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By David Knopf, News Editor
Loyd Early didn’t begin farming with a tractor until 1938, the same year he married Elizabeth and went into partnership with his sister’s father-in-law.
Before that, horses pulled his plow, just the way they had for his father, Jess.
Born at home in 1912, Early is still going strong and about to celebrate his 100th birthday. The milestone will be celebrated Oct. 21 at the American Legion Hall in Richmond, three days before his smooth-running clock actually turns to three digits and the magical 1-0-0.
Now a resident at Shirkey Rehabilitation and Nursing Center, Early lives in a small apartment where he showers and dresses himself, then walks to the dining room. His memory’s sharp, and his advice for living a long life is simple.
“Keep away from the doctor’s office,” he said, laughing at something he’s pretty much done in a long, healthy life. “It’s been very few times that I’ve had to go to the doctor. I don’t take many pills. I take a pill for acid reflux and I take a pill for blood pressure, that’s all I take.”
He has taken a low-dose aspirin for years on the advice of his doctor – almost long enough to keep Bayer stockholders happy. His lifelong diet could be described as the red-blooded, farm-boy special.
“I’d eat anything I wanted to eat,” he said, laughing some more. “I lived on meat, potatoes and gravy. I had biscuits and gravy and bacon for breakfast this morning.”
His daughter, Joyce Price, figures it’s a formula that’s worked well for him. So why quit now?
“Of course, he didn’t work behind a desk, either,” a reference to her dad’s long career of raising hogs and growing corn and soybeans 10 miles north of Hardin, in the Rockingham area.
“Farming them was a lot harder than it is now,” Early said.
In all those years of hard work and big breakfasts, he was hospitalized twice – once for appendicitis, once for a broken back he suffered in a farm accident.
“I let a sow out of a crate one morning and she come out real fast and knocked me back against a crate on the other side of the alley,” he said.
In the tradition of True Grit, Early didn’t go to the doctor for his back until his wife, now deceased, kept on him enough.
Early also drove a school bus for 10 years, transporting rural kids to elementary school in what was then the Central School District, and later to classes in Hardin. Early graduated from Central High School in 1932, nine years before the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.
Musically, he’s a bit of a late bloomer. He bought his first harmonica when he was 85, then a fiddle when he was 87. He’ll play the harmonica when he performs at Shirkey or at the monthly jam sessions at the Eagleton Center, but he says the violin is strictly for his own amusement.
“I just play it here in my room where nobody can hear me,” he said.
He’s a little less shy about singing in public. At a recent music program at Shirkey, he sang “Crystal Chandelier,” a Charlie Pride song, with Harold and Otho, and guitarist David Simmons, regulars at the nursing home.
Early’s very likely to take a turn at the mike on Saturday, when his daughter picks him up and takes him to Eagleton for the last-Satuday-of-the-month jam, where he’ll play harmonica and sing.
Early said he’s sung all of his life.
“My first song was ‘Wah, wah,’ ” doing a good imitation of a bawling infant, and laughing some more. “I’ve sung in quartets, I’ve sung in duets, I’ve song as a solo.”
His daughter was there when he made the quick transition from farmer to vocalist.
“I remember many a time that he’d come in from the fields, take a bath and then sing in a quartet at a funeral,” Price said. “Then he’d come back, get into his overalls and then go back out in the fields.”
Early appears poised to become the first member of his family to reach the century mark. He does have a sister, Vera Williams, who’s 97 and lives down the hall at Shirkey’s, and a brother, a mere 89-year-old youngster, who lives in Gladstone. Another sister, made it to 96 before succumbing to Father Time.
Brother Loyd’s already out-done her by two years and shows no sign of slowing down. He’s a member of The God Squad, a group of performers who travel to entertain at nursing homes from Odessa to Hamilton, and from Excelsior Springs to Carrollton.
That’s right, a 99-year-old helping to cheer up residents at the old-folks’ home.
Early said his faith has been a foundation of his long life.
“I joined the Rockingham Church of the Brethren when I was 12, and have tried to live a Christian life ever since,” he said.
Has that devotion helped him live longer?
“I hope so,” Early said.
He can laugh at that, too.
Loyd Early’s 100th birthday celebration on Oct. 21 is open to members of the community. It will be held from 1:30 to 4 p.m. at the American Legion Hall, 312 Clark St. in Richmond. The family requests no gifts.