A Virginia family has an astonishing six generations of daughters still living. The matriarch of the family, Mollie Wood, was born in 1901 and just marked her 111 th birthday. The youngest addition to the family, Braylin Marie Higgins, was born in March to Wood’s great, great, great granddaughter.
The secret to the family’s longevity?
“We’re ornery,” laughed 39-year-old Marlo Shifflett. “I think that’s a lot of it. We’re too ornery to stop!”
But there might be another magic ingredient as well – resilience.
Mollie Wood was a young married woman with two toddlers in diapers and another baby on the way when her husband was stricken by polio. It took him three years to recover enough to go back to work.
Wood’s granddaughter, Bette Goodson, said Wood “had to raise all the food, wash clothes by hand, cook everything from scratch. She has worked hard all her life.”
That work ethic was certainly passed down through the generations. Three nights a week, you can find the 70-year old Goodson leading a combination yoga and Pilates class.
“It’s an important part of my life,” said Goodson, who is so limber she can sit on the floor with her legs out to the side and touch her nose to the ground.
Wood’s daughter, Goodson’s mother, is still going strong at age 88, as well. Octogenarian Louise Minter cleans houses. She’s been doing so for nearly three decades, since retiring from General Electric.
“It gives me a little extra money,” she said. “I don’t have to watch a dollar so careful.”
Minter lives just five minutes from her mother, and visits the family matriarch a few times a week.
She has tried to preserve family history for the younger generations.
“I wrote a book for my grandchildren,” Minter said. It details her life “from the time I was born until I was 16.”
Why stop at that age? Minter, still mischievous, laughed.
“After 16, I am not telling them nothing I did!” she said.
In the book, Minter wrote about how her mother “would have to wash the clothes on a board and cook on a hot cook stove and no fans or air conditioner. And when you ironed, you have to put those irons on a stove. She would wash on Monday and iron all day long on Tuesday,” said Minter.
She bemoaned the fact that children today are obsessed with video, computers and games.
“When they write a book about their young life, what are they going to say,” she wondered. “I have some wonderful memories of my childhood.”
Wood raised her family in Charlottesville, Va., where she and her daughter, Minter, still live.
Granddaughter Bette Goodson admitted that as an adult she did move away from her “close-knit family.” How far? Some 35 miles up the road to Elkton, Va., in the Shenandoah Valley.
“It took me three years to get used to being this far away,” said Goodson in her southern drawl.
Despite the strong family ties, “We are very independent. We definitely are not one to expect people to take care of us,” said Goodson’s daughter, Marlo Shifflett, who owns a beauty shop and day spa in Elkton.
“We have all managed to stay out of each other’s business,” she said. “You would think there would be a lot of meddling, but there really isn’t.”
That suits Goodman’s husband of 50 years, Dan. He laughs when asked what it has been like to have a have a mother-in-law around for half a century. “I get along with her better than my wife does,” he says. “She’s always been nice to me; it’s not been an issue.”
Dan Goodman agrees that he married into a string of self-sufficient women. “They’re just all tough old birds,” he says. “I’m not talking about being mean, but they can take on a challenge, and surprise you.”
Bette had to do just that, Dan says, when he was diagnosed with cancer three years ago. She had to take care of him, and the maintenance on their house and some rental properties.
Such fierce independence extends to 16-year-old Savannah Shifflett, the mother of baby Braylin.
“My daughter has not asked for help,” Marlo Shifflett said. “And I thought, ‘Where does she get that from?’ And I realized we’re all that way.”
The family admitted they were devastated when they found out that Savannah was expecting, but the women said the baby has made them even closer.
Savannah is engaged to the Braylin’s dad, and said of her infant, “She definitely wasn’t planned, but she’s my world.”
All six generations got together for Mollie Wood’s 111 th birthday in April. Wood, who was still sharp until age 109, is less so now, according to family members.
But she certainly took notice of her great, great, great granddaughter. When Braylin was brought into her room, Wood revealed that spirit that has kept her going for so long.
“I don’t want to babysit,” she said, according to her granddaughter, Goodson, “I want to do what I want to do!”
As for the now-extended family tree, Savannah laughed.
“We’re pretty normal,” she said. “It’s just a bunch of grandmas.”