Miss Winnifred Nehring

For this special edition of Sepia Saturday the theme is “100” because it is the 100th Sepia Saturday event.

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Participants can take this really anywhere, but I immediately knew what my blog post would be. I am going to tell you about the only person I have known who lived to 100 years of age, and she happens to have been a unique individual. While I only knew her for the last 30 or so years of her life, she loved to tell stories every time we saw her, so I heard quite a lot about her escapades and there is no way I can do those stories justice. I hope this doesn’t become too long, because there are so many memories, it is difficult to boil them down to “the best ones.” Hopefully my mom or sister will chime in on the comments.

My dad worked for an industrial machinery company in Los Angeles and the secretary there was named Winnifred Nehring. She was as old as the year was, because she was born in the first month of the first year of the new century – January 27, 1900. Even in the 60s when my dad met her, that was something interesting. On top of that, she was a spitfire. Winnifred dutifully retired from the company at age 65, and one year later my sister was born, only two days after Winnifred’s birthday. So began the annual gathering to celebrate birthdays. My parents surely thought “oh this will last a few years and then fade off into the sunset.” Winnifred had other ideas! She was part of a family known for longevity.

Like part of our family

Winnifred was born in Winnipeg, Canada, and later her family moved to Prince Rupert. Her father was the first person to bring cattle to Cameron Cove, where they lived and the area was renamed Cow Bay for the cows swimming from barges to shore. She was one of 12 children! In 1923, she came to Los Angeles, California – which she pronounced Los Angle-ese – with her sister Annie to visit and get jobs, and just decided to stay. She was naturalized as a US citizen March 22, 1928.

She had this certain way of speaking, with a very feminine lilt that turned up some sounds and drew out others. It is difficult to explain, but if you could imagine an aging flapper, that might capture it. She had a girly giggle and she honest to goodness tittered when she laughed. She always had her hankie available, and she would smile and give you this coy look, like you were sharing a secret with her. She had beautiful gray eyes.

One of her jobs in the ’30s was as a receptionist for a “doctor.” I use the term lightly, because this quack person laid rocks on the patient and then shined a light on them, heating up the patient’s skin. He got people to believe that the light shining through the rock transferred healing properties from the rock to their body. People paid plenty of money for these treatments and he apparently had some well known clients. Winnifred would never say the names because she was too kind and didn’t want to sully their names with “old stories.” In the late 90s, she had cataract surgery which used laser light and she could see the colors. That procedure confirmed for her after all those years that the rock doctor had been right after all!

One adventure she had was to find out “what the lesbians were all about.” I kid you not. This might have been in the 60s, I’m not sure any more. She had heard there was a lesbian bar close to where she lived, so she went over one evening. Now, Winnifred was as straight as they came, but she was just very curious about life. So here she is, the last Victorian lady in Los Angeles, in a lesbian bar. She was having a nice time, the lesbians were buying her drinks, and as it happens, she has to visit the ladies room. Well, one of the patrons took this to mean something other than the call of nature, and followed her into the bathroom. There’s Winnifred taking care of her business when the other lady starts trying to get into the stall with her. This carried on, Winnifred saying “no, I’m busy in here” and the lesbian trying to crawl under the stall door! It ended with Winnifred – 5′ 2″ on a tall day – standing on the toilet seat hitting the woman on the head with her pocketbook!

When she was in her 80s, she resurfaced the roof of her apartment building. By herself. She just had the delivery guys carry the buckets of tar up to the roof for her. When she was in her 90s, she took a job taking care of “an old lady.” Who was only a year or two older. She had at least a year’s supply of food and water stored in her apartment and she was forever trying to get my dad to take a subscription to some doomsday newsletter. She never married, but there is a rumor that her relationship with a certain real estate agent helped her buy her apartment building, which she owned for over 50 years. It over looked one of the earliest movie studios in Los Angeles in a prime location and it was worth well over seven figures when she passed on.

Do you feel like you are sharing a secret?

Every year that I can remember, we had a family luncheon with Winnifred. For many years, we went to a restaurant, but finally her hearing got too bad so we started having her over for lunch to my parent’s house. For a while she drove herself to our place (first in her Nash Rambler and later in her little Mercedes coupe), and you know she always brought nice presents for us, but one year someone stole her car, and she just didn’t replace it. Honestly, she was something like 85 when that happened so probably for the best. When my sister and I could drive, we would drive the 50 miles to her house, pick her up and bring her the 50 miles back, have lunch, then repeat the process in reverse. It became difficult because she had to read lips after a while, so two of us would go on the trip – one would drive while the other would talk. In mid 1999, we decided we were going to have a little party for her 100th birthday. I wrote to all the local politicians, Congressmen for our state, and to then-President Clinton. All of them, from the Mayor of Los Angeles to President and Mrs. Clinton sent something. The California Legislature made an official Declaration proclaiming their recognition of her 100th birthday. It was so beautiful and colorful, and I wish I had had a color copier available to me. We gave her all these letters, and “my land” was she impressed! She was so modest, she never considered that someone of such importance would write a letter to her.

