Channel 12 to demonstrate Italian sausage making. Being in front of the camera didn’t bother her and she feels proud to have done it.
Frances has joined a cadre of tenants who watch out for one another. Polly, who lives down the hall, takes care of her laundry, even folding it. Another resident collects her trash. She shares newspapers. The Beacon and the Providence Journal make the rounds.
“That’s what I mean, I’m a penny-pincher,” she says with pride.
Lately, a partial loss of hearing has made it difficult to watch some of her favorite TV shows, like “Judge Judy” and “Judge Joe Brown,” but she has a positive spin on her reduced hearing. Some of her neighbors complain of the dogs barking in the adjoining yard.
“I barely hear them,” she says with a gratified smile.
But still, living so long has its physical downside.
“Half of me works, the other half doesn’t,” she says.
And she would love to get a dog.
“If I were younger, the first thing I would do is get a pet,” she says.
She wasn’t fooling. It makes you wonder about living to 100.