Bessie Plouffe was ready for the interview. Her hair was done and she wore a sweater and plaid skirt. A balloon danced above her wheelchair, as it should for someone who turned 100 on April 1. But something had been overlooked and neither she, nor anyone else, noticed it for nearly a half hour.
Christine Stinson of Warwick had warned her mother could be deceptively contrite, a sweet old lady.
“She’s feisty,” Stinson said finding the right word. Bessie has been through a lot medically. At 82, when she learned she had few options if she wanted to live, she chose to undergo open-heart surgery. She has had two strokes and cancer of the stomach and uterus since. For a time it looked like she wouldn’t make it and she went to hospice care.
“She’s a real survivor,” says Stinson. Stinson said Bessie was determined to see her youngest grandson grow. It gave her the will to live.
You wouldn’t know she has been through such trials. She dismisses questions about her health and, for that matter, her age. It’s now that counts.
“As long as I feel good I don’t care,” she says.
Good is how she characterizes her life. She grew up in New Bedford and after high school went on to Bridgewater State Teachers College and Bryant-Stratton in Boston. She was a social studies student teacher in Brockton. But she didn’t stay in teaching, preferring medicine. She worked in a hospital and a doctor’s office. She also worked as a florist. It’s a skill and love she never lost. She is frequently called upon to help arrange flowers at Saint Elizabeth.
She met her husband Eugene in a dance hall and married at the age of 26, going on to become the mother of Christine and two sons, Eugene Plouffe of Warwick, and Bruce Lloyd of Connecticut. She has eight grandchildren and seven great-great-grandchildren.
Bessie remembers Eugene, who died 15 years ago, as an excellent dancer. Her face lights up as she says the word “excellent.” Eugene was a tool designer and the young couple didn’t have much money. They did do some traveling in this country but not abroad as Bessie had hoped. Just recently, recalls Christine, Bessie suggested he go along to New Zealand with her pastor. The family settled in Cranston where Bessie lived until she was 95. She moved to Saint Elizabeth Home in East Greenwich five years ago.
Reading has been Bessie’s life’s passion. Even in the brief moment when she was alone, while a reporter left to get her coffee, she opened one of the two books on her lap – a romance novel – and was deep in thought. She also likes to knit, although she doesn’t do too much of that now, and likes to bowl. That’s right, it’s a form of bowling designed for residents and Bessie has quite the reputation as a player.
She also gets out and about, having recently been to a musical at Providence Performing Arts. She likes the performing arts. She said salads and vegetables are her favorite foods but she’s not about to conclude they are reason for her longevity.
“I never thought I would be 100,” she said.
And then, perhaps, she reveals the secret. “I’m a happy person,” she said, “I don’t have anything not to be happy about.”
As she chats, an attendant appears with her hearing aid and fits it to her ear. But it’s not that that surprises her. She’s done fine without the aid. Rather, it is she has forgotten her earrings.
“Oh, I have lots of earrings,” she says. Blue is the preferred color.
Then comes another revelation; last year Bessie had her ears pierced.