Even a centenarian likes to blow out the candles

Every year, her tenants knew when she would be coming over to our place for our luncheon. She talked about it for weeks before and on the day of, she wouldn’t eat a thing so she would have a nice appetite. She enjoyed having her one alcoholic drink, and she reveled in all the attention being focused on her. Once, one of her tenants told me that she would talk about the luncheon for the entire year. It was a highlight of her life and I feel very happy to have been a part of that. After her 100th celebration, we had her over one more time, but her health began to fail. She had outlived all her brothers and sisters, and all their children too. She had a grand or great grand nephew caring for her by that point, and he let us know she had had a heart attack, and while she had survived, she was quite frail. It was decided that would would discontinue the luncheons. I still feel sad about that, but I understand that a lot of activity for her was much more stressful than it would be for the rest of us.

Winnifred passed away on January 1, 2006, at only 26 days shy of her 106th birthday. I miss you, wonderful lady, but I will never forget you.

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23 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. GrammaA
    Nov 10, 2011 @ 21:23:44

    What a life she had – at the moment I can’t think of anything more to add, but when I do, I will write my ideas down so I don’t forget to add them. Right now, I’m ready to go to bed!

    Reply

  2. Little Nell
    Nov 11, 2011 @ 07:28:22

    What a privilege to have known someone who lived so long and had a wonderful spirit too. A lovely story.

    Reply

  3. Alan Burnett
    Nov 11, 2011 @ 08:46:17

    A perfect Sepia Saturday 100 post – not just because it celebrates a wonderful centenarian : but also because it paints the life of an “ordinary” person with such richness and joy, proving – if ever proof was needed – that there is no such thing as ordinary. Thanks for being part of Sepia Saturday – long may you continue.

    Reply

  4. postcardy
    Nov 11, 2011 @ 10:41:45

    I enjoyed reading about Winnifred from Winnipeg. She sounds like a real character.

    Reply

  5. IntenseGuy
    Nov 11, 2011 @ 11:07:54

    Such a beautiful woman. Your post would have elicited a “My land” from her…

    I knew a sweet woman named Viola – she lived to be as old – passing away with all her mental facilities intact at the age of 108. She would often talk to my mother, who she sort of adopted – about how all her friends were “gone” (this when she was a young 90 year old) and how she wondered why she was here to continue on. She said “The good Lord must love old ladies, He made so many of them.” And then would turn around and say, “Actually, maybe he hates them – He never calls them home….”

    My grandfather lived to 101 and 11/12ths. He too – long outlived his “contemporaries” – his funeral was attended by guys that he worked with – and I took a picture of four of them – that combined, worked 200 years with him. So many things they saw and so many ways the world changed – but they had each other’s backs and knew one thing – the more things changed – the more they had each other.

    Reply

  6. Auntie Kat
    Nov 11, 2011 @ 13:02:56

    I can always remember Winnifred talking about working at Farrell and her pension. It was probably not very much but she was proud of it. When I was very young I called her Miss Nehring. I felt so grown up when I graduated to Miss Winnifred and then on to just Winnifred.

    One of the first times I drove up to Century City to pick her up it was raining. I was such a wreck with driving stress. It was after that we started going up in twos. Her place is still there. Look behind McDonnald’s and there it is. I drove past it last year. The memories that brought back. Santa Monica Blvd has been worked on and is in much better shape than when we went up there.

    I miss Winnifred and each January 27 wish her Happy Birthday where ever she is.

    Reply

  7. Mike Brubaker
    Nov 12, 2011 @ 08:29:53

    A perfect 100 story and photos! Thanks.

    Reply

  8. Pat
    Nov 12, 2011 @ 09:12:23

    A marvelous way to celebrate 100. You did a great job telling her story. Oh isn’t it grand to have an aged person so full of life as she was. I laughed so hard at her lesbian bar experience. You have done a great tribute to her with precious photos. How wonderful that she became part of your life and is memorialized here.

    Reply

  9. Karen S.
    Nov 12, 2011 @ 09:48:47

    Oh my the things a lady could do with her pocketbook! Today there are many who would say, what is a pocketbook! What a lovely tribute and post for this special 100 blog posting For Sepia Saturday!

