LOXLEY, Alabama — Loxley resident Mary Calhoun got a big surprise when family and friends gathered to celebrate her 106th birthday on Saturday, April 10 at her home just off Jenkins Farm Road in Loxley.
“People came from everywhere,” said Calhoun, who officially turned 106 on Tuesday, April 13, “most of them I knew. There were even a few I didn’t know.”
A native of Spanish Fort, the second child of 12, the family moved to Loxley when Calhoun was 12 and she has lived in the same place near the Ellisville community of Loxley for more than 50 years.
“All of my brothers and sisters moved out, but I stayed here, married and raised a family of my own,” she said. “I like it here. Everything I’ve ever needed is here.”
Calhoun has vivid memories of growing up on a farm, first in Malbis and later in Loxley.
“Both of my parents worked in Malbis,” she said. “Daddy worked for a nursery and mama cleaned houses. All of us kids, when we were old enough, either went to work at the nursery or my mom would take us to work with her.”
Growing up on a farm, Calhoun said, she remembers the days of no electricity or indoor plumbing and pretty much getting everything they needed to live from the farm.
“Daddy grew everything we needed, except maybe flour,” she said, including a variety of vegetables and fruit, which they also used to make jelly. They also had a cow that provided milk, along with chickens and turkeys. “I don’t think we ever got meat from a cow, but we had other things.”
When she got older, after moving to Loxley, Calhoun went to work for Baldwin Wholesale Florist, where she would work for 30 years. As a side job, she babysat for owner Don Fore and other members of the Fore family.
“I would keep their children on nights when they went out,” she said. “I enjoyed doing it. They became like a second family to me.”
She would eventually have three children of her own, along with eight grandchildren, 22 great-grandchildren and numerous great-great, and even some great-great-great-grandchildren.
Last year, when she reached the milestone birthday of 105 years, her family decided to have a big reunion to celebrate, but were forced to cancel because of COVID-19.
After Gov. Kay Ivey announced the state would be easing gathering restrictions in April, the family decided they wanted to get together to celebrate, including a daughter who lives in Houston, along with family from New York, California, Texas, Virginia and South Carolina.
Calhoun’s two youngest siblings, a sister who lives in Houston and a brother who lives close by in Loxley, also participated in the festivities. Even though several members of the family ended up not attending because of weather concerns, there were still more than 50 people gather to help celebrate.
But that was not the big surprise.
“I knew they were planning something,” she said. “They try to surprise me all the time, but most of the time, I know what they’re planning.”
The surprise came when Loxley Mayor Richard Teal and Council member Katherine Breeden, who delivers meals to Calhoun through the Loxley Church of God, came to help her celebrate.
“I just wanted to take this opportunity to wish her a happy birthday,” Teal said during the council meeting on Monday, April 12. “I consider it an honor to have been a small part of her celebration.”
And they came with a big surprise for Calhoun.
“They came and said they had a big surprise for me and wanted me to come out in the driveway,” she said. “I had no idea what it was.”
Family had gotten together with town officials to arrange a special parade in front of Calhoun’s house in honor of her birthday, which included members of the Loxley police and fire departments, along with members of the Robertsdale and Silverhill fire departments and Baldwin County Sheriff’s Office.
“It really was a special day,” she said.
After retiring from her job more than 30 years ago, Calhoun now pretty much stays at her home off of Jenkins Farm Road.
By in large, she says, her health is still good in spite of the fact that she had a mini-stroke a few years ago.
“My speech is a little slow and I don’t get around as well as I used to, but overall I’d say I’m still in pretty good shape.”
She has a granddaughter who stays with her most every day, cooks her meals and takes her wherever she needs to go, and a grandson who stays with her at night.
One of things she says she misses most is being able to cook.
“I miss being in the kitchen,” she said. “After my stroke I really can’t hold onto anything very well and I get confused sometimes about things, so I had to give it up. I always enjoyed being able to cook for everyone, and that’s something I miss.”
One thing Calhoun hardly ever misses is church. With family still in the area, Sunday, April 11 was a rare day that she wasn’t able to attend Sunday School and services at the African Universal Church in Daphne.
“I’m usually the first one there,” she says, because she continues to serve the church as its Sunday School coordinator. “I keep asking them if they want to get somebody else to do it, but they keep saying I’m doing a good job, so I’ll keep doing it as long as I’m able to.”
She says she doesn’t really have a secret to long life.
“My son said a few years ago that I must have done something good to have lived as long as I have,” she says with a smile. “I told him that may be so, but I’ve done some not so good things too, so I don’t know.”