Life Is A Gift
A chat with 108-year-old Millie Eyre
At 108 years old, Millie Eyre still has that sparkle in her eye. She still lets her fingers glide along the ivory as she plays the piano. She makes sure to get in a few games of bingo each week and believes ice cream is a food group. She loves “big earrings,” and just gave up wearing heels a few years back.
To Millie Eyre, “Life is a gift.”
She’s lived that gift well, hopscotching all over the state to live, spending the last four decades in retirement in Billings. According to statistics kept by the Montana Department of Health and Human Services, Millie is not only the oldest resident here in Yellowstone County, she’s the third-oldest person in the state.
“I am?” she says in amazement. When asked if she knew that little tidbit, she quickly exclaims, “No!”
When Millie first laid down roots in the Treasure State, it goes without saying it was a much different world. Her family made their way west on an emigrant train from the flatlands of Minnesota. A horse-drawn wagon led them to their homestead in Hingham in 1910 when Millie was less than a year old. Family history shares how Millie and her siblings lived in a tent while Millie’s mother and father worked to establish the farm and build a house. As winter approached, the family knew they had to move the home construction along quickly. Icicles were starting to form on the family tent.
If you ask this centenarian, who is just 20 months shy of “supercentenarian” status, about some of her favorite early memories, she smiles and says, “Let me think about that for just a while.”
She has many.
She loves the vivid images that play in her mind of living on a farm, milking cows. “It was altogether different,” Millie says. She remembers creating rock piles in the backfield and using the barn as a spot to play basketball with her sister. She’s still a basketball fan to this day. “I watch the Utah Jazz when they play. One of my sisters and I played basketball together when we were in high school. We were forwards,” she says.
Her mind also travels back to the day that her dad traded their wagon for a splashy new set of wheels. The year was 1916 and Mille’s dad pulled up in a new Overlander. “It was an open car. It didn’t have the glass but it had shutters, so you could close the car in. We were all pretty proud of it!”
The family spoke Norwegian and English and to this day, you can still hear Millie sharing a few words here and there in her family’s native tongue.
Today, in her two-bedroom apartment, a gallery of photos takes up much of Mille’s living room wall. “Yeah, I like that wall,” she says as she points to her visible family tree. All told, Mildred and her husband, Don, had two children, five grandchildren and 11 grandchildren. Don passed away in 2012 at the age of 102. The couple led a rich life in all corners of the state.
On this day, four generations sit in Mille’s apartment reminiscing as Millie’s great-granddaughter, Aria, shows off her cartwheeling skills. “Look at me G.G.!” she squeals. Daughter Donna Marmon and granddaughter Carolyn Stutts sit nearby. Millie smiles. Pretty soon, she’ll offer the spunky 5-year-old a dip into her candy jar, just some of her winnings from this week’s bingo games.
You might wonder how this vibrant woman made it to 108. Her family is quick to share that home remedies were Millie’s elixir for good health. Carolyn says, “She’s never taken any pills or prescriptions unless it was something she needed short term. She always has had natural remedies. I remember her making us drink honey and vinegar when we were sick.” And Carolyn says she was a firm believer in reflexology, using the roadmap on the bottom of the foot to find ailments. “She would always rub our feet. She will work on you until she finds a spot that hurts and then she will really work on that spot. Then, we will get out the map and she’ll say, ‘Oh that’s your kidney, better drink more water!’”
If you ask Millie about the secret to a good life, she’ll share her sweet and simple advice.
“Don’t let life worry you,” Millie says. “Just keep on going and hope for the best!”