Hoover resident celebrates 100 years of life
After watching 100 years come and go, Florine Harper said her memory isn’t what it used to be. Colors have started to fade, and things that were once easy, like going for a walk or brushing her hair, are now difficult.
But, Florine Harper said, if she thinks for a moment, she can remember what the peaches on her parents’ farm tasted like, the joy of jumping into a cool swimming pool on a hot summer’s day and the thrill of traveling the globe with only a few items to her name.
“Honey, I’ve been all over the world,” Florine Harper said with a reminiscent smile. Set beside her wheelchair, a basket overflows with birthday cards — 238, to be exact.
Florine Harper, now a Hoover resident at Aspire Rehab, was born May 6, 1917, in Thomaston, Georgia. Her parents owned a general store in town where they sold peaches from their orchard. Her memories of the fresh produce come flooding back when she glances at a black-and-white photo of herself — probably at age 7, she guessed — holding a handful of the fuzzy fruit.
“She had her own type of peach called the Florine peach,” said Liz Harper, Florine Harper’s daughter-in-law. “Her picture was on the jars they came in.”
Florine Harper’s childhood was like most others’ in the Deep South. Seeking respite from the heat in a wooden pool just outside of town was usually the highlight of her day.
“I lived in that thing,” Florine Harper said of the community swimming pool, which still stands today.
Florine Harper’s son, Chris Harper, guessed his mother got her free spirit from her father, who would ride around town on a motorcycle to collect payments for the family business. Her father, Florine Harper said, passed away when she was only 9 years old — but she can still remember riding around the countryside in his convertible with the top down.
That carefree outlook on life carried through to Florine Harper’s adult years. After graduating high school, she boarded a bus to Cleveland, Tennessee, to attend Bob Jones College — waiting tables and setting hair on the side to pay for tuition.
She eventually settled down in Donelson, Tennessee — a suburb outside Nashville — where she raised her two children, Chris and Angela, alongside husband Buford Orton Harper, whom she married Aug. 24, 1941.
Florine Harper focused for a moment and tried to recall her wedding day. As she did so, in her mind she became a young adult again, wearing a white gown with the world at her fingertips.
“We had a church wedding,” she said with a smile. “One that didn’t cost much money.”
Possessions, Chris Harper said, were never that important to his mother, who was known to bring just a few items on trips — most of them purchased from the local thrift store.
“She was, what I always called her, the oldest hippie in town,” he said with a smile. “And no matter what Angela and I had going on, she would always be there to support us.”
Florine Harper had just as much ambition to match her eccentric personality. In 1968, she went back to school to get a degree in special education and went on to receive her master’s in 1970, so she could work at the Tennessee School for the Blind. She worked at the school for 14 years.
“I was a speech pathologist — first one they had at that school,” Florine Harper said. During her career, she had her work published by “Tennessee Teacher,” “Peabody Reflector,” “Education and the Visually Handicapped” and several other publications.
Looking back on Florine Harper’s life, it’s hard to find many missed opportunities. She’s been to every continent except Antarctica “because it’s too doggone cold there,” she said, and she’s made plenty of friends along the way.
“I tell ya, my memory isn’t as good as it used to be,” Florine Harper admitted, glancing down at her stack of birthday cards. “But if I think of anything else shocking that happened in my life, I’ll be sure to let you know.”