    Reply

  10. GrammaA
    Nov 12, 2011 @ 09:53:33

    Now that I’ve had a chance to “sleep on it” I will add a few more comments. When she retired she said she wanted to travel to Egypt and Israel. She did not do so for quite a while, but finally in the 80’s I think she went. I can’t remember the political climate at that time, but it has not been good for years. She went and flew from one to the other – with no problems. Only a Winnifred thing!

    Trusting lady that she was, there was one sad note. While sitting at our house having her one cocktail, she told us she had been robbed. Well – her niece had been a jewelry sales broker and if she came across any unusual pieces she would ask her Aunt if she would be interested in them. Winnifred has some really beautiful pieces and she wore them proudly. Sometimes she would give us the history of who had owned it previously. Well, she was the victim of a true scam. Two men stopped to talk to her about her roof and had her outside looking around, while the other went in and scooped up what he could find. She was very devastated. Unfortunately she never reported it to the police.

    One year inside her little apartment was a contraption that took up a good part of the room – of course I had to ask. She said she would strap herself in and turn it upside down and the blood would then flow to head which was supposed to be very good for her health, both mental and otherwise.

    One other thing noted while picking her up – her yard was always immaculate. Not only was the lawn neat, but she had a lime tree, and a few vegetables growing, And the roses! They were always trimmed at the right time of the year, the stems were very heavy meaning they had been there for years and years.

    Reply

  11. Bob Scotney
    Nov 12, 2011 @ 11:53:38

    The wonderful story of a wonderful woman. Thanks for sharing this with us, especially this hundredth sepia week.

    Reply

  12. Kristin
    Nov 12, 2011 @ 13:05:19

    She had an interesting life.

    Reply

  13. Sheila @ A Postcard a Day
    Nov 12, 2011 @ 13:11:33

    That is such a wonderful and entertaining story. you make me wish I had known her myself.

    Reply

  14. Nancy
    Nov 12, 2011 @ 14:54:48

    This post was an absolute treat to read. Winnifred sounds like a lady I would love to know. Thanks for sharing her with us.

    Reply

  15. Liz Stratton
    Nov 12, 2011 @ 16:00:34

    A fitting tribute to an amazing woman. You were indeed blessed to know her and she was equally blessed to have your family as her near dear friends. Thanks for sharing her with all of us.

    Reply

  16. Christine H.
    Nov 12, 2011 @ 16:16:17

    Fantastic story. She looks great and I can just imagine her up on the roof spreading tar. Wow, she is an inspiration, but so are you! You made such a difference in her life.

    Reply

  17. Jo
    Nov 13, 2011 @ 06:48:31

    Winnifred sounds like a fascinating character. I love the lesbian bar story! Jo

    Reply

  18. Barbara Finwall
    Nov 14, 2011 @ 11:11:52

    What a wonderful story by you and GrammaA and AuntieKat. I want one of those upside down contraptions that GrammaA described. Maybe that was her secret to such a long and interesting life. The lesbian bar story was a real gem. Too bad about the theft of the jewelry and her car. It seems like she didn’t let it get her down for very long though. What a lady!
    Barbara

    Reply

  19. gluepot
    Nov 14, 2011 @ 12:29:43

    That’s an incredible story. So important to write down these memories, and even nicer that you have shared them with us, thank you. I wonder if you have any photographs of the “spitfire” in her younger days?

    Reply

    • Mrs Marvel
      Nov 14, 2011 @ 13:55:10

      I dearly wish I did, but the oldest we have are from the 60s. I will try to get some more from my mom at Thanksgiving. Funny thing is, she would have loved the idea of blogging old photos and probably would have given me some, had I only be prescient enough to ask.

      Reply

  20. Far Side of Fifty Photos
    Nov 15, 2011 @ 11:09:18

    Awesome post..such good memories..thanks for sharing them. A fitting lady to honor on the Sepia Saturdays 100th:)

    Reply

  21. susana
    Aug 02, 2015 @ 16:34:12

    What an amazing find! I rented a studio in her building from 1999-2002. I have very sweet memories of her hanging clothes on the outdoor drying rack, tending to her roses and strawberries, hosing down the holly beside my front door, sharing her stories, and showing me the book about light/laser technology.

    Since my dad met her before I ever stayed in the studio, I now need to call him and talk with him about Winnifred. Sweet Winnifred, she was an inspiration and great help to me while I worked through graduate school and felt lost in LA.

    Reply

    • Mrs Marvel
      Aug 03, 2015 @ 08:47:41

      What a treat to see a comment from a former tenant! I was always so impressed by the relationships Winnifred developed with her her tenants. She seemed to be very maternal to you all and clearly left her touch on your life!

      Reply

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