‘That Man up there, honey’
Centenarian knows from whom her blessings flow
(pictured above: Frances Wigfall celebrated her 100th birthday recently.)
Frances Wigfall is celebrating a century of living.
The longtime city resident turned 100-years-young on Feb. 21. Friends and family members observed the landmark occasion Saturday with a spirited soiree at Christ Kingdom Building Worship Center.
Wigfall said that even she sometimes has a hard time comprehending her longevity.
“One hundred years old – isn’t that wonderful?” the centenarian declared. “…I don’t feel like I’m 100 years old. I feel like I might be in my 80s.”
A native of Newberry County, S.C., Wigfall relocated to Winston-Salem when her niece, Jennie Wallace, was an infant. Wigfall never had children of her own, but she has always doted on her niece as if she was her own child.
“She was my favorite aunt,” declared Wallace, an 83-year-old Western Electric retiree. “She came when I was eight-months-old, and we just got attached to each other. She was one I could always go and talk to. If I had problems as a teenager when I was growing up, I would always go and talk to her.”
Wallace is now a great-grandmother, 13-times over. Wigfall takes great pride in her host of nieces and nephews, who now span four generations.
“My nieces and nephews are wonderful,” she said. “They do a good job taking care of me, just like my husband did.”
Laverne Smoot, Wallace’s daughter and one of Wigfall’s great nieces, said Wigfall played an essential part in raising everyone in the family.
“She took care of us, and our children, and our children’s children,” said the grandmother of three.
“We spent a lot of time with her growing up … Going to her house on Christmas was a family ritual … You could not complete your Christmas day unless you started at Aunt Frances’ house.”
Wigfall’s beloved died in 2007. The loss of her husband was a major blow; the pair had been married for 74 years.
She met Harold Wigfall while visiting her sister, the late Ruth Wilson – Wallace’s mother.
“When God molded that man, he threw the mold away,” Wigfall said of her spouse, a former Taylor Brothers Tobacco foreman. “He didn’t make another one like him. He was a dear, dear man. I can tell you I was proud of him because he was a nice boy.”
After a whirlwind courtship, the couple married in 1933; she was just 19.
“He was so scared I was going to marry somebody else, he hurried up,” she recalled with a laugh. “He didn’t waste no time.”
Wigfall said her young suitor was attracted to her virtuous ways.
“He told somebody, he said, ‘Man, I got me one. She don’t smoke, she don’t drink, she don’t do this and she don’t do that,’”[/pullquote][/pullquote] she related, revealing what she believes to be one of the biggest contributors to her longevity. “…He said, ‘I got me a wife.’”
Wigfall lovingly recalls how her husband took every opportunity to spoil her.
“I hate to make a bed,” she confessed. “My husband made the bed for 74 years. He’d say, ‘If you want me to make that bed, you’d better get out of it.’ That was a good way to get me up.”
Wigfall, the fifth of six children, was resourceful from a young age. As a girl, she found ways to pad her own pockets. The white family that lived across the street from her paid her to play with their daughter, who was roughly the same age. She took her first job as a domestic worker in the third grade.
“Ever since I was eight years-old, I had my own money,” she said.
Much of Wigfall’s domestic career was spent in the service of a wealthy white family in Buena Vista, where she was known for her culinary skills.
“He was a very popular man,” she said of her former employer. “He’d been all over the world, and he’d say, ‘Frances Wigfall makes the best beef roast anybody ever tasted!’ Man, that made me feel good.”
Although she took pride in her cooking skills, Wigfall did not take kindly to baking, which required her to work extended hours and sometimes even weekends, interrupting the card games with other maids that she relished. When asked to bake a cake one day, she decided to teach her employers a lesson. Feigning ignorance, she cooked up a recipe for disaster instead.
“I put so much baking powder in there ‘til my husband had to come up there (and clean it up). It had burned up all over the oven,” she related with glee. “I wasn’t going to be in there cooking on the weekends when I could be out there playing my games.”
Wigfall’s plan worked. The family never asked her to bake again.
After years of serving the family, Wigfall developed a dust allergy that forced her to seek employment elsewhere. She took a job folding sheets at Carolina Linen Laundry, where she remained until her retirement. Wigfall is the first person on either side of her family to become a centenarian. When it comes to her long life, Wigfall said its source is obvious.
“That Man up there, honey,” she said, when asked about the secret to longevity. “… I thank the good Lord for it, too.”